Retirement is one of those concepts that does not appeal to everyone that reaches that point in life. Sure, some folks are happy to kick back and relax, or travel, or engage in small hobbies to stay busy.
Others, like Cathy Racow, would simply go mad if she were to idle away in retirement. That is the basis of how a nearly 60-year-old former nurse and paramedic ended up interning for the summer at Bombs Away Beer Company.
“I truly believe she will be a future star in the industry,” wrote Bombs Away head brewer David Kimbell when he pitched the idea of a story on Cathy.
Meeting Cathy in person one morning at the brewery, it was quickly apparent that she has more energy and enthusiasm than most brewers half her age.
“Number one, I love beer, like all my life since I was 14,” she said with a laugh. “Number two, I’m retired from public service and it’s absolutely time for me to have a beer. I’m not a stay-at-home kind of person. I enjoy work and I’m not afraid of hard work, which brewing is hard work. If you like to be cold, wet, and smell, this is the perfect career.”
Cathy was a firefighter paramedic and emergency room nurse, and she retired from her career in medicine after many years of selfless service.
“I’ve never had an easy job,” she said. “I’ve always been active.”
With that in mind, Cathy said she started looking for something else to do to remain active. She found out about the brewing program at Central New Mexico Community College and signed up, much to the surprise of her husband and grown children.
“I really love the brewing side,” Cathy said. “I really enjoy the icky part, the science. There is enough science and technology to keep me interested for the rest of my life. It’s also an interactive job, it’s not on a computer. I do better with my hands than with my brain. I don’t like sitting still so much.”
Cathy now has one year of studying and hands-on work under her belt.
“I already have a degree so I’m really more interested in the brewing certificate than an actual AA,” she said. “The CNM program is fantastic, it really is. It’s pretty intense. So what I did, I only have my draft line classes left, but I knew I wasn’t busy this summer, so I wanted to do this internship when I didn’t have classes.”
A previous internship up in Santa Fe helped Cathy land a spot at Bombs Away for the summer.
“I did a short-term internship during school with John Rowley and Rowley Farmhouse (Ales),” she said. “I wanted to work pretty much all summer. I asked my instructor, drafted some ideas, and sort of begged here. David has a really squared away approach to brewing. He’s a real professional brewer. He knows pretty much everyone in town. And he was willing. He’s also going to be an adjunct instructor at CNM in the fall, he’s going to teach the technology class.”
Bombs Away was also the perfect setup for a good learning environment, Cathy said.
“I didn’t want to intern at a production brewery right off,” she said. “I’m interested in learning all the aspects. This pub, it’s like my dream size production. It’s a community pub, not (Marble). But that’s cool, they’ve hired five graduates. Marble has been very supportive.”
Cathy noted that CNM graduates are also employed at Bow & Arrow, La Cumbre, Rio Bravo, and Turtle Mountain.
“We’re trying to give people the idea that yeah, you can adopt a CNM student, they’ll try really hard for you, and we are available for adoption,” she said. “I was kind of hoping, too, that after an internship, I would be more helpful as a rookie at a brewery than not.”
The biggest challenge Cathy has faced working at a brewery has been the same she faced in the classroom.
“The more challenging thing is getting definitive answers on some of the mathematical problems, because everybody has a different way to approach it, or a different system,” she said. “Some are more empirical, especially with yeast production. Calculating out gravities and malt bills and stuff, that’s not easy, but people pretty much agree on that. But, as far as yeast propagation (that) is probably my biggest thing. I was really interested in quality assurance, microbes, because of my (medical) background. I went to a seminar at (Colorado State) this summer. That really cleared up a lot of my questions.”
At an age when most people are looking forward to the end of their careers, Cathy said she is happy to be back at the bottom of the ladder.
“I’m a complete rookie (and) I’m OK with being a rookie,” she said. “I’ve been a rookie at everything all my life. That’s part of life, you always progress. I’ve never had a problem being back in that role. I really want to keep going to CNM. They’re a legit little college. Complete, complete support.”
Working at Bombs Away has also been a positive.
“That’s why I love this, this is about bringing community (together) and enjoying yourself,” Cathy said. “Especially pubs like this, they’re not shady. It really is a community pub. People come from Sandia Labs and Kirtland, they enjoy themselves, have a couple beers, and head home.”
New Mexico has truly become home for Cathy and her family, she said.
“This is the second time I’ve lived in New Mexico,” Cathy said. “I fell in love with it the first time. Finally my husband retired and we came back. I love this area, I know it sounds crazy, this is a crazy place, but I enjoy it a lot. Albuquerque is for real, people here are real.”
We wish Cathy, and all of the talented CNM brewing students, the best of luck now and in the future. And, let this be a lesson, that age means nothing when it comes to having a passion to brew.