Brewer Profile: Simon Nielsen of Central Waters Brewing

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Central Waters’ taproom // Photo by Ellen Burkhardt

Simon first emailed Central Waters co-owner Paul Graham in March 2011, introducing himself and explaining his situation. Paul didn’t bite. “He basically said, that’s great, but we only hire people with schooling,” Simon recalls. “I found out later that totally isn’t true; it was just his way of weeding people out.”

Instead of giving up, Simon enrolled in Siebel Institute’s two-week intensive program in Chicago. When he got back to Wisconsin, he emailed Paul again. And again, he was shot down. “‘We only hire people with experience,’ was his response,” Simon says. “Which I also found out later wasn’t true.” He laughs, shrugs. “He basically kept giving me these hoops to jump through.” So, Simon jumped.

Simon emailed every brewery in a 100-mile radius of Appleton looking for a job until finally he heard back from 3 Sheeps Brewing Company, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, who offered him an unpaid internship. Even though it would mean driving an hour-and-a-half each way on his days off from the factory to work for free, Simon was determined to show Paul he was serious. He told 3 Sheeps he was in.

Three days before the internship was scheduled to start, Simon went to Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton for a pint. “I’d been pounding on Stone Cellar’s door forever, asking for an internship, and they kept turning me down,” he recalls. “So I’m sitting at the bar, having a beer with one of the brewers, telling him how I’d gotten this internship and just finished at Siebel, and he was like, wait a second, you’re Simon?” Turns out, the Stone Cellar crew had confused Simon with another homebrewer—one who had also been persistent—a little too persistent. The Stone Cellar brewer went and got the owner. Minutes later, they offered Simon a job.

Since his ultimate goal was to brew for Central Waters, Simon turned yet again to Paul, this time for advice. “I told him, I want to work for you: which one is going to look better to you on a resume?” Simon says. Finally, after three years of Simon asking and Paul rejecting, a new narrative began. “He asked me to come out and have a beer and talk,” Simon says. “He finally gave me the time of day.” After consulting with Paul, Simon decided to take the Stone Cellar job.

For the next six months, Simon worked—a lot. When he wasn’t at the plastic factory, he was at Stone Cellar. His one day off came every other Sunday. Such an intense schedule would put most people off, but Simon was in it for the long haul. “I was just going to do that indefinitely until I got a phone call from Paul,” he says. That call came in November 2013. One of Central Waters’ brewers was leaving to work at Lagunitas, and Paul needed Simon to fill the spot. Two weeks later, Simon moved to Amherst.

Next page: Being green because it’s “the right thing to do”

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Ellen Burkhardt About Ellen Burkhardt

Ellen Burkhardt is a freelance writer. When she's not writing, editing, or interviewing, chances are she's on the road seeking out good food, drink, and fodder for her next story.

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