Becoming a Brewer at Hog’s Head

Growing up could be a wild time when you look back at it. Trying to determine what you want to do with yourself is a part of that journey. Some people want to become doctors & lawyers, others might want to join the fire department or take the reins of a corporation as a businessman. Then there are those different guys who seem to really like….beer. Some people think they’re a little strange, others just call them trouble makers; but hey, those people are crazy because beer is a pretty friggin’ awesome thing to be a part of. Shaun McCabe was one of those guys who just fell in love with the art & science that is beer (don’t worry buddy you aren’t alone). I want to write about him in this article because Shaun’s story really shows how homebrewing, passion, dedication and a little volunteer work can sometimes lead to your dream career.

Background Check

Shaun at Hogs Head

Shaun is the guy on the left. He is standing next to Bruce, the brewmaster at Hog’s Head. Pic courtesy of St. Albert Leader

Shaun is from our provincial capital up north. Like most of the people I seem to know, Shaun started to drink beer when he became old enough to enjoy partying. Of course the beer that he began with was kind of crappy, this is also like everyone I know (including myself).

He gradually started gravitating to some of the more flavourful easily accessible beers like Sleemans and Rickards Red. Then, after a while, he had that one beer that changed everything. Alley Kat Brewing Co is one of the oldest and most respected microbreweries in Alberta and it is from Edmonton. The first craft beers that Shaun grabbed a hold of came out of this local craft brewery. It was also the first brewery tour that he took (it’s like you’re a kid in a candy shop the 1st time). After this there was no turning back.

Brewing up a Brewer

It was 2011 when Shaun first started to get into homebrewing. It all happened while hanging out with one of his best buddies and talking about what they would do if they won a million bucks. By then they were both beer lovers so they agreed that starting a brewery would be the thing to do. Rather than just leave it at that Shaun actually started to make a plan on how to do this.

Shaun's brewing space at home.

Shaun’s brewing space at home.

Learning how to brew was step number one. So he got some equipment and started having some fun with making his own beer. It is here where aspiring brewers get to have the most fun. Experimenting with different styles, tweaking recipes, getting the brew process down pat, etc. It’s just like cooking or science class except you get to drink beer afterwards!

Shaun also began researching what it would take to open up a brewery. He even started working on a business plan! That was when he realized that if he was seriously going to raise some capital he would have to get some brewing education on his track record.

Brewlab

This looks like a pretty sweet place to go study.

So it was off to Sunderland, England, for a 4 day intensive course on the ins & outs of brewing at Brewlab. The course delves into the practical side of brewing with courses on the science of making beer, sensory analysis and touring breweries to see how a working system is set up and run by professionals. It also gets into the business side of brewing which is just as important as making the beer itself. Shaun learned about the importance of marketing, filling out paperwork and operating a profitable business.  It was a good overview of the complete package.

Getting into the Bizz

Back to his hotel room in the UK after a long day of studying Shaun checked Twitter and noticed that Hog’s Head Brewing Co had put out a call for volunteers. Here was his opportunity to break into the business that he wanted to be a part of.

Once he got back to Alberta he volunteered to help out at Hog’s Head with one of his friends. The volunteer work lasted for about 4-5 months where he would go in and lend a hand whenever he could. Brewmaster Bruce Sample eventually started inviting Shaun to come in on brew days. It was on one of those busy days that the owner, Brian Molloy, walked by Shaun and offered him a part-time job.

Hog's Head Microbrewery

Now Shaun gets to brew here!

This part-time job lasted about half of a year before becoming full time. Now Shaun works as the Brewery Operations Manager at Hog’s Head. He is mainly responsible for making the brewing process more streamlined and efficient. His education and past experience working at Liquor Connect (13 years experience to be exact) help him when it comes to organizing/managing the operation.

Upon learning about Shaun’s logistic skills I asked him if it would be possible to redirect some beer my way.  After a long awkward pause Shaun continued to talk about what he & Hog’s Head would like to accomplish.

Basically their goal is to become the largest craft brewery in Northern Alberta, one that is known for brewing bold “in your face” beers. With a double IPA like Hop Slayer, their Death by Pumpkin fall seasonal (which has a cult following), the creamy and hoppy Boss Hog oatmeal IPA and the big rich imperial stout Black Hog Down I think that it is safe to say that they are definitely brewing beers that make a statement.

I am happy to know that there are guys out there like Shaun who find what they want to do, work hard at reaching their goals and then get rewarded for their dedication in the end with a dream job. Hog’s Head are lucky to have a passionate beer geek like him. So cheers to breaking into the best industry around & cheers to local craft beer!

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