Finding your dream job in grunt work

A craft beer brewer discovers his future in the graveyard shift

brewery hero
Image Credit: Matt Huynh

This is the second story in our Night Shift series about working in a different rhythm.

 

It’s 11pm on a Tuesday night. The bartenders at Parallel 49 Brewing — a popular craft beer brewery in Vancouver, B.C. — are closing up the taps as the last remaining stragglers settle their tabs.

I’m told to ask for Chris Derpak, one of two graveyard cellarmen on shift, better known by friends and compatriots as “Derp”.

The bartender leads me through the tasting room, down some steps and past the back entrance to the brewery. The air is perfumed with the musty smell of malt and hops, the cement floor is riddled with puddles. I stand in a corner waiting for Derpak. I lament my choice of footwear.

 

The work of a graveyard cellarman

Out of the corner of my eye I spot a flash of yellow—Derpak’s oversized gum boots—skidding between narrow rows of stainless steel tanks. He tries to maintain his footing while deftly maneuvering a 50-foot long, 100-pound hose filled with sanitizer.

“I’d say about 75% of my job is cleaning, honestly,” he explains as he motions over to some whiteboards displaying a complex schedule of the many brews in the hopper — everything from the final batches of summer grapefruit radlers to the first batches of the brewery’s fall and winter offerings (which, naturally, includes a pumpkin-flavored lager).

Timing is crucial for the cellarman, who acts like an assistant chef to the brewer. Not quite a sous chef, mind you, Derpak isn’t involved in recipe development just yet, but he does manage the brewing process.

With the schedule as his guide, he adheres to it strictly to see when to add dry hops to tanks, pitch yeast, and skim yeasting off the top of tanks before filtering beers in the centrifuge and sending them across the alley to the warehouse for canning (or bottling) and packaging.

“I’m basically just a grunt who follows the recipe and makes sure the beer is making it through the process in the right order,” he continues all too humbly.

 

“Only one of my buddies is a tradesperson, like me,” says Derpak jovially. “He’s the only one who really works for a living, or at least that’s the way I like to put it.”

 

Trading office work for handiwork

Despite belonging to a family of pencil pushers—Derpak’s father is a retired teacher, his older brothers are accountants, and his youngest brother is now also a teacher—he knew after two attempts at university that, unlike his family members, a desk job wasn’t for him.

“Only one of my buddies is a tradesperson, like me,” says Derpak jovially. “He’s the only one who really works for a living, or at least that’s the way I like to put it.”

After several stints in warehouse jobs and a loathsome clerical job at a packaging plant, Derpak noticed a sudden surge in local craft beer breweries and started applying for every job he could.

“I didn’t have any experience or any real qualifications for the job,” Derpak confesses, “so I started in packaging because of the warehouse work I did when I was younger. I made myself as useful as I could. I’m a forklift trainer, so I can certify people on forklifts. But when an opening for a brewer on the graveyard shift came up, I figured the only way in would be to take that shift, so I went for it.”

 

A night owl finds his calling

Derpak describes himself as a night owl, though he had to do some finagling to get used to working odd hours.

 

“I play hockey during the week in the evenings, or some nights my girlfriend and I will run errands and tidy up,” says Derpak, “the only difference is when everyone else goes to bed, I go to work.”

 

“I was trying to stay up and do stuff in the morning when I got off work then sleep right until my next shift, but waking up at 10:30pm when it’s dark out weirded me out,” he says of the early days.

Though some may think that the next step up for a graveyard cellarman is a daytime shift, Derpak confesses he had the opportunity to take over afternoon shifts, but he turned it down. “The hardest thing to adjust to working nights was figuring out when I was going to see my girlfriend,” he muses.

“I play hockey during the week in the evenings, or some nights my girlfriend and I will run errands and tidy up,” says Derpak, “the only difference is when everyone else goes to bed, I go to work.”

 

six pack of beer

Crafting a vision for the future

It’s a slow night, brewing-wise, so Derpak takes me on a tour.

Standing in the warehouse, he points through three large man-made archways connecting the interiors of several buildings. Over the years, the brewery has taken over most of the block to house its brewing, storage, and bottling facilities.

“I like to compare this place to a rocket ship,” Derpak muses. “You have to hold on for dear life, take every opportunity that comes your way. It goes by so fast.”

I leave the affable “Derp” at close to 1:30am. He consults the board again. The next batch won’t be ready to hit the centrifuge until 3am. Come seven or eight, he’ll pick up a six-pack of the brewery’s signature Gypsy Tears ale before stopping quickly to take in some sunshine on his walk home.

“I’m proud of the job I have, and I really like that,” he says. Still, he looks forward to switching gears and someday opening his own brew pub. “My brothers are all waiting for the day I open my own place,” Derpak continues, “so they can quit their jobs and come work with me.”

 

Lima Al-Azzeh’s favorite Parallel 49 beers are Tricycle Grapefruit Radler, Gypsy Tears Ruby Ale and Toques of Hazard IPA.

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