Homebrewer to Leading a Brewery's Production Department

Zandy Zeiser  

Head Brewer & Production Operations Manager at UNION Craft Brewing

Winner of the Crisp Malting Award for the Diploma in Brewing Module 1 in 2016.


Discover Zandy Zeiser's journey from home brewer to leading an entire production department. His progression in his career has been facilitated by his dedication to continue learning, all underpinned by a solid technical knowledge acquired with the IBD qualifications.    

Tell us about your professional journey: your background and main responsibilities in your current job.

I started brewing with my brother in our parents’ kitchen, a few years before moving to Boston to look for work in the industry. After a year or so, in 2009, I landed my first professional brewing job as a cellar operator and eventually a brewer, in the brewpub in which I had already been working. A couple years later I was offered the head brewer’s position at the sister brewpub in Salem, MA, which I took and remained in for just over three years. After a brief hiatus (during which it became evident that homebrewing in a tiny apartment wasn’t exactly fun) I got my first real production job in South Deerfield MA, doing brewing and cellar work at a regional brewery producing well over 20,000 barrels a year, an astonishingly high number, I thought.

That was when I started my IBD studies, taking my first module exam for the diploma in brewing in June 2016. After just a year, my now-wife and I moved to Baltimore, MD, myself to a well-established local brewery, doing all manner of production and quality related work, while continuing my studies to stay on the three-exams-in-two-years track. I received my diploma in 2018, the same year my company built and moved into a brand new facility with a beautiful 60 barrel German brewhouse and accompanying cellar system. Within months I was effectively leading the department and was offered the head brewer title within the year. Not long after, I got to add the production operations manager suffix.

My current scope of work is effectively all-encompassing for matters of beer, quality, production, safety, maintenance, and so on. I am the top-level production department interface with the company’s CEO and other upper management, but try very consciously to remain with my boots on, so to speak. That is to say, I have a keen interest in knowing every step of the processes I am asking my team members and colleagues to carry out, and the reasons behind them, so that I can step into any role whenever it is needed. I still find doing full days of production work to be enjoyable and enriching.


Why did you join the drinks industry and what you’d like to achieve in your career in the sector?

I joined the brewing industry because I first loved drinking good beer, then I learned to make it and learned that I loved that. What I hope to achieve is to make delicious beer for other people to enjoy in as safe and sustainable a way as I can.


How would you describe your main professional achievement/s? Can you explain it in a bit of detail?

Certainly finishing my diploma in brewing and winning the Crisp Malting Award was among the high points for me, especially since I was well into my career before I even started seeking professional qualifications. I had always wanted something to show that I knew what I was doing, but didn’t necessarily want to (or couldn’t afford to) go to one of the traditional brewing schools. I have always been more motivated in self-learning than I ever was in a classroom anyway (at least as a student) and so achieving these qualifications through only self-directed study was a hugely satisfying accomplishment for me.

Being able to put the knowledge gained in study to practice at work, and being trusted to direct the entire production department myself, is also something I’m very proud of.


Why did you choose the IBD to take your brewing/distilling qualification?

As noted before, I was drawn to the opportunity for self-study towards an internationally recognized qualification. I knew that the keystone event of at least one of the top-tier professional brewing programs here in the US was a consecutive sitting of all three modules of the Diploma in Brewing, so skipping the school and trying for the qualifications myself seemed like the perfect idea. I was able to use the wonderfully thorough learning materials produced by the IBD itself, as well as its reading lists (to put me on to other appropriate books and learning resources), to effectively build a fully independent course of self-study.


How did you manage to balance your job and studies at the same time?

A lot of studying at night and on the weekends!


What did it mean for you to win the IBD award?

It was quite a surprise to me, to be honest. Coming off a lengthy period of studying for the first module, during which I had no idea if I was doing an effective job, I was happy enough to see in September that I had passed with an A mark. It was another several months before I found out I had won the award, so I had already happily moved on and was preparing for beginning studies for module two as soon as I could gather myself. So, it was a pleasant and unexpected confirmation that I was, in fact, on the right track.


What is the most important lesson you have learnt during the preparation of your IBD technical qualification/s and how have you been able to apply it to your daily job?

Answer the question that’s being asked of you as directly and truthfully as you can manage. I remember reading this comment a lot in the past years’ examiners reports, which I scrutinized as part of my studying plan. I find this mantra applies in the professional sphere too. Keep things straightforward, solve the problems that are in front of you as effectively as you can, don’t just answer the question you wish you had been asked, etc.


How have your company benefited from the technical knowledge you acquired with the IBD qualification?

Since I have taken full direction of the brewing department, my company has been voted Reader’s Choice: Best Brewery by the state’s largest newspaper three times. We have also won a silver medal at the World Beer Cup, weathered a pandemic without losing any jobs, and begun growing beer sales again. My search for technical knowledge has all been in hopes of being able to make better beer in the best way possible, and so I can only hope that is in fact what’s happened.


How has this qualification helped you progress in your career?

It helped me to find a way to direct myself much more effectively than I could before, which I think helped prepare me for a high-level production management job. It’s also just nice to have a well-recognized acknowledgement for a lot of hard work and studying.


From your personal point of view, which are the main challenges and opportunities that you are facing in your career?

A few things come to mind:

An opportunity to try to bring a safety-and-quality-together mindset into a production setting. So many times I’ve seen safety in the production environment get swept under the rug in the name of “getting it done”. I find nothing more important, professionally, than to put safety and quality on an equal footing.

Making brewing a fully sustainable venture. That is to say, operating in full awareness of all environmental (and social) impacts of the process and doing everything possible to eliminate doing harm, both short and long term.

The brewing industry has always been warm and welcoming, but it remains largely white and male (even in a city where fewer than one in three residents is white, and fewer than one in two is male). Working towards diversifying our ranks, especially by encouraging opportunities for women and people of color, whose passion may lie in our industry but might not otherwise know it or find the right path there.

Would you recommend to your peers to take an IBD qualification? If yes, why?

Yes. It has been a rewarding experience for me, and I always tend to think having more knowledge is a good thing.


Which piece of advice would you like to give to any professional starting now in the industry?

The more education you have, formal or otherwise, the better decisions you’ll tend to make, especially in what can be a very complex and demanding industry. Also, it helps to consider your motivations (for me, a love of good beer) and goals (for me, to make good beer in a responsible way) and let these guide you.

Diploma in Brewing Qualification

Designed to support you on your journey through your brewing career.

Diploma in Brewing

Attaining the IBD Diploma gives an internationally recognised and comprehensive understanding of brewing science and its application.