Jeff Hancock, 37
Position: Head brewer and co-founder, DC Brau Brewing Co. (3178-B Bladensburg Road NE; 202-621-8890)
What He Does: Hancock created all the recipes for the beers of DC Brau, the first packaging brewery in the District since 1956, which he co-founded with Brandon Skall in 2011. Unlike a brewpub, which makes beer and serves it on site, usually with food, a packaging brewery creates and bottles beers to sell at grocery stores and restaurants.
Hancock oversees a team of brewers who make the beer by heating, drying, cracking, seeping, boiling and fermenting varying amounts of barley, water, hops and yeast. He also troubleshoots around the brewery and represents his recipes — which he calls “my babies” — at beer tastings and events. These days he also handles more managerial stuff, like payroll. DC Brau now has 20 employees (up from the two founders and Hancock’s wife) and is set to make 10,000 barrels of beer this year (up from 1,500 the first year).
How He Got the Job: Hancock was working for his father’s home-improvement company in 2001 when he decided he wanted to get into brewing. At the time, he was making frequent trips to a brewpub in Baltimore, where he could watch the staff making beer as he drank with friends. “I thought, ‘How cool would that be? Even on your worst days, you’re brewing beer for a living,’” he says.
So with no prior experience with beer (besides drinking it), Hancock asked for an apprenticeship at Franklins Restaurant and Brewery (5123 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville; 301-927-2740) in Hyattsville, where he worked for no pay — just experience, food and drink — for two years. A lot of what he did was grunt work — hauling bags of ingredients, milling malted barley. He later worked for two breweries in Ann Arbor, Mich., and came back to the D.C. area to work for Flying Dog Brewery (4607 Wedgewood Blvd., Frederick; 301-694-7899) in Frederick, Md. A friend introduced him to Skall, who was interested in starting a packaging brewery and had the business experience Hancock lacked.
The two men raised $600,000 from 26 private investors, got Skall’s father, a lawyer, to do some paperwork and have never looked back. DC Brau was named the fifth-fastest growing brewery in the U.S. by business news site The Street in 2013. “It’s a good problem to have when you can’t brew enough beer,” Hancock says.
Who Would Want This Job: People who like beer and like working with their hands would make great brewers.
Brewing also requires attention to detail, because the tanks that hold the beer must be squeaky-clean, lest they grow bacteria.
“You can come up with great recipes in your head, and they could win medals or awards, but if you’re not keeping your brewery clean,” the beers won’t taste right, Hancock says.
Brewing is more about technical prowess than natural talent, he says. So while a good sense of smell (and taste) can come in handy, even more important are neat-freak tendencies.
How You Can Get This Job: Home-brewing is great practice. But packaging breweries and brewpubs operate on a larger scale, so home-brewing alone won’t prepare you for a full-time job, Hancock says.
As craft beer’s popularity rises, there are more opportunities for wannabe brewers. Consider finding an unpaid apprenticeship like Hancock. To get one, ask around at local brewpubs. Or you could start off at a packaging brewery in a low-level job, such as a technician on the bottling line, and work your way up.
Or you could attend a brewing school or get a brewing certificate at a university. Hancock took a distance course from the Siebel Institute of Technology & World Brewing Academy in Chicago.
If you want to start your own brewery, bone up on business skills, or find a market-savvy partner like Hancock did. And you’ll have to make a few sacrifices. “Be ready to take a severe pay cut, work long hours hunched over in a wet environment, and lift 55 pounds [of ingredients] repeatedly,” Hancock says.
The payoff is in the pour. Hancock loves going to a restaurant and ordering a “physical, tangible” drink that he created. “That feeling never gets old,” he says.