Career, Q+A, Slide Show — April 1, 2013 5:06 pm

Career Q+A: Beer Brewer

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A beer brewer shares how his lifelong hobby morphed into a successful business.

Mike Dewey, 40, holds a beer at Mt. Carmel Brewery in Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo by Kim Scaff.

When Cincinnati native Mike Dewey began home-brewing more than 10 years ago, he developed a love for the craft and was faced with a tough decision: to continue his job as a mechanical engineer or jumpstart a new career in the brewing business. Now 40, Dewey and his wife, Kathleen, have been the proud owners of Mt. Carmel Brewing Company for eight years and continue to offer a vast selection of tasty brews throughout Ohio and Kentucky.

Q: What got you into the beer-brewing business?

A: Interestingly enough, I was always into beer, even in high school. I was the guy who opted for the six-pack of good beer over the case of cheap beer. During the 90’s, it didn’t seem like Cincinnati had what it took to be part of the growing craft movement that states like California and Oregon had going for them. It was the demise of one of my favorite local breweries during this time, Oldenburg in 2001, that launched the idea that I would do something myself.

Q: Can you give a brief history on the startup of Mt. Carmel Brewing Co.?

Mike Dewey pours a light beer from the tap. Photo by Kim Scaff.

A: I started home-brewing as a hobby in 2001. It’s difficult and time consuming when you have limited resources. It takes away patience to make something drinkable, much less good. I started building on that and after thousands of dollars spent, I essentially had a nano-brewery set up in the basement of our home. It was actually nicer than other startup breweries, and even though it was small, we were able to make good and consistent beer. At that point we decided to make a go at it, but only as a side project to our day jobs.

Q: So were you looking for an escape from the day job you had?

A: We weren’t looking for that, but quickly after getting a license and selling the product we realized that it would cost more money if we didn’t start making and selling more beer. It was at that time that brewing beer and building our brewery was a lot more exciting than [my day job]. I would essentially build other people’s dreams — a chiropractor office, a flower shop, a bookstore — basically building everyone else’s dreams but mine. It came down to the flip of a coin. What was more fun? I went for the brewery, left the construction work behind and became the first full-time employee, followed shortly by my wife, Kathleen, with accounting.

Q: Were there any trials or troubles starting in the beginning?

A: You know, it was all positive feedback, from every angle. However, the headaches never stop, as with any small business. Getting settled with suppliers was the more difficult task. It took about three years to find a glass supplier and a steady hop supplier that were consistent and reliable. Something is always not working the way it should. However, if you’re willing to put in the sweat capital, it’ll work, but most people aren’t. We didn’t have a bank loan to start out; we had the risk of, “Will our brand win sufficient support of the market?” It came down to a well-calculated plan and a lot of work that had to be put into it to get to the level we wanted.

Q: Describe a typical day of work at the brewery and if it compares to a typical nine-to-five.

Mike Dewey sits behind his bar at his Cincinnati brewery. Photo by Kim Scaff.

A: About two years ago we had a 100 percent turnover in employees, and since then I’ve been able to take a step back from production. My day-to-day activities are still small business goals: working on efficiency, ordering, scheduling, monitoring of reports and projecting surges and swings. I used to be in the day-to-day brewing and packaging process in the warehouse. Hours are never the typical nine to five. Whenever anything needs to get done, it gets done. Most employees are hitting overtime by Thursday, and that’s every week. That gives you an idea of their dedication. The amount of cleaning never stops. We operate from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. most days. If you want to see a clean brewery, you have to come in between those hours [laughs]. The theory is you have to break eggs to make an omelet, and basically it’s a working brewery.

Q: What’s the best part about what you do?

An award for 'Best Blonde Ale' hangs on the brewery's wall. Photo by Kim Scaff.

A: I think the [best part] is that my wife and I found a sustainable company that employs people: people who come to work every day and love what they do and look forward to the day. I enjoy hearing stories about our employees who get acknowledgement or a sense of pride when someone recognizes them or a Mt. Carmel shirt they’re wearing, like, “Hey, you work for Mt. Carmel. Let me buy you a drink.” It’s very cool; and drinking a beer while doing an interview, now that’s cool!

Q: I read a recently conducted study that shows drinking on the job (moderately, of course) helps employees feel more relaxed and have a better work ethic.

A: It makes sense. I get that whole health awareness from it. You got to put yourself in a comfortable environment in order for your best to come through and I think that contributes to Mt. Carmel. The employees here feel comfortable and that’s where the magic happens.

Q: Out of all the beer you’ve made, what’s your favorite brew?

A: As far as my recipes go, our Nut Brown Ale is my strongest as far as styles go. I’m the master brewer, followed by two brew masters, and what we’ve been doing is generating ideas and concepts as a whole — a group effort. My other favorites are our seasonal beers. It’s something we always look forward to.

Q: What is your favorite part of brewing?

A: For me, it’s the process side — the creativity side. There’s as much creativity on the process side as there is on the recipe side, and we have several different ways to make beer, and I love producing something that people actually enjoy.

A lineup of the various brews at Mt. Carmel Brewery. Photo by Kim Scaff.

Q: What about tasting the final product?

A: Working at a brewery, you have to taste a lot of beer, sometimes more often than you might like. You can buy all the fancy equipment you want, but actually knowing your beer by sensory awareness is the most important part. People say, “You probably drink a lot at work,” and well, it’s true. It’s like a holiday around here when a new brew comes out.

Q: Do you have any advice for someone who might want to start a career in the brewing business?

A: My advice is pretty common sense, but work at a [local] brewery, you know. It helps to learn the day-to-day basis of the brewing atmosphere. Nowadays it’s hard, though, because most [big-name] breweries require formal training.

Q: Do you think people should drink craft beer over domestic brands?

Mike Dewey behind the beer taps at Mt. Carmel Brewery. Photo by Kim Scaff.

A: Hell Yeah! [Laughs] My interpretation is this: If you’re drinking a domestic beer every time you drink beer, it’s like eating the same food for every meal. It doesn’t make sense when there are so many other options out there.

Q: Has being a brewer taught you anything over the years?

A: Not so much about myself, but I frequently tell people that I’ve learned more about human resources then I have making beer. We found that to be the make-or-break for any small business. Having a greater awareness of resources in your pockets leads to building a better business.

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