Beer as a profession
The beer makers
By Dörthe Schmidt
Long gone are the days when the brewers still stood at the vat and stirred the mash by hand. Today a wide range of technology is used in beer brewing. The brewing profession therefore needs versatile people who are able to keep an overview of all of the beer-production processes. Two people learning to do just that are Michael Sandmann and Christian Strunk. They are in their first year of apprenticeship as brewers at the Dortmund Actien Brauerei (DAB).
Even in a beer city such as Dortmund, this type of training is exotic. "What, you're learning to become a brewer? Is there such a job?" were the surprised reactions of Christian's friends when they heard about his training course. The job profile of brewer and maltster, to use the full terminology, was also new to his colleague Michael. It was the job centre that whetted his appetite for making a living from beer. Delighted with their son's choice of job, his parents reacted by saying that "beer will always be drunk".
Their training course starts from scratch: "It is first important to know what beer actually is," says Michael. According to the German law on purity dating from 1516, beer consists of only the ingredients barley, or rather, malt, water, hops, and yeast. How these ingredients are turned into the various types of beer such as Pils, Export or malt beer is not so simple. According to a phrase used by brewers, the shortest explanation for beer is "beer is a hop-enhanced, fermented malt extract which is in a state of calm secondary fermentation". Beer production is a complex process. To gain an understanding of it requires extensive scientific, technical and business-management knowledge.
The two trainees will acquire this knowledge in the course of their three-year apprenticeship. They will become acquainted with all the various departments of the brewery: storage cellar, the malt mill, the brewing house, the filtration section, the fermenting cellar, and the filling section. And, of course, the brewer and maltster trainees have to spend some of their time at technical college and in a malting works where malt is produced from either barley or wheat. However, Christian and Michael have still got this part to come. So far they only know theoretically that malt is actually converted barley. The barley is allowed to soak in water and made to germinate, thus allowing the enzymes essential for the brewing process to form. The barley grains are then dried, in technical terminology: kiln-dried. It is the temperature in the kiln-drying process which determines whether the beer will later be a cool lager or the sort of smooth dark beer that slides down easily.
Although the malting works is usually separate from the brewery, this field of activity is so closely associated with brewing that, for training purposes, the jobs of brewer and maltster are regarded as a single entity rather than two distinct jobs.
The two trainees already know their way around the brewery. The job offers a lot of variety: "It's not possible to say what a typical working day is like", says Christian, "it depends entirely on which department you are in." In the brewing room, for example. It is here that the coarsely ground malt is boiled up with water to make the mash, starch being converted into sugar in the process. Subsequently, the finished mash is filtered and separated from the insoluble components. The resultant liquid is the wort. It is to this that the hops are then added. The bitter principles and tannins contained in the hops are responsible for the beer's aroma and the froth and enable it to be kept for longer. From the outside it is hardly possible to see any sign of the processes taking place in the shiny vats. There is just a slight smell of hops, and it is pleasantly warm.
The production is monitored, and the chemical and technical processes controlled, from the separate, glazed control centre. On a control panel like those found at airport terminals, lights come on to indicate what is happening in the individual brewing vats outside. It is from here that temperatures and the supply of the necessary quantities of ingredients are controlled. "A great deal of computer work is involved in production. For example, you also learn what to do if a fault needs rectifying", Michael says and the head of training, Johannes Grobeis, explains: "In the brewing room the apprentices acquire an understanding of the sequence of events in chemical terms and of the connections between them". "At the moment, understanding the connections is much more important than knowing with absolute certainty which button has to be pressed at each stage of the process. That's the beer boiler's job. Things like that are highly qualified activities which the trainee would not carry out on his own anyway. We train him so that he is later able to acquire detailed knowledge as a journeyman. The intention is to train people to be generalists, and this is the great attraction of the training."
After the processes in the brewery room, yeast is added to the hop-enhanced and clear beer wort in order to convert, in a natural and biological way, the dissolved malt sugar into alcohol and carbonic acid. This process is called fermentation. The practically finished brew is stored in tanks in the cool fermenting cellar where the manual skills of the trainees come into play. A great number of lines have to be laid in order to link the fermenting tanks up with the connections and outlets. Samples of cleaning agents also have to be checked. "The brewer's job has something for everyone", Michael says: "There is some physical work as well as some mental work. In the fermenting cellar, for example, it is important to know which circulating systems I have to pump out or how I can force the beer out of the fermenting tank into the maturation tank. The physical part comes in when you lay the lines and have to hammer them on tightly."
Quite apart from all of the other work that needs doing, one thing is of prime importance: "Rule number one: a brewer must be good at cleaning. A good brewer is automatically a good cleaner, too", Michael emphasizes. To keep everything germ-free it is necessary to maintain meticulously lines, filters, vats and whatever else comes into contact with the beer. "Sometimes you have to spend the whole day cleaning", Christian says. But that's just part of the job. So, too, is "the possibility of getting dirty sometimes".
At the Dortmund Actien Brauerei they are surrounded by vast quantities of beer the whole day long. When is it their turn to have a drop? For purely professional reasons, of course. The opportunity arises in the filtration department. It is here that the beer is separated from the remaining yeast substances and is then ready for filling. The brewers assess the beer in terms of its colour, cloudiness and aroma. "Sometimes there's a tasting session in which the beer is sampled. After all, you've got to know whether or not it tastes good", Christian says.
They have not only got a taste for the beer but also for their training course. If everything goes well and both of them prove themselves on the course, and if the results they achieve in the company and at college are acceptable, their prospects of being taken on by the DAB are good. After all, let us not be under any illusions: "The market for the occupation of brewer is very small. It is difficult to find anything on the open market, even if one is flexible as regards location," the head of training says. For this reason, a company such as DAB trains people according to its own requirements."
Time then for a toast: "Your very good health!"