I have a bit of an obsession with start-up companies. They’re constantly changing, rules are non-existent, and everyone involved has that endearing “I’ve only eaten ramen noodles and dry cheerios for the past forty days” look about them. Looking into the misty future (why is the future always so misty, anyway?), I think working with start-up companies is what I want to do with my life.
Coming to Ecuador, wiggling my way into some type of internship with a local business was high on my list. Unfortunately, I hate making copies, and apparently asking for an internship with no copy-making is like ordering an egg-free omelet. But somehow, through a combination of an on-a-whim email and a friend of a friend of the girl that plays cello in my band, I am now the proud intern of Quito’s Historic District’s first microbrewery.
I’m no mathematician, but according to my calculations I have the coolest internship in the history of earth. I arrived on my first day and shakily delivered my spoken résumé to the owners, three 25 year-old Americans (Hello sirs I am a business student with experience in accounting, management, Excel I am pleased to make your acquaintance I also can write things). They stared at me for a few seconds until Nathan, a curly-haired guy from New Mexico, said, “Chill out man. Let me get you a beer. And next time… ditch the suit.”
The brewery itself is set in a 19th century maze of adobe and old wooden beams so sturdy I can only assume they were taken directly from Columbus’s ship. Doubling as both a bar and a brew system, the front area has remodeled barrels instead of bar stools and walls intricately painted by some long-dead artist. Step past the dungeon-like cast-iron door in the back and you’re in the brewery, a labyrinth of ancient rooms full of stainless steel, state-of-the-art brewing equipment. (Think the Breaking Bad meth lab, just with worse dialogue.) Most surprisingly, if you step through a certain door you end up in a still-functioning private chapel, a hidden shrine maintained by the devout landlord. Luckily, he (and Jesus, apparently) enjoy the occasional craft beer so everyone seems to get along just fine.
Working with a start-up company, the pre-defined, gutter-guarded path most interns experience doesn’t exist. My work is characterized by “This needs to be done” as opposed to “Here’s some easy busywork for you,” and guessing what I’ll be working on next week is a shot in the dark. Sure, a work ethic like this means there’s not much time for me to hone my minesweeper skills, but it also means the stuff I’m doing actually makes a difference to the company. (Plus, I’m already a boss at minesweeper.) I’ll walk into the brewery and Nathan, clanging away with a wrench underneath the kerflurbalator (or something), will shout, “Hey Evan – been thinking we could use an accounting system. Build that for us, would you?”
When I’m not working on their marketing strategy or hopelessly haggling with Ecuadorian screen-printing shops to get us some decent t-shirt merchandise, I learn a thing or two about beer. Wizards of all things brew-related, the owners can talk for hours about everything from correct mash-in temperatures to the different methods of CO2 addition. My perspective on beer has completely changed, I’ll admit – in college, all beer is seen as a precious commodity, a liquid gold of sorts. You spill your drink, you’d better be licking it off the floor – there are children starving in Africa. From the other side of the bar, however, beer is in infinite supply. While at first I was horrified, I’ve learned the correct method to fill a glass involves just letting the tap run for a few seconds to clear out extra foam, and on a bad pour it’s perfectly acceptable to just toss out half the beer and start again (I know, I can feel you cringing from over here). You get used to it, though - at this point I’m practically using beer to wash my hands.
The brewery had its grand opening last Saturday. A roaring crowd of tourists, ex-pats and Ecuadorians showed up, all eager for a drink that wasn’t one of the four types of big-brand beer available in Ecuador. I dashed around madly making change, filling glasses and doing my best to keep the amount of beer spilled on customers to a minimum. A man tapped me on the shoulder and asked how our delicious “coffee beer” was made, to which I replied, “Well, I believe it’s a mix of coffee and beer, sir.” I’m only the intern, after all.
It’s not the easiest internship, but then again, it’s not easy starting a company. But whether I’m sweating through my shirt while moving kegs or cursing the local hostel managers that take three weeks to email us back, as far as an internship goes this is as real as it gets. And, best of all, there’s not a copy machine in sight.