This Beermaker Broke Down What It’s Like to Actually Own a Craft Brewery
It was blisteringly cold in Dayton, Ohio, in late January, but my Bangarang! IPA was keeping me warm and content as I sat inside Eudora Brewing Company across from owner, head brewer and quality control extraordinaire, Neil Chabut.
After years of homebrewing, Chabut opened Eudora back in 2013, during his time studying psychology at the University of Dayton.
My hometown of Dayton has become quite the hot spot for microbreweries and nanobreweries like Eudora. In the last decade, the area has become home to some of my favorites, including Warped Wing, Lock 27, Toxic, Carillon Brewing, Lucky Star, Dayton Beer Company and, of course, Eudora.
This is representative of a much larger trend nationwide as craft beer continues to gain popularity with drinkers of all ages, creating jobs for thousands of beer lovers. Breweries accounted for more than half of the employment growth within the beverage manufacturing industry from 2006 to 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
At the time of the recession in the late 2000s, breweries (including macrobreweries like Budweiser and craft breweries like Boston Beer Company) employed about 25,000 workers nationwide. By 2012, that number had grown to nearly 30,000, and by 2016, it had climbed to almost 59,000 employees. In just six years, the industry had more than doubled.
My home state of Ohio has been at the front of that industry growth. In 2006, Ohio was one of just four states (joined by California, Colorado and Texas) to employ more than 1,600 brewery workers. Today, another 10 states have joined the list.
As someone who loves an ice cold beer — and with the gut to prove it — I understand why breweries are on the rise from a consumer’s standpoint. But I wanted to hear from Chabut why he had chosen to make a career out of brewing and selling beer and what life is like when you spend it creating the world’s most special beverage.
Brewing Beer for a Living
“What I love about brewing beer,” Chabut told me, “is that it mixes creativity and science.”
After learning the fundamental science behind brewing beer, Chabut has been able to get creative and develop new recipes. He told me he is currently working on a nitro beer and eventually wants to do a full line of nitros, including a hoppy nitro or two.
But brewers in micro- and nanobreweries don’t just flex their creativity when concocting new recipes. They also have to develop a name for every beer they brew and sell, which can be fun — and challenging.
“You have to consider beers named by breweries nationwide,” Chabut explained, “because you don’t want to name yours the same.”
He has trademarked a few of his more popular beers, like Bangarang! IPA and Sundowner.
And how he has named all of the beers?
“The names come from a variety of inspirations,” Chabut said.
Robin Williams fans will recognize Bangarang! from the movie “Hook,” one of Chabut’s favorites. He used another movie — a James Bond flick he watched with his grandfather—to name his oatmeal stout Thunderball. Worm Burner, Eudora’s recent Scottish ale, is named after the golf term.
“Even though I’m a crappy golfer,” he added.
Chabut also had the same challenge every new small business owner encounters: naming the company.
I asked Chabut how he had come up with Eudora, and he smiled while he remembered a sociology class he had taken back in college.
“In this class, I had learned about the major water crisis much of the world is facing. I planned to use my business to help the cause by giving back, so I wanted a name that conveyed that. And Eudora is Greek for ‘good gift.’”
And voila — the brewery had its name.
As for the water crisis, Chabut’s brewery has followed through on the very mission that inspired the Eudora name. A portion of every sale is donated to Charity Water.
Chabut also told me that his donation buckets have been successful. Thus far, Eudora has helped fund projects to bring clean water to people in Laos, Ethiopia and Cambodia, among other countries. The brewery currently aims to raise $10,000 to fund a project entirely on its own.
What Brewers Actually Do
With 59,000 employees working in the brewing industry in the U.S., the work is bound to be varied.
I (and my taste buds) have had the pleasure of doing a brewery tour in Washington D.C., as well as the Budweiser tour in St. Louis, where I got to see firsthand what the employees did each day.
While Budweiser had a lot of varied roles — from management to marketing to tour guide to actual beer taster (yes, that was someone’s job) — the smaller breweries are run a little differently.
At Eudora, for instance, Chabut has about 15 employees, yet he is the only one brewing the beer. He also runs the day-to-day operations.
“Every day is different, every week is different,” he told me. “Some weeks I work 50 hours, and sometimes I work 30. Depends on what I’m scheduled to brew and what challenges I run into.”
The evening I visited his taproom, he had just overcome a new challenge he hadn’t yet seen in his four-plus years as a brewer: a broken pump.
“I couldn’t send it away to a professional because I am set to brew tomorrow, so I just ordered a few parts and figured out how to fix it myself,” he explained.
But Chabut also battles the same issues other small business owners must tackle — issues ranging from credit card machines going down to customer service problems. Luckily, though, Chabut said he runs a pretty tight organization, much of which is due to his stellar employees. Many have been around since the beginning.
Most of Chabut’s employees actually work as bartenders, chatting with the regulars and finding them the perfect beer. Chabut also has an accountant (a good call, because in my experience, beer and math don’t mix) and a few employees who manage the customer brewing portion of the business.
Customer brewing is actually something that makes Eudora unique in the Dayton area. I haven’t tried it myself (yet), but Chabut explained that, much like the wine and painting events that have become popular in recent years, customer brewing is a great event to do with friends.
Customers are involved in every part of the process, from grinding to adding hops. They can even design their own logos for the bottles when they pick up their beer a few weeks later.
If you’ve given thought to working at a brewery or even opening your own, you should find a brewery near you that does customer brewing and try it out. Better yet, follow in Chabut’s footsteps and begin brewing at home.
Chabut hinted that it’s not the most lucrative career in the world, but he works with something he’s passionate about every day with co-workers and customers who share that same passion. He met his girlfriend through the beer industry and has even traveled to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival.
“My favorite part of running the business is getting to know the customers and other people in the industry,” he explained. “I’ve met so many awesome people over my beers; it’s like ‘Cheers.’ I have plenty of Norms who each have their own seats. It’s really cool to see this community of people who love good beer.”
So where does the brewery industry go from here?
My (beer) gut tells me it will continue to rise over the next decade, especially if I keep shelling out my hard-earned cash for six-packs. Now is a good time to get into the game, whether you hope to work at an established brewery (there are plenty to choose from—they’ve grown fivefold in the last six years) or to open your own.
Timothy Moore is a writer, editor and long-time beer drinker. His favorite go-to beers are Lagunitas IPA, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale and, on a hot summer day, a Leinenkugel Summer Shandy. But for the best IPA of your life, he wholeheartedly recommends Flying Monkeys’ Smashbomb Atomic IPA, which is also just really fun to say.