Tyler Glaze, Quality Assurance/Control Manager at Short's Brewery in Bellaire, MI, told me in a recent e-mail interview about his journey to make a career out of brewing science.
Glaze's studies as a chemist began first at College of the Canyons and then at Cal Poly (California Polytechnic State University), where he started with a heavy course load in biochemistry with aspirations of getting his BS. "It was rough going from the start," he wrote. Though he enjoyed organic chemistry ("Who doesn't love a good Grignard reaction?"), he had particular trouble with his quantitative analysis class which was required for the major. "That course looming over my head drove me to abandon biochem and seek out another path. After that semester I 'discovered' beer for the first time and the stars started to align."
Glaze then switched his focus to microbiology. Learning the ins and outs of yeast and other microorganisms went hand in hand with his growing interest in craft brewing. The change in major would throw a wrench in his schedule and make continuing at Cal Poly more difficult, "but I thought, 'What the hell? Why not?'"
By the end of the semester, Glaze had left Cal Poly and been placed on a wait list at the University of California Davis brewing school. The wait was three years. In the interim, Glaze worked and continued homebrewing while blogging and publishing podcasts about his hobby. After a year, while still on the wait list at UC Davis, he tried his hand applying to Short's Brewing Company. "When I applied to [Short's] I had a weird resume: 4th-year college chemistry/microbiology dropout, beer blogger, podcaster, and amateur wine aficionado."
Despite the weird resume, he landed an interview. He was taken into the quality control lab at the brewery, which at that time, "wasn't too fancy. I identified the 1960's era UV spectrophotometer, the bio-safety cabinet, and the autoclave. I knew how to use them all, so that was a plus and I got the job." After that, he was on his own, armed with his own creativity, a "set of [American Society of Brewing Chemists] methods 200 pages thick," and the job of setting up whatever program he thought was needed to improve Short's beer. "My chemistry knowledge seriously came in handy at that point." Glaze started by implementing a protocol to quantify a compound called diacetyl in the finished beer, and also by cracking down on microbial control using information from certain tests. "Without those two skill sets, I would probably not have become a full-time employee after my internship period was over."
But he kept the job, and it's been Short's Brewing Co. ever since.
Glaze's job has evolved over time to include less and less bench work. These days, with the lab established and running, he focuses his attention on training new employees and on planning large future projects to continue improving the quality control process at Short's. When asked about how creativity played a role in his work, he responded that although the individual tests themselves were fairly standard, seeing the big picture in the test results and using them to develop better ways of handling beer requires quite a bit of ingenuity. Progress in brewing has a special reward: "When you get something right the beer starts to taste better. It's really gratifying."
Tyler Glaze started with the goal of getting a chemistry degree, but realized early on that it wasn't for him. By staying flexible, exploring his options, and working hard, he was able to combine his interest in science with a rich and complex system that also happens to be delicious: craft beer. The result? A career that he loves. "My advice to someone who is considering going off the beaten path would be to hurry up and do it. You'll thank me later when all of your friends have stress ulcers and mid-life crises and you have had your dream job since age 22 and have really made people happy with something that you are passionate about."
|Mr. Glaze and everyone at Short's|
are doing a great job - trust me.
For more information on the chemistry of beer brewing, there are many blogs and podcasts available, but you might start with the very thorough "beer sensory science." If you're a scientist by trade and you reside behind the paywall, there's also the Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists and the Journal of the Institute of Brewing (UK-based), to name two notable publications. Finally, for more information on nontraditional chemistry careers, you might start wit this ACS webinar or this extremely detailed list.