People of POET: Brewing Up a Good Time at Work

Erick Hoffman combines home brewing hobby with POET’s annual team-building event

An after-work happy hour is a time-honored tradition for many people. Getting together with colleagues to relax and throw back a few cocktails can be the perfect end to a hard day of work.

But beer at work? What the ale?

The data systems analyst is also the coordinator and brewmaster for POET Brew Fest, an annual team member event where home brewers can show off and share their concoctions with other members of the Sioux Falls team.

Brewmaster, of course, isn’t in Hoffman’s official job description.

“I wrangle data,” Hoffman said. “I shape it up and summarize it in a manner, so it makes sense to different people.”

And there’s a lot of data, Hoffman said — hundreds of thousands of data points that he organizes into dashboards or reports or whatever format is needed to effectively convey what’s happening throughout the 33 bioethanol plants spread across POET’s footprint.

“Too much data some days will make you want to drink beer,” Hoffman said with a laugh.

While Hoffman likes drinking beer, he also enjoys making it. It’s been a hobby of his ever since his wife bought him a Mr. Beer® beer-making kit more than a decade ago. “I was nervous and skeptical at first,” he said. “I thought, ‘there’s no way I can do this.’”

But the Mr. Beer kit, with its simple instructions and basic ingredients, made it easy. “Think of it as an Easy-Bake Oven® but for brewing beer,” he said.

It wasn’t too long, and Hoffman was hooked.

Beer connoisseurs like Hoffman have long been mixing it up at home. “It’s a pretty popular hobby,” Hoffman said. But continued interest in craft beer, new beer styles, and tech-infused brewing equipment has allowed home brewing to stay fresh and interesting.

“Plus, you get to reap the rewards of your efforts,” said Hoffman. “A frosty mug of beer, after all, always satisfies.”

But what would make beer-making even better? Hoffman decided he’d like to bring his hobby
to work.

Beer making and bioethanol production are somewhat similar, he said. In fact, the fermentation of malted barley during the brewing process generates bioethanol.

But Hoffman wasn’t thinking about a new business model for POET. Rather, he thought he and his fellow beer makers — there was a growing number of them at POET — could show off their brews to the rest of the staff.

To do that, Hoffman went right to the top. After a couple of beers at the company picnic one year, Hoffman told Jeff Broin, Founder and CEO of POET, that they should be drinking beer at work, but in a different way. Broin agreed — and POET Brew Fest was born.

More than five years later, save for a brief COVID-19 interruption, the annual event is still going strong. “People are always excited,” Hoffman said. “Any time you can taste a couple new beverages at work, people get excited. It’s something to look forward to.”

Most years, between 15 to 20 brewers participate. There are prizes for the top three best brews and the beer with the most creative name. Care for a Bohemian Rhapcider, You’re Killin’ Me Smalls S’mores Stout, or a Czech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself?

Brewers bring everything from tried-and-true classics like stouts and lagers to those with more fanciful flavors, like a s’mores beer or a jalapeno cream ale.

“It’s cool to see what people can think of and pull off,” Hoffman said. “Everyone wants to have the winning recipe! Some of the more creative, out-of-the-ordinary beers aren’t necessarily the winners, but those of us who brew appreciate the unique flavors and effort.”

And everyone on the POET team in Sioux Falls enjoys sampling. "You really get a lot of fun interaction with the beverage drinkers," Hoffman said. "It's been a great way to get to know people from research, finance, and design & construction — people you might not interact with on a regular basis. It's a fun way to celebrate all the hard work we do here, and that's what it's really
all about."




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