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Art, science combine for craft brewer

Adrian Popowycz, Brewmaster at Black Oak Brewing

Name: Adrian Popowycz
Years of experience: 5 in current position
Occupation: Brewmaster at Black Oak Brewing

Q: Describe some of the ideal qualities a person should have to succeed inyour industry?


A: You need to love beer in all of its forms and styles. Be creative, artistic with a sensitive palate and keen sense of smell while also being a detail-oriented, clean freak. Also, it helps to be flexible and adaptable, as plans often change on a dime.

Q: How did you get started in your industry?

A: I wanted to pursue a brewing career straight out of high school, but sadly, at the time there were not a lot of craft breweries in business. My academic adviser suggested I apply for work at one of the major breweries, but without an inside connection, it was difficult to find a position. Instead, I pursued a Masters in Chemistry, which led me to a career in biotechnology in California. I still held a passion for beer, however, and eventually decided to go back to school to follow my dream. I attended the renowned VLB Brewing School in Germany and received my Brewmasters Diploma. My career detour turned out to be right up my alley, as brewing beer is the oldest form of biotechnology. Still undecided as to what country to begin my new career in, I went home to visit family in Toronto, attended the Fort York Festival of Beer and met Ken Woods, owner and founder of Black Oak Brewing Company. The rest, shall we say, is history.

Q: What kind of background, either educational or other, best suits someone starting out in your industry?

A: In North America, craft brewers come from a wide variety of backgrounds.The most successful ones have some form of science background, such as chemistry, engineering or bio sciences. It helps to have a creative or artistic side as brewing is an amazing combination of art and science.In a small brewery, you have to wear many hats, so a jack-of-all trades type of person can do very well.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: I love creating award-winning, great-tasting craft beers using all natural ingredients! Is there a finer job out there? I am proud to be part of a vibrant community of like-minded brewers trying to expand the public’s awareness and enjoyment of Ontario Craft Beer. Even though we may compete, we support one another and do not hesitate to help each other when problems arise. It is rewarding to be environmentally mindful of how we produce our products and use our ingredients and resources. At Black Oak, we brew beer with lots of flavour and it is always a hoot to meet folks at beer events. I enjoy watching people experience new tastes with craft beer as well as answering questions about the ingredients or brewing process, etc. It is truly rewarding to be able to apply my scientific skills to a creative process. It’s almost a Zen thing.

Q: What are the most challenging aspects of your industry?

A: As a craft brewer, one of our biggest challenges is to convince people to be adventurous and explore the unique and tasty products produced by Ontario Craft Brewers. We don’t have the marketing clout of the majors, but we do offer an amazing variety of locally produced beer, providing local jobs, which in turn benefits local communities. There is nothing simple about brewing. Black Oak has just completed a difficult but successful move from Oakville to Etobicoke. We had to over come a series of logistical challenges but we learned many things, and benefited from our past mistakes. Now, we have a well-conceived space that will improve our quality, productivity and creativity. Not to mention, the new brewery is much more visitor/tourist friendly!

Q: For newcomers to the industry, what tips would you offer them on getting started in their career?

A: A good place to start is home brewing, just to get the feel of the process. You should continuously look for ways to improve your knowledge and experience. There are many web-based and “live” tools available. Go visit Ontario’s craft breweries and talk to the brewers. Check out the many website and blogs devoted to craft brewing.Volunteer to help a brewery at festivals or on packaging days to gain some ideas of the trade. Opportunities can pop up literally anywhere so be flexible as to where you might live/work. And lastly, don’t be afraid of getting wet.

Q: What kind of local associations/organizations/volunteer activities would you recommend for people just starting out?

A: I volunteer my spare time as the Chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) Technical Committee, which oversees Quality and Education opportunities for OCB brewers. There is also the Master Brewers Association of the America’s (MBAA), the Association of Brewing Chemist (ASBC). I would also suggest looking into the Beer Judge Certification program BJCP as well as The Canadian Amateurs Brewing Association (CABA).

 
 
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