By Connor Beach
Many beer lovers have dreamed about working in a brewery and making a living out of a sudsy passion, but how does a person get started in the brewing industry?
For Northport native David Gonzalez, it took a sweatshirt and a chance meeting in a coffee shop in fall 1996 to make his dream a reality.
“I was at a coffee joint in Port Jeff one day and I was wearing a James Bay Brewing sweatshirt that I had gotten somewhere,” Gonzalez said. “After I got my coffee and turned around to leave the shop, the guy behind me was wearing the same sweatshirt.”
It turned out that “the guy” Gonzalez struck up a conversation with happened to be the owner and head brewer at the now closed James Bay Brewing Company in Port Jefferson.
“He saw that I was interested in beer and brewing, so he invited me to spend a day at the brewery; I did and got hooked,” Gonzalez said.
The Northport High School grad thought he was bound for a career as a teacher when he graduated from SUNY Stony Brook with a degree in American history and secondary education in May 1995.
While waiting for his teaching job to start in the fall, Gonzalez got a job at Blue Bell Beer in Greenlawn where he developed his interest in beer.
“They had hundreds of different beers on the wall, and every day, I would go home with two to three different bottles and try them out,” he said.
In summer 1997, Gonzalez decided to give up teaching and pursue a full-time career in brewing. He attended the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago to learn the theory behind brewing beer.
After his first job as an apprentice at the James Bay Brewing Company, Gonzalez began his over 21-year career as an assistant brewer at Rock Bay Brewing in Maine.
After a short stint in Maine he moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1999 and was quickly promoted to Head Brewer at Rock Bottom Brewery where he worked until 2010.
Over the next several years Gonzalez worked at several other brewing operations in North Carolina, but, with a wife and four sons, the constant work and travel made family life a challenge.
“I guess the most challenging item is being on call 24-7,” Gonzalez said, adding that he’s missed birthdays, been on the phone with his staff during his honeymoon, had to go into work an hour after his first kid was born and has had mechanical issues turn an eight hour day turn into a 17-hour brew day.
Last March, the now 45-year-old Gonzalez landed a job 4 miles away from his house. He’s the director of brewing operations at Rivermen Brewing Company in Belmont, North Carolina, and the facility opened its doors for business last month.
Despite the rigors of the job, Gonzalez said it is a great feeling when peers and customers enjoy the beers he worked so hard to perfect.
“I get paid to make and drink beer… It’s a great feeling when someone comes up to you and tells you that they like or love what you’ve made,” Gonzalez said.
“I love talking about beer and brewing, so that’s probably my favorite part of the job, especially being in a brewpub where I get to do it every day.”