A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Victory Brewer Jordan Sunseri about the company’s new Dark Intrigue beer. During our conversation, it became clear that Jordan was a man of many talents and his story about getting into the beer business was interesting, so here it is:
DME: How did you start working for Victory and what is your position?
Jordan: I started working at Victory about two years ago and I am a brewer. I moved to Pennsylvania from upstate New York to get a chance to work at Victory specifically.
DME: Do you go to school for brewing?
Jordan: No, I didn’t go to school for brewing. I am actually trained and educated as a welder believe it or not. I got into the industry through sales. I sold welding equipment and a friend of mine opened a brewery and he wanted me to do sales for him. I was also a home brewer and my friend thought I was pretty good, so I ended up doing sales and all of his brewing. Then I moved on to another brewery and then I got a position at Victory.
DME: So you started as a hobbyist…
Jordan: Yeah, I was a hobbyist, but a fairly well-educated one. I actually learned how to brew at an actual brewery. So I learned things on an industrial scale. I just kept doing it and learning more, and now I am at Victory.
I was pretty ambitious and made an effort to educate myself… and it actually helped that I was a welder. It comes in handy in a brewery more often than you would expect. I probably have to make repairs daily. It was that extra skill that helped to set me apart from others that had just been trained as brewers.
DME: So how did you end up with the Dark Intrigue project, was it your idea?
Jordan: It wasn’t my idea, but I wanted to be involved with the project since last year. It was my first year at Victory and a couple of the other people who pushed the idea through with Bill and Ron (Victory’s owners) ran with the initial 12 barrels. This year, I knew I wanted to be involved with it due to the production scale because it went from more of an experiment to “we have a lot of barrels to fill, we need somebody who is going to be able to get this done relatively efficiently”, so I volunteered.
I am a huge Bourbon nut, I am a fan of whiskeys of all kind, but I have been on a real Bourbon kick lately and I love Storm King, so this seemed like a natural fit for me. It helped that I really wanted to do it and there were not too many others who wanted to take on the project. It has meant working extra hours and weekends to get this done, so I think everyone was happy to let me take the reigns on it.
DME: You seem really passionate about the project…
Jordan: (Chuckles) I am passionate about it, you have to be passionate to be a brewer. You will find yourself doing some very interesting and odd things and you will ask yourself “why am I doing this again?” But it is totally worth it.
DME: What is the craziest thing you had to do?
Jordan: I always tell my brewer friends that we should get together and write a book. At the first brewery I worked for, it was a dirt basement building, and the main drain line had broken and it was embedded under brick steps. It was a 100 year old building, and I am crawling around in brewery waste water with fruit flies and spiders in this dirt basement trying to fix this drain… that was probably one of the most horrible things I have had to fix.
DME: Do you have advice for home brewers?
Jordan: I would say that if you are a home brewer looking to get into brewing professionally, it is harder and different than you would think. It is a good idea to get a good brewery education. Going to a school like UCDavis, but you should also learn to be a pretty good mechanic. It really helps to be able to fix things, hook up hoses, understand how motors work, and general electrical knowledge.
I talk to a lot of brewers and they think they can just walk in and say “hey I have this great idea for a recipe why don’t we try this out?” That is almost never going to happen. For any home brewer that is trying to get into the industry, I would suggest volunteering at a brewery and just doing some of their grunt work. If you still like it after that, try to push that brewery to hire you full time or look around. There are hundreds of craft breweries looking for people right now, and there is a tremendous shortage of good brewers.
If you take the time to educate yourself and you understand what the work is going to be like, there is a good chance you can get in.
DME: That is a good message! It was pretty optimistic advice given the state of the economy right now…
Jordan: There is such a demand for brewers right now, because so many craft breweries are growing so rapidly. All the good brewers are getting gobbled up. There is a pretty big demand right now, but people should understand what is expected of them if they become a brewer.
I have always said that alcohol is recession proof and craft beer seems to be doing extremely well right now. I have a personal theory that people, instead of treating themselves to big vacations and things like that, they are treating themselves to little rewards: things like a good case of craft beer and relaxing on their patios for the weekend. People seem to be drinking more and drinking better.
You can learn more about Victory Beer at their website: Victorybeer.com. Jordan’s special project – Dark Intrigue – will be available for purchase starting on Wednesday, November 23rd and will only be available in limited quantities.