The Brewer’s Apprentice: So You Think You Want to be a Brewmaster…

21st Amendment Brewing in San Francisco

By Kim Schimke

Gone are the days of wanting to grow up to be a firefighter, astronaut, or veterinarian. Career day at school in the near future will consist of professions involving fermentation, hops, and sanitation. These are all elements of what I believe to be the single most valuable job in existence, brewing. How does one earn that shiny Brewmaster title? Through busting their butt and drinking a lot of good beer in the process. Case in point is Darren Cummings, the assistant brewer to 21st Amendment’s Head Brewer, Zambo, in San Francisco.

21st Amendment Brewer Darren Cummings

21st Amendment BrewingIf you have aspirations to be a professional Brewmaster, apprenticing for one of California’s, nay, one of America’s most popular breweries, ain’t such a bad gig. Darren has been at 21st Amendment Brewing for about eight months. Though a lucky fella in that he now has the 21st Amendment name on his resume, he is also in charge of most of the cleaning, hauling kegs, sanitizing, basically tasks that fall under the “dirty work” and “nitty gritty” category. Darren is incredibly positive, however. He states “no matter how hard you are working, someone else is probably working harder than you are.” A notable benefit as listed by Darren? Staying in shape. Now there is a silver lining if I ever heard one. I have never brewed a beer in my life, so I was not aware of the risky nature involved. Darren says that if you are not careful, you can seriously injure yourself. Not to mention the extreme heat and tight spaces one is subjected to as a brewer as well.

21st Amendment Brewing Zambo Strong Ale (image from labor is not appealing to me. But, Darren makes the profits from such labor sound incredibly philosophical and rewarding. Assisting the Head Brewer means there is a lot of learning involved. Darren asserts that “if you’re not learning, you should be moving on to something else.” I interviewed Zambo on August 18th of this year and I assure you, this guy is not only exceptionally knowledgeable and talented, but one of the most passionate individuals I have met in the beer industry to date. The proof is in the pudding. The beer is phenomenal and some of the awards, including those bestowed at the Great American Beer Festival, serve as a testament to Zambo’s skill and fervor. Darren is in good hands. He says he is lucky in that 21st Amendment allows/encourages creativity, flexibility, ingenuity, and experimentation with their beer. As a zealous lover of many of their including Amber Waves, I can declare that they sure as hell know what they are doing.

Zambo the headbrewer at 21st Amendment (photo from

Being a home brewer and assistant brewer, Darren is honing his craft and on his way to becoming a Master of the Brews. The way I see it, if a day at the ‘office’ is especially rough as a brewer, at least you have some liquid relief at the end of the day. My interview with Darren concluded by him giving some advice I think I will adopt as my own daily mantra: “Relax, don’t worry, and have a beer.” Becoming a Brewmaster is no simple feat, but beer makes the world a better place, so a career worth pursuing.

Kim Schimke is a native Northern Californian living and quaffing an assortment of craft brews in Oakland, CA. Follow Kim her on Twitter/Instagram @KimsBayBrews.