This is something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. After an interview with Blake Jarolim at COOP I met Lauren Klansek at the taproom prepping for a special event that evening. I saw this spark in her just by talking about beer and before I knew it I had heard her history and was fascinated by this jet setter who gave herself the moniker “Queen of the Keg Wash” which you’ll learn why as you read.
Lauren dictates her journeys in her personal blog about her travels and the breweries she has worked for over the past few years. I’ve been wanting to share more stories and hers is well worth the read. Please welcome Lauren as I hope to have her write from time to time and find others stories that help proliferate the culture of Oklahoma craft beer.
I’m going to tell you a story about me, but I think you’ll find it is really a story about craft beer. Actually, not about the beer so much as the people involved in making it.
Let me explain:
I was 22, holding a plane ticket to an adventure 6 months away, and graduating from nursing school with no intention of using my degree. I knew I needed money, I knew of Sun King Brewery, I knew they were hiring in the tap room, and I knew I didn’t like beer.
These humble and unlikely beginnings paved the road for a life my wildest scenarios hadn’t even touched. They took me from googling “Beer slang” to working alongside the bearded and creative minds who form the backbone of the craft beer community. My story includes three breweries, spans almost two years, and has one common denominator, amazing people.
When I realised Sun King was just looking for someone to pour a beer and fill a growler, I was ecstatic. I knew nothing about beer, I didn’t know how to talk about it, how it was made, or what a growler was. I would listen to the other tasting room employees talk about the beers, I would copy their words, verbatim, to our customers. I would ask visitors what they thought of our brews so the next time I was talking about that beer I would have more insight. I built up my beer vernacular swiftly and still knew nothing of the process. I was full of so much energy and excitement I started asking for more jobs to do; I found myself learning how to run the keg washer and racing to be the first to answer requests for help on the canning line. Slowly I learned. I asked questions, I asked the same questions to different people, and I found myself talking, to anyone who would listen, about how much I loved my job.
Why? Why does someone who so recently held $1 Coors Light night at Howl at the Moon in high regard suddenly find herself discussing hop characteristics and aroma? I couldn’t answer this question with anything other than, “The people, I don’t know why, but I am addicted to the people.”
Fast forward 3 months. I’m working for accommodation in a hostel in Nelson, New Zealand, I’ve either called or e-mailed every single brewery in the country (this is not an exaggeration), and I am watching my bank account dwindle slowly away in to my school loan payments. I know they don’t remember denying me, but 3 times Founders Brewery said no to my plea for work, and for good reason; who wants to hire a traveler, who lives in a hostel, and must borrow a bike to get to work? I e-mailed, “No”. I called, “No”. I visited, “Probably no”. And then providence smiled upon me and they asked me to come in for a trial. Immediately I knew I wanted to work there, immediately I offered to clean kegs, and immediately the people won my heart.
Four months after returning to the states I found myself in Washington, living on the generosity of family, once again without an income. Despite my degree, despite my experience, despite my willingness to almost beg for work, no one hired me. I had no job, I had no prospects of a job, I had no connections, and I had to buy a plane ticket for a wedding- in Oklahoma. Not exactly a place I considered a land of opportunity.
When discussing my flight options, my cousin made the convincing argument, “You’re not paying rent, and you don’t have a job, just come do the same thing here for a while.” How could I argue with that? So, I left the return ticket on the back burner.
I don’t know what possessed me, maybe too much caffeine, or perhaps it was raining that day and I was stir crazy, but I decided to look up some Oklahoma breweries. I found COOP and Anthem, I decided to send them a silly e-mail asking about open positions. I won’t share the entire e-mail, but the subject line was, “Queen of the Keg Wash” and I promised that I’d do whatever work no one else wanted to do. To my great surprise, Blake Jarolim e-mailed me back the next day. Then to my delight, he called me, and I believe his words were something along the lines of “So what’s your deal?” A little-known fact is, after that phone call I quite literally pumped my fists in the air and danced around saying “YES, YES, YES!” Maybe the sheer weirdness of the whole thing inspired him to have me come in for a working interview, maybe he just wanted to find out if I was a crazy person, either way, here I am.
Two months later, and once again I love my job. Once again, I love the people I work with.
So, what is it about craft beer? I like beer, but I don’t drink it every day, I don’t even drink it every week. Cleaning kegs, and off-packing the canning line aren’t glamorous, or fun. I am an introvert, so serving in the tap room can be overwhelming after too many days in a row, and there is nothing exciting about taking bags of mushy hops, peaches, raspberries, or cacao nibs out of an old souring keg. Why do I look forward to 8am on Monday mornings? Why does standing on the receiving end of the canning line for a few hours or wrapping pallets on pallets of newly cleaned kegs entice me?
Easy. The people.
I get to work with people who are following their own ambitions, they could have been fazed when craft beer in Oklahoma was only a budding idea, but the persistence of a few has allowed us all to watch a community connect over a fresh pint of their creation. I get to work alongside people with a great sense of humor and an even greater sense of generosity.
I realized recently, this is the 9th job I’ve ever had, and I like to think I know what hard work looks like. I have never seen anyone work harder than those who really care about the outcome of their work. Every single person I work with inspires me to be better, to learn more, to keep living a life I’m proud of. Strangely, I wouldn’t be the person I am without the influence of these crafters, innovators, and dreamers. Have I convinced you yet? Are you sold by my words? If not, check them out for yourself, try to find what I have found in our budding craft beer community.
You won’t have to look far.
Written By: Lauren Klansek
Check out my personal blog at Lcmklansek.blogspot.com OR Connect with me on Facebook!