Author of Beer Drinker’s Toolkit, Mick Wüst joins us for a short interview.
What inspired you to write a handbook on craft beer?
A publisher found me online and asked me to write a book about beer! But they didn’t know what kind of beer book they wanted, so that’s when I came up with the idea of the Beer Drinker’s Toolkit.
When I was first learning about beer, I struggled to get my head around all the processes and the jargon and the million beer styles. The way my brain works is: it refuses to hold onto complex information until it’s distilled it down into straightforward, everyday language. It took me a few years of going on brewery tours, chatting with brewers and other experts, researching beer topics and tasting different beers all the time, but I finally got to the point where I felt like I had a good grip on beer.
So that’s why I wrote BDT. It’s the book I wanted to read. The world didn’t need another beer textbook, but I saw the need for an easy-to-read book about beer. And one that’s fun, rather than feeling like you’re studying for an exam.
Who is Beer Drinker’s Toolkit aimed at? Is it for beginners or is it a little more advanced?
I want to say… both? My brother-in-law who’s just discovering different kinds of beer has been using it to explore new styles. And I’ve talked with bartenders at a brewery who said they learned more about beer and brewing from me than from working in the brewery for a few years! Not because I know more about beer than brewers (I definitely don’t), but because I explained things in a simple, helpful way.
Really it’s for anyone who wants to learn more about beer without getting bogged down in too much technical detail. Want to learn about the brewing process with one concise diagram? Want to flick through to find a couple of paragraphs about a particular beer style? Want to understand the role of yeast, or what makes sour beers sour, or how different beer glasses influence a beer’s aroma? It’s all there in conversational language, with a few chuckles thrown in for good measure.
You’ve written an incredible amount about craft beer and the companies that produce it – what’s common between successful craft breweries?
Any successful brewery has to have good beer, of course. But that’s just a baseline; you have to be savvy about how to sell that beer. After that, I guess it depends what you mean by ‘success’.
The breweries making the most money would be those ambitious ones who have grown, expanded their reach, and opened new breweries/taprooms. But that’s not a winning recipe by default – it’s expensive, and risky, and takes a certain kind of person at the right time to make it work. There have been plenty of breweries who have tried to distribute nationally and been crushed by the cost of it. The ones who have done it well are the ones who take marketing seriously, which requires quite a bit of investment in that part of the business.
But success doesn’t look the same for everyone. Some brewers just make the beer they want to drink, they’re a very real part of their community, and they treat their locals well. They’ve got a loyal following (even if it’s fairly small), and that keeps them chugging along. They’re passionate about beer and they’d rather run a brewery than work in an office somewhere. So I’d say they’re successful!
What are you learning or exploring about at the moment?
Gosh, quite a lot at the moment. With the release of Beer Drinker’s Toolkit, I’m learning how to market a book. When you’re actually writing the book, that feels like the biggest part of the process… until it’s released, and you realise writing the damn thing is only just the beginning.
I’m currently writing a book about gin, so I’m learning a lot about the history of gin, obscure botanicals, and the cool cultural moments that led to the boom in gin over the past 15 or 20 years. (You know those fancy Tyrell’s potato chips? The potato farmer who makes them also kicked off the craft distilling movement in the UK!)
As I’m writing this, I have a three week old baby, so I’m learning how to be more present as a husband and father… and apparently the next eighteen years of raising a human will involve even more learning!
What’s your creative process – the steps you take to make your ideas a reality?
I pour a lot of excited energy into a project right at the beginning; my short-attention-span brain gets a huge dopamine hit from coming up with ideas and sketching outlines. Then when I’m confident with the bare bones of what I want to create, my brain refuses to be productive for quite a while. I spin my wheels and procrastinate for most of the time available. At the last minute (or day, or week, or month, depending on the size of the project), I crack down on myself, work my brain under high pressure for the final stretch of time leading up to the deadline, and finish in the nick of time with something wonderful and creative that other people love, and that almost killed me haha.
It sounds like a terrible way to work, and of course I suffer from it (as does my wife) at times. But at some point over the years, I’ve just had to come to terms with it and appreciate that I’m happy with the end results.
What have you found to be the most valuable resource in the development of your career – and what resources do you look to now? Are they the same?
In my case, it’s probably James Smith (founder of The Crafty Pint). He’s the main person who pays me to write, and he’s shown me endless support and encouragement. Writers get better at writing by writing, so someone who helps you do that is worth their weight in gold. He also gives me a lot of creative freedom – who else would pay me to write Poe- or Homer-inspired poetry about beer? And The Crafty Pint itself is equal parts insightful, informative and enjoyable, all while fostering positivity in the Aussie beer scene. I’ve been reading Crafty Pint since long before I started writing for it, and I still use it as my first port of call when I’m looking into a topic.
Mentioning my boss and the website I write for sounds like I’m just being stupidly biased. But it’s the other way around – the reason I write for The Crafty Pint is because I think it’s a great resource and that James is a great boss. I’m supported, I grow as a writer, and I have fun!
If someone wants to do what you do, what advice do you have for them?
To start with, don’t idealise it. Being a writer is hard. We don’t make much money and our heads are constantly overfull. I’ve heard someone say, “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life,” and that’s entirely true. It’s not easy. It’s not relaxing. It’s not straightforward. And your To Do list is never anywhere near complete, no matter how much you do.
But if you’re willing to go through that in order to explore cool ideas and create some cool things, then my best advice would be: read broadly (in as many different formats and genres as possible) and deeply (in the area you’d like to work/specialise in), then write write write as much as you can. Don’t just think about it – do it. The more you write, the better you get at writing. And you owe it to your readers to be the best writer you can be – the world doesn’t need more bad writers.
After that it’s just a matter of finding people who want to pay you to write, and other people who want to read what you write. Simple!
Who would you like to see an interview with – and what would you ask them?
A travel writer of some kind. I’d want to ask them about all the boring and hard parts of their job. People always look at my job like it hardly even counts as work (‘You get paid to write about beer?!’), when of course they just don’t see or experience all the mundane and difficult things about it. I’d like to be reassured that travel writers have it tough sometimes, too!
About Mick Wüst
Mick Wüst has been writing about beer since 2015. He works for The Crafty Pint – Australia’s biggest craft beer website, writing articles that are fun and informative – and is a freelance writer for other beer businesses and publications. Mick has previously worked as a pastor, a lecturer and a barista.
The Beer Drinker’s Toolkit is Mick’s first book and is available to buy now – signed copies are also available while stocks last.