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Thread: making a living as a brewer?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
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    1

    making a living as a brewer?

    Greetings! I am homebrew enthusiast contemplating a career move toward becoming a professional brewer. No doubt this takes years of schooling, apprenticeship and hands-on experience, but I think this is my true calling. What I am wondering about is how difficult is it to make a living in the USA as a brewer? As far as salary and benefits, what can I expect in the early years, and as I become more experienced? What kind of salaries do America's top notch assistant and head brewers make? Any information, tips or advice would be greatl appreciated! Thanks in advance....
    mekbrew

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    64
    Check out the beer school threads.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
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    21

    a living

    Pay will be extremely low to start. I wouldn' recomend working for brewpubs as a married man, because they are basically restaurants, and restaurants are a very shaky business. Expect to move alot and go through periods of unemployment as places close. Micros can be more stable if you work for an established place, but you'd be lucky to earn a decent income. If money has any meaning to you at all, don't be a pro brewer. I would never do anything besides brewing, but then I am single and have am not concerned with stability.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    Location
    Austin, Texas
    Posts
    354

    The best things in life are free....

    ...but you can give them to the birds and bees! (quoting the classic Barrett Strong song "Money")

    What dougbeer said! The only good money in brewing is if you're one of the owners AND the place is successful. I worked for three brewpubs and two microbreweries, and made $20-25K at all but one ($30K, but tons of required overtime). At two of the brewpubs and one of the micros, I was the brewmaster!

    Oh, and while micros are perhaps slightly more likely to thrive, I'd point out that one of the two micros I worked has since gone kaput, and two of the brewpubs are gone... Geeze, I hope it wasn't ME!!! :-)

    That said, I found working in a brewpub more satisfying, as I had contact with my customers every evening after work, and got instantaneous feedback on my beers. Also, I got to have more fun with recipes, as I generally brewed more different beers (hard to be experimental in a production micro!).

    Cheers, Tim

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Holyoke, Ma
    Posts
    10
    Maybe this is an extra nail in the proverbial coffin, but brewing is bittersweet. It is a labour of love not money. Don't expect stability in a small business. maybe working for one of the macro-micros is different. But in any small business work is multifaceted and often very physically demanding. It doesn't hurt to try brewing, certainly washing bottles or kegs for a year or two at your local will give you a taste of the environment. It is a young man (or woman's) game and a very understanding and supportive spouse is essential if you are married. That said, I do love my job I love the challenge and the products we produce but there are many sacrifices that I have made over the years to keep working in the industry.
    Jason Dunson Todd
    Head Brewer
    Paper City Brewery

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Athens, NY
    Posts
    432
    Having just made the jump from homebrewing to pro brewing about a year ago, I have to echo the sentiments of the previous posts. I love my job and am happy that I made the leap, but you should know what you are getting into. There is a world of difference between what you are doing at home, and the demands of brewing professionally. The physical aspects of the job alone (moving kegs, cleaning, moving grain bags etc...) are more then some people can handle.

    I would definitely recommend that you work part-time or volunteer one day a week at your local brew-pub or micro to see how you like the job (I'm sure they can use the help!), before you commit yourself to this career. I was able to find a short-term, and then later a permanent, position in pro brewing, but expect pay to be low, hours to be long, and poor benifits to start. It definitley helped me to be young, single, and willing to relocate anywhere around the country. I'm not sure where you are located, but I began in Oregon, only to find that there were few positions available on the west coast. I had to move to New York to find a full-time Assistant Brewer position. However, if you are sure that brewing is what you are meant to do, don't let any of these things stop you. Ask your local brewers for help, you'll find that most brewers are great guys (or ladies) and are happy to help anybody get a foot in the door.

    Good luck,

    Hutch Kugeman
    Great Adirondack Brewing Co.
    Lake Placid, NY
    adkbrew@capital.net
    Hutch Kugeman
    Head Beer Guy
    Crossroads Brewing
    Athens, NY

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    Toronto-Ontario-Canada
    Posts
    4

    Brewing as a profession

    I am an immigrant brewer from India, landed a month back in Canada. I have obsolutely no ideas about the job market openings and recent studies shows that there is no considerable market expansion as for as North American brewing sector is concern. I am bit enthusiastic to know about the existing salary range and future of a brewer in canada.
    If any is willing to advice me, Please come out.
    thanks
    muthu

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Upland, CA, USA
    Posts
    53
    This is a really tough question and has so much to do with how much you are willing to sacrifice and how much you love the trade.

    I started as a non-legal drinking age die-hard homebrewer, who loved and lived for beer: the trade, the history, and the science. The very first time I home brewed, I knew it was what I was born to do.

    There are plenty of jobs out there, but it is tough to break in and the pay will always be not quite enough unless you are willing to work crazy shifts for a large regional or mega brewery.

    I started my career as a graveyard shift brewer for a major west coast craft brewery, and quit after 3 years after realizing I would be a graveyard shift brewer for a long time to come.

    After taking only 2 weeks of vacation in 3 years I was burnt out on brewing, and went to work for a pharmaceutical company at a cush job where very long paid lunches were the norm, and I hated every minute of it. I wanted to be back in the brewery the minute I started working for a drug Company.

    I decided to get my Masters in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt University and now work as a Sensory Scientist for a major multi-national brewer and am loving it.

    The bottom line: brewing is a labor of love. Be willing to make some tremendous sacrifices, and realize it is not all beer and roses.

    Beer is my life, and I love it, but I have made some tremendous sacrifices for my trade, missing both of my younger brothers graduate from college, among other personal sacrifices, to keep making beer.

    I don't regret any of my career decisions, but I don't wish the tough hurdles and doubts that you and anyone else entering the field will have.

    Good luck!
    Steve G

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Location
    Princeton, NJ
    Posts
    7
    This subject is one we will all agree on. I have had a fortunate experience in the industry, but I am now over 40, I have paid for the nearly 20 years in the business with a number of joint problems and back problems. The only way that I would ever, ever reccomend this carreer is by getting a TOP NOTCH education in brewing science, or a food science degree complemented with a masters from a european school.
    At some point down the road, you will need that to ensure a viable retirement.
    In short, run Forrest, RUN!
    I fish, therefore I lie.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Upland, CA, USA
    Posts
    53

    Education, education, education....

    Yes, I have to agree with Raucher. A top notch science degree, preferably in brewing or fermentation combined with some experience goes a very long way if you ever want a shot at a brewmaster job for some of the great microbreweries.

    As Raucher says, the physical part of brewing can take a tremendous toll. I loved lifting hop bales and bags of malt when I worked as a shift brewer, but as it caused me severe back pain even in my early 20s, I quickly realized that I couldn't be doing this in my 50s, and we are all going to be 50 eventually!

    On a more positive note, a very wise, very good friend once told me:

    "The only thing anyone wants to me more than a brewer is a rock star."

    It is a lot easier to become a brewer....

    This is a really great thread! Clearly most of us have experienced the hard knocks of brewing.
    Steve G

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    San Diego County, California
    Posts
    42

    Cool ditto... ditto... ditto...

    Dear friends -

    I don't want to repeat 'nything that's been said above... I only want to say that it is all true and more...

    Look at my resume posted under "brewer for hire" and you'll see that I speak from long experience... I started in 1988.

    I've actually spent more money in the brewing industry than I have made overall!

    Imagine loving a career so much that you're willing to pay to work!

    Even more fanciful I suppose, is that I still want to work in the industry and again own my own operation - 'cause, let's face it, that's the only place where the possibility the possibility !! exists to make significant amounts of dollars - if that's what you are interested in...

    But the true payoff is in the work. If you truly love it and are young and strong and single, I say try it for a while... at least you'll have some great stories to tell and look back on in your old age while you'r nursing your sore ole back...

    GOOD LUCK!

    Sincerely,
    John Rebelo
    Big Trees Brewing Co. (defunct)
    Santa Cruz Brewing Co. (defunct)
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