January 5, 2017
We love mead. Heck, that’s why we spend literally every waking moment making, tasting, and enjoying it.
But have you ever thought about the brave humans who wade waist-deep in the honey to create this exquisite beverage, the oldest known alcoholic beverage in the world?
We figured it was high time to give our makers the spotlight, and to gain some insight into what their jobs entail- the hardships, the not-so-hardships (the easyships?), the agony and the ecstasy of artfully creating liquid gold.
My name is Kirk, and who I am is a very broad question, as I wear many different coats in life. So I’ll keep this related to who I am at work. Fundamentally, I am an Enologist- which is a fancy word for wine scientist. To strip that down even further, I study enjoyment and practice enjoyment. I am the quality control analyst at B.Nektar. That is to say I monitor the quality of our products and processes to ensure that you, the consumer, can enjoy our products, and as a result enhance your life experience. Let’s just say I help make fun things.
As quality control analyst, it would be easy to make the assumption that I wake up in the morning and start drinking. Not the case (nothing useful would get done). Although “tasting” is a part of my job, my day consists mostly of conducting tests, looking at numbers, and recording results and observations. All of this is done so our products meet the highest level of quality possible. I also help develop and adopt processing methods that allow B. Nektar to maintain a high level of quality and consistency in an efficient manner. But at the heart of all this is simply making products for you to enjoy.
It is hard to differentiate from a typical and atypical day at work. Since we are dealing with fermentation of agricultural based products, there are so many variables that keep most days “atypical”. With that being said, what really sets an atypical day apart from a typical day is when something deviates from what is deemed “normal” or “average”. These are the types of days that I really enjoy, because it requires me to knock the rust off of my “brain cage”.
It’s true, I did come from a traditional grape wine background. Many of the same mechanics go into making all types of wine, including mead. I’d have to say the most noticeable difference between traditional grape wine and mead production is that grape wine production activities revolve around Mother Nature and are dictated by seasonal factors. Mead production can be done all year round. The mead production environment is much steadier throughout the year, and with the exception of harvest, is much faster paced. One other major difference to point out is that the mead industry offers much more creative license for ingredients and product development. It’s wide open compared to traditional wine making.
I do have a lab coat and I’ve been told I wear it well, but that came from my wife and she has witnessed me at my worst and still married me. I’ll let you do the math on that. I would have to say the thing I like most about science is an observation that leads to an understanding of how something works. There are only a few things that I really enjoy, and when I find those things I try to become as well informed as I can about that subject. Science is a constant observation, and a constant learning experience. My interest in wine/alcohol as a consumable is what lead me on the path I currently enjoy, and because of my curiosity I was not content with just being the end user. Which in a roundabout way is another element of science that I like: creativity. I most likely come across as that annoying kid that is always asking “but why?”.
If traveling in a van across the country, eating fast food, and playing music with four other dudes is the definition of “rock star” then yes, yes, I was a rock star. I played professionally during the 90’s and had a publishing deal, but never sealed the major deal. I came close, but eventually I had enough of the music industry, or maybe it was the other way around. It was fun while I was younger and I count myself as being successful, seeing how I have never served time in jail, had no major problems with addiction, and lived to tell my very unamused/unimpressed daughter about how “cool” her dad used to be.
In the beverage industry as a whole my hardest day had to my first day bottling/packaging during my internship at a larger winery in Michigan. At lunch I went to the office to fill out employment paperwork and the office manager asked what I had been doing. When I told them, their response was “And you’re still here? Most people walk from that job on their first break”. My education did not prepare me for that, or explain just how physically demanding this industry can be. More recently, the challenges I face that I would consider most difficult” would be implementing new processes, equipment and testing new procedures- Things that force me from my comfort zone.
What is best in life for me is family, friends, and the creative process. Oh, I like dogs quite a bit as well. All of the “best” things in life can also be challenging, with the exception of dogs. [It should be noted that the correct answer to this question is “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.”- Conan The Barbarian, 1982- Ed.]