The Life of a Professional Beer Taster

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Ken Weaver gets a visit from Andy three or four times a week. It’s been this way for more than a year.

Occasionally they’ll see each other at Weaver’s favorite local bar, but almost exclusively, Andy stops by Weaver’s house in Petaluma, California. He never comes empty-handed, either. IPAs, wheat ales, sours, stouts. Restocking a fridge has never been so easy or convenient when you know someone like Andy.

“I see a UPS or FedEx person here every single day,” said Weaver.

Andy, who works for UPS, is a regular at Weaver’s home, where he drops off boxes of beer. Sometimes he’s not the only one making that stop, either. Weekly – if not daily – cardboard boxes full of freshly packaged brews appear on Weaver’s doorstep. They’re unwrapped or pulled out of packing peanuts, the boxes are broken down and placed in the garage and later that day, Weaver pulls a bottle or can from his fridge and gets to work.

He’s no ordinary lover of beer, after all. He’s a professional taster.

Yes. He gets paid to sample beer.

“The best parts of this job are exactly what you’d hope for them to be,” Weaver said. “It’s neat to have beer arriving on your doorstep. I have access to just about anything you’d want. That’s fun and exciting and what’s most interesting on social media, and that’s the part of my job that brings people behind the scenes of what’s going on in the beer industry.”

In all fairness, Weaver’s job goes well beyond a layman’s description. He’s the beer editor for All About Beer Magazine, for which he also helps to plan and organize a variety of beer festivals and events and oversees reviews throughout the magazine by curating, sourcing and editing more than 100 beer reviews an issue. Weaver also works as a columnist and reviewer with the Rare Beer Club, which ships beer to connoisseurs across the country.

It’s just that when it comes to describing what he does, getting straight to the point sounds so much more fun.

“When somebody asks me, ‘what do you do?’ I tell them I drink beer for a living,” Weaver said. “It’s important to communicate to someone the fun and intrigue of your job – I spend a lot of time drinking beer, tasting beer and thinking about it – but beyond that, it’s meant to open up a larger conversation. It’s not everything to know about me.”

Life beyond beer extends to movies (spaghetti westerns and samurai films), comics (pretty much anything from Image Comics), retro video games, lyric-heavy in hip-hop (Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels, Little Simz) and and his cats, Jasper and Luna. He likes to explore California with his wife, Ali Schmidt. He’s even versed in particle physics with a master’s degree from Cornell University, although he’s quick to modesty when it comes to his scientific education, noting that it was “just low energy particle physics and not sexy stuff.”

But his backgrounds and interests easily collide. He still spends his day in spreadsheets, it’s just now tracking budgets, shipments or taking notes on beers he’s tried and not entering data on the decay of minuscule matter. A second master’s in creative writing from University of Maryland (he’s currently working on a novel and a children’s book) helps further bridge the gap between his past and current lives.

At most, Weaver writes 500 words reviewing a single beer for Rare Beer Club, but most often will write about 50, giving five to 10 minutes for each of the two or three different beers he’ll try each day of work. The catch? He drinks three or four ounces of most bottles or cans that come his way, a blasphemous treason to beer nerds who might decry the lost remnants of Russian River, Funky Buddha, Omnipollo or Other Half beers.

“Our sink is the biggest drinker in the household,” Weaver joked.

It’s a necessary decision to avoid the natural occupational hazard that comes along with drinking beer professionally. Weaver typically doesn’t get to reviewing until at least 3 p.m. and spaces out his drinking over an afternoon or evening to ensure he keeps a sharp mind as he downs IPAs, barrel-aged stouts and sours and lagers galore. At 5’11’’ and 175 pounds, he’s aware of what ambitious tasting practices can do to his body and the real, long-term physical ramifications of working in beer.

While he samples plenty of lagers, stouts and brown ales, Weaver is always searching for new beers that surprise him. Weird is good, he said, but isn’t always easy to find.

“There are lots of awesome, dank, citrusy IPAs that work magic to your palate, but you’ve probably had something like that before,” he said. “I’m interested in stuff that plays in a different space.”

In recent months, those beers have come from the likes of Casita Cerveceria, a contract brand run at Hill Farmstead, and Side Project, a spinoff from Perennial Artisan Ales. In both cases, the willingness to play with fruit, wild fermentation or uncommon ingredients like juniper and pine help set the intention of the breweries apart, in addition to the quality of their products.

“My job is to help people think deeper about this kind of stuff, not just have a better vocabulary to describe it,” Weaver said. “I like thinking about how beers are put together or why they work as a sensation. I’m about the open-ended question of trying to better understand beer. That can be done creatively and thoughtfully.”

So what’s Ken Weaver, professional taster, into these days? Here are some recommendations:

  • Hazy IPAs: “There’s a lot of intrigue there when folks do that stuff right: huge juiciness, expressive hop aromatics and flavor, hop bombs with less overt bitterness and astringency. It’s fun turf to explore.”
  • Canned releases by Almanac, especially the Craft Pilsner.
  • Array of offerings from Northern California breweries Cellarmaker, Sante Adairius and High Water.

Disclaimer: I know Ken personally and professionally through my work with All About Beer. 

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

 

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2 thoughts on “The Life of a Professional Beer Taster

  1. Pingback: November 2016 - Ølmåneden der gik – Levemand

  2. Pingback: How to Win ‘Best’ Beer and Influence People | This Is Why I'm Drunk

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