Off the Beaten Career Path

Off the Beaten Career Path:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ryan Curley's first attempt at brewing beer, in 2004, did not turn out well.

While warming up malt extract in his parent's garage, he scalded the bottom of a can, turning some of the extract into a solid, bitter lump.

"I had to throw the whole batch out before it even got to fermenting," Curley recalled. "I was not the best home brewer."

Curley, 27 at the time, was studying graphic design, but the alchemy of turning grain into beer captured his imagination. So he enrolled at the American Brewer's Guild, where he took seven months of online courses and spent a week working in a California brewery. Upon graduation, he joined Capitol City Brewing and was soon promoted to head brewer at the restaurant's Capitol Hill location.

Curley now works 40- to 50-hour weeks overseeing its brewing operation.

Making refreshing beer is hot work. Curley's workshop is threaded with pipes carrying the near-boiling water he mixes with grain to create mash, the first step of the brewing process. Curley and his assistant also work up a sweat while cleaning casks and tanks. But the most strenuous part of his job is carrying dozens of 12-pound bags of grain up two flights of stairs and through the restaurant and, later, taking bags of soggy, spent grain to the dumpster.

Does he ever daydream about a job with fewer bags of soggy mash?

"No," he said. "I'm saving money on a gym membership."

-- Sadie Dingfelder

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