The Man Who Went from Corporate Blah Inc. to Brewing Beer

Nick in his element of making beer.

Nick in his element of making beer.

Nick spent five years after college graduation in various digital media positions. When new leaders took over the company where he was working and began drilling corporate propaganda into employee’s heads, Nick seriously started to question what he was doing. He began exploring options with what he loved – brewing beer. He found a local brewery that needed help one night a week. Shortly thereafter Nick was laid off. With time on his hands and the desire to take the risk, Nick left the idea of working for corporate America behind, started working full time at the brewery and has never looked back.

Here is a bit of his story

How did you feel about your job before you got laid off?


I was doing SEO. It was an interesting time for the company where I was working. Three months after I started the founder passed away and new people took over. They wanted to take the company in a new direction. They created a lot of mission statements and core values which they were constantly drilling in our heads. I can understand the importance of core values, but constantly beating them into your employee’s heads does not really sit well with me. I started thinking about what I wanted to do. I had interviews with other digital media companies. I was trying to figure out if I wanted to move companies or even stay in the industry. I had kind of fallen out of love with it.

How did you get into brewing beer?

My passion had always been home brewing. Since I was 21, I went to this home brewing place where they give you all of the ingredients and recipes to make your own beer. Then you come back two weeks later and bottle it. I always had a lot of fun with that, so much so that I got my own homebrew set and my girlfriend and I starting making our own batches at home.

I started getting really interested in it, reading more about it and going to various blogs and message boards to learn more about it. There are a bunch of breweries in Cleveland and northeast Ohio. I started sending them email and telling them that I was interested in learning more and getting into it and asking them if they needed someone to help out, maybe even one night a week. A lot of places did not respond, some responded and told me to check back in with them later and then the one that did need help just happened to be the place where I used to go brew beer with my dad.

What was that place all about?

The name of it is the Brew Kettle. It was started in 1995 by a husband and wife and now they have grown to over 80 employees and have their own production facilities. I talked to the owner over email and we agreed I would come in one night a week. I started working on Thursday’s from 530 pm – 1030 pm after work.

What did you initially do for them?

I just helped them with whatever they needed. They were pretty short staffed at the time.

Tell me about the process of getting laid off and deciding to work at the brewery full time.

Around the same time I started working there I had my one year review with my boss where I was doing SEO. I felt my work was good, but they felt differently and I was let go. It was interesting. I think with all of the changes in corporate culture I was just really not fitting in.

They did really weird things. They had this huge Christmas party at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They put us all up in hotels and threw this huge party, but no one got bonuses that year. They wanted to impress clients. They wanted to show they were a young company that has fun. They were relaxed on the dress code and that sort of thing, but really it was a grind. If you were not buying into it, it really showed. I didn’t like the values. I think I knew it was time to go and that was pretty much it. I was let go in March of 2011.

It was an interesting month. I did not have a job. I was working one day a week at the Brew Kettle. They were growing and needed more help. One of their drivers quit and they needed people to transport their beer. I started going in five days a week and getting good experience. I was washing tanks and trying to get my foot in the door. I helped out wherever I could with the brewers and bottlers.

And you moved up the ranks over time?

I kept putting in the hours. They kept buying more tanks. They were growing. I knew it was going to be a good place to be. I just tried to help out wherever I could. I think that was the best way for me to learn. I got a good feel for how everything worked.

I started making my own batches of beer with the other brewers overseeing me. The lead brewer then decided to open his own brewery in Florida. He left in February of this year and I was moved up to his position as lead brewer under the brew master, who comes up with all of the recipes. That is where I am right now.

I have been brewing on my own since February with the help of the assistant brewers. We are expanding right now. We just purchased new equipment and are taking over more space in the building. I am really excited. I think this is going to be a great place to be for years to come.

Did you have reservations about leaving the corporate, career, college track to go learn about making beer?

Absolutely. It was kind of like I went to college and this job does not really require a college degree. My parents helped me get through college and I felt weird about abandoning that. I talked to them about it and my dad said, ‘You have been doing jobs for so long that you hate, go do something you love.’ He does something he loves, so he really believes in that. My mom is the same way. She wants me to be happy. That was it for me. I just wanted them to know this was important to me.

What are the differences between your life then and now?

My girlfriend says I come home happier. I think just getting up in the morning is easier. It was always kind of like the alarm goes off and I would think, ‘Get through the week and spend the weekend on the computer looking for something else.’ Now I look forward to going in. I have a good feel for the job now. At the last job I was never sure if what I was doing was paying off.  I would come home after a day there and just not know if I made a difference. With this new job, the only thing I can compare it to is cooking or baking. You make something and when it comes out of the oven you can tell if you did it well or not.

Do the two jobs compare financially?

No. I have gotten a few raises at this job which is getting me closer to what I was making at the other job. It was never about money to me, but at the last job it was never like I was making a lot of money either. I am glad I did this at this point in my life. If I had kids and tuition to pay for I don’t know if I could have done it.

Did you have to make any financial adjustments to your life?

Not really to tell you the truth. I don’t have cable. There are a couple of trips I used to take with my friends that I will hold off until next year. I was worried about it, but it has not been nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

I feel like the reason we get roped into the corporate job is because of the paycheck. But I find that once that paycheck is gone, somehow it does not matter as much anymore.

Not to be dramatic, but once the job gets taken away you have nothing to lose, so you might as well give it a try.

Do you have any recommendations for people who are in a job they don’t love and have an idea about doing something else they are interested in?

I would try helping out somewhere, at a brew pub if you are interested in beer, once or twice a week. You will probably not make much or anything at all. But doing it once or twice a week while you still have a job will allow you to see if you like it; to see if it is the direction you want to go. I wouldn’t quit your job right away, but I would try what you are interested in it by doing it once or twice a week.

How old were you when you switched careers?

I was 28. Five years out of college. I had just enough experience to know what I did not like.

Is there anything you miss about your prior career?

I can’t really think of anything. I do miss some of the people, but I am still in touch with them on Facebook and see them every once in awhile.

Have you had any negative reactions to changing careers?

Not really. I have had some people say to me, ‘You are going to do that now? As your full time job??’ But for the most part everybody has been really positive and excited. They know this is something I have been interested in for awhile. A lot of people just talk about what they want to do and don’t do anything about it.

Is there any blow to the ego in leaving the corporate job?

Not really a blow to the ego. I don’t look at it that way. I love what I do and I think it is worth it. I don’t regret going to college, but I think if I could do it all over again I think I would do it differently.

I think a lot of people go to college because that is what you do after high school. But I think there is a lot to be said about learning a trade. I think if you don’t know what you want to do then you should think about what you are passionate about. I am not really the best student. I do not really learn well in classroom environments. I learn much better when things are hands on.

How do you handle health insurance?

My job gives me benefits including health insurance and a 401k. I have been without health insurance a couple of times since college and I think that upsets my parents more than anything.

What do you think you would be doing if you would not have been laid off?

That is interesting. I do think about that a lot. I think I would still be there.

I have been stuck in the ruts of choosing what to do on Tuesday solely because I am not being creative enough to do anything but replicate Monday. Do you think that is what it was to you?

I do not know what it is. It is the security. All you read about now is people out of work. I think employers take advantage of that. They tell you in their own way, ‘You should be thankful to have a job and we will treat you how we want and just be thankful you are employed’. I was going through the motions and was totally not passionate about what I was doing and I think that showed.

Do you feel secure in your job now?

Yes. They are buying more tanks every day. That is my sign of security. There is a huge demand for handcrafted beer. I do not think the demand will wear out. They sell their beer everywhere all over Ohio. I don’t feel like this is a job I am in danger of losing anytime soon.

I think there are a lot of romantic ideas around beer making. Are there any misconceptions in that?

Yes, there is a lot of overhead to cover without ever making a batch of beer. There are a lot of restaurants and breweries that close before they even open because they cannot cover the costs. A lot of people get caught up in the romance of making beer and don’t think about the business side of it. The guy who runs this place is a good business man. You have to have a good head on your shoulders for the numbers.

Do you work five days a week?

Yes, there is no problem getting 40 hours a week and sometimes more. It is labor intensive work. You have to really love what you do. There is a guy who is retired and working for us because he just really loves beer.

I think this is the gift of the economy being what it is. People do these types of things because they have nothing else to lose.

You have nothing to lose. What could be the worst thing that could happen?

Where do you want to take this?

I have always had a dream of opening my own place. I have a neighborhood in mind that I have always really liked. I have had this dream for awhile and this job is a way of helping me learn more. There is literally no limit on the amount of knowledge you can absorb at this job. I think it has been great.

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You can read Nick’s blog at: www.tallboybrewing.com or you can learn more about the Brew Kettle at: http://thebrewkettle.com.

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7 thoughts on “The Man Who Went from Corporate Blah Inc. to Brewing Beer

  1. This is so great! I love his enthusiasm and his honesty! You can just tell that Nick has had to do a lot of soul searching and came out on top. Congrats to him and to those who are doing what they really love and following their dream!

  2. Nick has some kind of enlightenment that takes many, many people decades to realize and then perhaps a few more lifetimes to actually act on. Nick does it right. It was a joy chatting with him!

  3. I’ve had Nick’s beer and it’s fantastic. You can taste the ingredients AND the thoughtfulness that goes into recipe. I am so glad that the craft brew movement has created a platform for him and so many other local breweries across the nation. Bravo, Nick!

  4. Sounds like his corporate job was like when I worked at Progressive Insurance. All mantra and no loyalty or enrichment. Constantly shuffling departments around to save money and grinding the hell out of everyone. It sucks. This guy is lucky he found something that he truly loves to do. Most people can not say that.

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