What’s the Hardest Job in Brewing?
Averie Swanson, head brewer at Jester King Brewery, gives the lowdown on her old job.
Written by Kenny Gould
Photo by Jester King Brewery
At twenty-nine-years-old, Averie Swanson recently earned the title of Head Brewer at Jester King Brewery in Austin, Texas. But before accepting the job, Swanson worked as Jester King’s production manager, commonly regarded as one of the hardest positions in the industry.
Swanson’s career started in the sciences: after graduating with a degree in biology from the University of Houston, Averie Swanson did clinical research at Texas Children’s Hospital, where she worked with premature infants.
“It was a hard thing to do, working with babies in pain,” Swanson said in an interview at Jester King’s brewery.
She eventually moved to Australia, where she studied bowerbirds, before heading to Austin, where she hoped to get into a graduate program for cognitive neuroscience. But although she was a competitive applicant, the program chose other candidates.
Four months after receiving her rejection, Swanson started volunteering at Jester King, known by beer nuts across the country for their mixed and spontaneous fermentation beers that use Texas yeast, well water, fruits, and grains. Swanson began in packaging and, at the beginning of 2016, became production manager.
“It’s like putting together a puzzle where all of the puzzle pieces are changing as you’re putting them together,” Swanson said.
The production manager role at Jester King has a lot of overlap with the same position at other breweries: on any given day, Swanson needed to order raw materials, as well as any other strange ingredient that the brewery chose to use. At a brewery like Jester King, which prides itself on local and hard-to-find ingredients, this included oyster mushrooms, Alderwood smoked salt, and figs, among others.
Swanson also ordered all the glass and equipment, and set the brewing schedules and schedules for Jester King’s personnel: on days when the weather was perfect for brewing (Jester King doesn’t have an insulated brew house), that often meant getting into the brewery at 5:30 AM to prep water and not leaving until 9:00 or 10:00 PM.
But perhaps one of Swanson’s most important jobs as production manager was blending. Jester King ages a lot of their beer in wood, and the product that ends up in a glass is often the combination of several different barrels.
“It’s like putting together a puzzle where all of the puzzle pieces are changing as you’re putting them together.”
To be a production manager, Swanson said, requires three skills: flexibility, creative problem solving, and patience, which are all skills she brought into her role at Jester King from past positions.
“From studying bowerbirds, I learned that when you begin learning something, it’s easy to get tunnel vision,” Swanson says. “From that experience, I learned how to step back and look at a system holistically.”
That’s where she gets her flexibility. From waiting tables as an undergraduate, she learned creative problem solving, and her time at the hospital taught her patience.
Despite the challenges, Swanson enjoyed the position.
“People make better conversationalists than bowerbirds,” she said. “Those things are not the nicest, for sure.”