Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Practical Brewing Class at the American Brewers Guild

"To tell the truth is revolutionary." ~Antonio Gramsci

August 16: Drove to Salisbury, Vermont where Steve Parkes, Brewmaster at Otter Creek Brewing Company lives and runs his American Brewers Guild course. (At left in photo above.)

Normally Steve's course is a distance learning course (ie: over the Internet and supplemented by DVD-video classes). However, sometimes Steve needs to update his video classes, so this summer he and wife Christine McKeever took on the task of hosting a 5-week live class for about 20 new brewers. Steve invited a bunch of his friends, professional brewers, to teach classes and I scheduled my trip around being there to teach.

I arrived a little after noon. All was quiet as Salisbury is a very small town. I found the electrical outlet in the barn, hooked up my extension cord, attached my laptop to my printer and went to work in my portable office in the trailer, which is the booth-like table beneath my bunkbed. It got hot so I turned on the trailer's air conditioner, which runs only when I'm plugged in via the extension cord. It was awfully quiet outside and I wondered when Steve and his students would return from lunch, or whatever field trip fellow instructor David Sohigian must have brought them on. Hmmm. No time to worry about that. I've got to prepare my class.

I called my class the "Walter Swistowicz Memorial Class in Practical Brewing," in honor of one of my favorite instructors from brewing school. I researched and wrote a biography of "Swiss," so that the students could learn what an incredible brewing career he had. Then I wrote a quick synopsis of my career, and stated that I had pretty big boots to fill!

My class was at 4:00 pm, so once I printed the final draft of my class outline at 3:45 pm, I turned off the noisy air conditioner and went looking for the classroom. It was unnervingly quiet outside. Were the students parked on the other side of the house/building? Hmmm. Where is everybody? I walked around the big house, went into the office, checked out the student's Bier Stube/bar, but only found the family dog. Then I went into a panic.

Because my cell phone service provider is AT&T, I haven't had cell service since I entered Vermont so my cell phone was useless. I used Steve's office phone to call his cell phone. No answer. Greg Noonan had taught a class at 9:00 am so I called him next. Greg told me the course was taught at the Marriott Hotel. Yikes! Nobody mentioned that. Just then Steve called me on his house phone and I answered it. I got directions and Steve poured beer for the students to keep them occupied until I could get there.

Quick! Unplug the trailer. Crank the foot pad down and disconnect the Astro van. Lock up the trailer so nobody steals it. (OK, that probably wouldn't happen in Salisbury, Vermont, but imagine my panic if somebody did steal it.) Quick! Pack all my class props in the van and don't forget the class outline. Anything else? Quick! Drive to Middlebury, Vermont and find the Marriott.

OK, so it didn't happen so quickly. Began my class about an hour late, but I told the students I planned it that way so they'd have a chance to relax and drink beer. Hey, I'm a professional! I can't look flustered in front of the students, at least not too flustered.

My 5-part class was on:

1. Safety,
2. Helpful Gadgets,
3. Show-and-Tell of busted, worn and ready-to-replace parts,
4. Brewing Articles online, and
5. "The future belongs to those who know what they want: Know what you want. Then go get it."

The class laughed at my jokes and seemed to enjoy my Show-and-Tell oriented class. The students were a passionate, curious bunch and I enjoyed teaching them. They told me I was the only instructor to drink a beer during the class. Really? Steve's Otter Creek Wit seemed to go so well with examining rusted and corroded brewery parts.

My husband Jon arrived right after the class ended. He had flown on a red-eye from Portland, Oregon into Manchester, New Hampshire and then rented a car to drive to Salisbury/ Middlebury. After a stop at the ABG office and at Otter Creek Brewery he tracked down the class.

Steve, Christine and Dave Sohigian broke down the classroom and loaded it into Steve's car. Then we went to a pub in Middlebury that had four Otter Creek Beers on tap. Steve and Christine bought us dinner and we followed them back to their house in Salisbury. Rehooked the Chevy Astro van to the trailer then called it a night.

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