What does brewing have to do with Leadership?  It all depends on your perspective.

One of the things you may have noticed is that the spelling of my last name is unusual. The apparently extraneous “u”, nestled silently in the middle of what would otherwise be “Brower” causes problems. It energizes skepticism at airline check-in counters and other places where identity matters. It inspires all kinds of interesting pronunciations and miss-spellings. In short, it can be a problem.

So what’s up with that name? Like Hunter, Painter, and Baker, Brouwer is a name that captures the profession of its prior owners. Bill Madden, a brewing legend and owner of the Mad Fox brewpub in northern Virginia, explained it best. “Everyone named Brouwer”, he said, “had an ancestor in the Dutch brewing guild in the 16th century. “ Simply put, “Brouwer” translates into “Dutch Brewer”. Whether or not you buy the argument that brewing is in our blood, it is definitely in the family tree.

Photo Courtesy of Founding Fathers Bar, Philadelphia, PA. www.FoundingFathersBar.com

Photo Courtesy of Founding Fathers Bar, Philadelphia, PA.

“So what!” you say. Well, Heineken, Amstel, and Grolsch, that’s what. All Brouwers share a common lineage with some of the best brewers in the world, and that might explain why, in 2011, I decided to become the best amateur brewer I could be. My destiny? No. A serious hobby based on my identity? You bet.

I had started brewing years ago when my wife gave me the basic brewer’s starting kit of plastic buckets, brown bottles and my first ingredients. I followed the recipes, brewed several batches of drinkable beer, but lost interest as work, life, and readily available commercial beer intervened.

But in 2011, I decided to take another run at it, and this time I decided to do it right. I learned a lot in the process, and quite a bit of it is relevant to leadership.

State Your Intention, and Be Specific – I wanted to brew better beer. What did that mean exactly? For starters, I knew that I wanted a consistent, high-quality product that matched the specified style (red ale, amber lager, etc.). I also wanted longer shelf life and as a matter of personal taste, no “home-brew” crud in the bottom of the bottle. From that came the realization that I was going to have to tear apart my process, learn some new techniques, and upgrade my equipment.

Adopt a Growth Perspective – In her book “Mindset – The New Psychology of Success”, Carol Dweck makes the case that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. A fixed mindset is built around a belief that one’s abilities are carved in stone. A growth mindset is based on the belief that personal qualities can be cultivated through focus and effort. As I approached brewing the second time around, I unconsciously adopted a growth mindset by acknowledging that I wasn’t a great brewer, yet, but that I could become one.

Engage Your Curiosity – I started by reading some of the basic brewing references including “The Complete Joy of Home-brewing” and “Designing Great Beers”, but some of the best resources were in craft brewing support forums. Every question I came up with had been previously asked and answered on-line, and once I admitted my ignorance, I was able to move quickly up the learning curve. I systematically learned how to mash my own barley, to keg and force-carbonate my beer, and how to improve the entire brewing life cycle. Drinkability rapidly improved.

Control the Environment – Sanitation and temperature control are vital, but as in so many things in life, wanting something doesn’t mean a thing unless you’re willing to do what’s necessary to achieve it. The single greatest threat to terrific beer is contamination from stray yeast or other microbes that take your beer in a random, unintended direction. Winning this biological war means working with immaculate utensils, spotless surfaces, and a convenient spray bottle of restaurant quality sanitizer. Temperature control is just as vital. Ales are fine with room-temperature fermentation and aging, but proper lagers require specific, colder temperatures, and that meant rigging up a Costco freezer with a digital temperature controller. Quality leaped forward.

Know Your Limits – I am often asked two questions about brewing. The first is “Why do you bother to brew your own beer when you can buy it pretty much everyplace”? The second is “Why don’t you start your own brewery?” Ironically, the answer to both questions is the same. I brew because I love it (and I think my beer is better than store-bought). I am not going pro because I can think of no faster way to ruin a great hobby than to take out a loan, submit to federal licensing, and enter an arms race with Budweiser.

Embrace Your Identity – My family’s extraneous vowel has led me to a deeper appreciation of who I am, where I came from, and literally, those who came before. It turns out that my silent “u” was actually about a part of me that I didn’t know existed. By embracing that quirk of identity, I’ve learned a new skill and strengthened old friendships. And that leads me to a final, parting question.

What’s silent in you?


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