Team Building

“The Brewer’s Backstory”-Episode 20

April 2010

The Brewer's Justice cover

Coming January 2016!

“One last item on the agenda before I let you guys get back to the brewhouse,” said Rex, the graveyard shift supervisor.

The words, “last item” penetrated Brad’s wandering thoughts and reeled him back to reality. He wondered how many of the fourteen other people in the room were mentally elsewhere. Rex had covered scheduling, quality control, all the usual issues. Brad readied himself to get on with the night’s duties.

“The brewing supervisors have come up with voluntary team building project,” Rex said, raising his eyebrows, which typically signaled he expected his listeners to share his enthusiasm. An avid mountain biker without an ounce of unnecessary body fat, Rex thrived on competition.

“If it involves Chinese cooking classes or getting in touch with our feelings, I’m out,” Carl declared. Brad stifled a smile. After twenty-eight years on the night shift, barrel-chested Carl didn’t hesitate to speak his mind.

“Oh, come on, Carl,” Rex said. “When you were working your way through—how many was it?—three plates of dumplings that day, I thought you liked cooking class.”

Carl grunted and waved a hand in front of his face. “Only two, and it was way too much work.”

“Well, this latest project is strictly voluntary and done whenever you and your partner want.” Rex paused, presumably to let the anticipation build. “We’re having a homebrewing competition for employees on all three shifts!”

“I’m in,” Brad said, his hand in the air. After three years at Coors, constantly turning out consistent six-hundred-barrel brews was a snap. And boring as heck. Officially, he was a brewing specialist, not even a brewer. Hell, back at Funky Flatirons, at least he’d been an assistant brewer. With Maddy graduating from law school in a few weeks and taking the bar exam in August, they’d be in the money by Christmas. Then Brad would start looking around the Denver area for craft brewing jobs. The pay and benefits couldn’t match what he had here, but brewing corporate beer to someone else’s exact standards for the rest of his life just wasn’t his thing. And being turned down for the day shift job last year still stung. A Coors homebrew project, though, he could do, and even enjoy.

“I figured you’d be the first, Brad,” Rex said. “Here’s the deal: teams consist of two or three people, with only one experienced homebrewer per team. As an added incentive, teams get to take off a half day in order to brew their entry. Your beer has to be ready to go by Saturday, June 5 when we’ve scheduled a barbeque and beer tasting for all brewing employees. I’ll be sending an email with the details.”

Chairs scraped the tile floor as people got up and headed back into the brewhouse. Behind Brad, someone called his name. He turned to see Derek, a shift operator with a biker mustache. “If you need a partner, I’m available. I could probably wrestle Carl into helping us.”

Brad knew the two men ate together in the cafeteria, part of a group, all in their mid-forties. He’d heard them discussing weekend motorcycle rides that ended with everybody drinking beer at the American Legion Hall. The years and the sun had taken a heavy toll on Derek’s skin and on the faded blue tattoo that Brad had noticed the day they met. An arrow pierced a heart on Derek’s still muscled bicep. Inside the heart and atop the arrow, the letters M-O-M were fuzzy but legible.

“What do you say we talk during the lunch break?” Brad asked. “We’ll need to figure out our style and recipe.”

****

A week and a half after Rex threw down the challenge, Derek and Carl sat on the patio of the small Boulder home Brad and Maddy had rented since Brad hired on at Coors. The day had begun cool but a full morning of bright sun in the cloudless sky had sent the temperature into the mid-eighties by early afternoon. “Your wife didn’t seem overly impressed with our Harleys before she left,” Carl commented.

“She’d change her mind if we took her out on the back of one,” Derek said before taking a drink of Brad’s homebrewed brown ale. He eyed the glass. “This is some mighty fine beer.”

“Thanks,” Brad said. He stood near the eight-gallon brew pot where a ring of flames hissed and danced up from the propane burner. “When the water reaches 150o, we’ll start mashing.”

“Where’s your mashtun?” Carl asked. Brad nodded toward an orange Home Depot cooler. “You serious?” Carl said, laughing.

“You got to remember, we’re brewing about one-three thousandth of a Coors batch,” Brad answered. “I made a false bottom so it doubles as a lautertun.”

“My son’s friend did that,” Derek said, standing to examine Brad’s work.

“Your son homebrews?” Brad asked.

“Learning. He’s stationed at Fort Bragg and has some buddies who do. The wife and I visited a couple months ago, and Tony took me to one of their brewing sessions.

“Mind if I have a second glass?” Carl asked, getting up from the canvas folding chair and stepping toward the garage.

“You know where the beer fridge is,” Brad said, “The brown ale’s in the small keg.”

“Out there in North Carolina, Tony took us to some brewpubs,” Derek continued. For the three years Brad had known him, the man had rarely spoken about anything other than the work at hand. “I’ve been a Coors man since my old man started giving me sips. But I have to admit, I really liked that chocolate imperial stout.”

“That have anything to do with your suggest we brew a chocolate imperial stout today?” Brad asked with a grin.

“Might have,” Derek said, smiling back.

“Water’s almost hot enough,” Brad said. “Derek, you want to pour those grains in the mashtun?”

“What do you want me to do?” Carl asked, coming from the garage with a full glass.

“How about the heavy lifting? You can pour the water into the mashtun.”

Veins bulged in Carl’s arms as he lifted the pot that weighed over fifty pounds. “Pour really slow,” Brad instructed as he reached under the pot to help support it.

“Now what?” Carl asked when he had emptied the pot.

“Break time,” Brad said.

“Mind if I visit the bar for a refill?” Derek asked.

“If you like IPAs,” Brad said, “you might want to try the other keg.”

While the grains steeped, Carl and Derek opened up. “I barely finished high school and didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do,” Derek said. “A week after graduation, I enlisted in the Army and spent four years seeing the country, courtesy of Uncle Sam. Woke up one morning after night of hard partying and this was on my arm,” he said, fingering the tattoo. “I discovered I liked running machines, and I could fix almost anything that broke down, especially after they sent me to machinist school. I left Colorado a smart-ass punk and came back a man with a trade.”

“You sure did a good job with that cranky mill last month,” Brad said.

Once they had mashed, lautered and had the brew boiling, Derek said, “You know, Brad, for the last year, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”

Derek’s glass was empty, but Brad decided against offering a refill. Maddy would totally lose it if the bikers had to sleep over and sober up. “What’s that, Derek?”

“We all knew you were bummed about not getting that job on the day shift.”

Brad shrugged and said, “Thanks. No big deal, now.”

“Well,” Derek continued, word from our Harley brother on the day shift is, that fermentation expert they hired over you, he don’t know shit.”

Brad laughed and finished the last of his own beer. “Yeah?”

“That’s true,” Carl said. “We’re glad the interview committee thought you weren’t enough of a team player. And for the record we totally disagree.” Brad didn’t know whether Carl’s words or the slap of his hand on Brad’s shoulder stung more.

“They said what?”

“You know, that shit about you not being a team player cuz when the power went out you started fixing things without consulting us. Hell, we didn’t care. We were scrambling to fix other stuff.” Carl paused, his face flushed and perspiring. “We want you to know we hope you stay on graveyard as long as we have, buddy.”

“That’s right!” Derek said, hitting Brad’s shoulder with his own slap of brotherhood.

Was that the real reason he hadn’t gotten the job? The interview committee had listened to his story of triumph and concluded he wasn’t a team player? Thank God he hadn’t gotten the job and had to work with those assholes. His time a Coors was definitely limited. “Thanks, guys, I appreciate hearing you say that. Looks like it’s time for us to start chilling the wort. Derek, you want to do the honors and carry the pot this time?”

“I’m on it,” the big man said, gripping the handles and lifting with an ease Brad couldn’t match even on his best day. Was it his imagination or did MOM look less fuzzy when Derek’s biceps were popped out? It was a good thing the bikers and their muscles were on it. At that moment, Brad was so deflated he couldn’t have lifted the pot off the burner, much less hauled it anywhere. As much as he appreciated these guys, he was now more certain than ever that his future wasn’t at Coors. Beyond that, the future was one giant question mark.

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