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Asking too much (pay/benefits for brewer question)

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  • Asking too much (pay/benefits for brewer question)

    Looking for honest feedback from other brewers. Sorry for the length, but trying to give some background.

    I'm a head brewer at a smaller brewpub: 7BBL system, ~750BBL/year produced. Most sales are in-house, though we have a contract with a local distributor for several dozen taps. I have been head brewer here for over two years, and previous to that was the assistant here for about a year. I have no professional brewing experience previous to that, but was an avid homebrewer for about 10 years and worked at this establishment as a "beer specialist" (really a bartender) for several years.

    I inherited some recipes, but I have created dozens of recipes since then; though I have immense respect for the brewers who preceded and taught me here and their recipes, several of my recipes have been crowd favorites and the owner is effusive about my performance. I am solely responsible for all brewery operations: recipe creation, brewing, cleaning, sanitation, keg cleaning, kegging, canning (though a volunteer often joins me for canning days on our MCS), etc. It is, quite literally, a one-man operation, as far as brewing goes. I also design all our can labels (>20 to date), perform inventory control, am in charge of ordering for the brewery, yeast harvesting, etc. I also set up our entire online ordering platform during COVID and post frequently to social media for our business (among other things I won't get into).

    I was hired at minimum wage as an assistant brewer. When the previous head brewer left, I was hired at $15/hr two years ago. In the interim I've received one raise to $16/hr. During COVID I have clocked in for a fraction of the hours I worked as I want this establishment to succeed and these have been strange times. Now, however, I feel it's time to ask for compensation for the work I'm actually performing. (I have never been compensated for recipe research or creation, label creation, social media posts, or anything but actually being in the building--if that.)

    So here's what I asked for: $40k/year salary, with me working behind the bar one day a week and all tips going back to the establishment. Tips on the night in question that I would have received total at least $200, and FOH staff here receives $10/hour, so this equates to at least $250-300. So I'm thinking if I actually worked 4 days in the brewery (though I work more) that would be $16*32=512, plus the bartending night of let's say $260=772/week. I'm asking for $40k/year, which equals $769/week. Boss begrudgingly accepted, though I was accused of asking for a "huge raise." I then asked for one week PTO. They said this was one step too far.

    Keep in mind I have ZERO benefits. Even given the $40k salary, I'm earning much less than I was when I was just a bartender or than I was 10 years ago in a more professional position (I assumed some sort of pay cut when I left, but I mean...). Am I wrong to feel slighted? I feel I've done everything for this place, and they're hesitant to pay me even what I would have earned if I had tracked it all; if I had been on the clock for everything I've done for this place, they'd owe me many, many thousands--even at $16/hr with no benefits.

    As a final note: I do like that I have a lot of creative control here, but how much is that actually worth? I'm interested to hear others' thoughts.

  • #2
    To back up your case, get the latest compensation survey from the Brewers Association. If you or your company are members, it's in the Resources page.

    The latest 2018 survey showed a range of $46,000 for a "Head Brewer" to $52,900 for a "Brewmaster", in the 500-1000 bbl/yr range. I don't know how they defined those terms.
    Linus Hall
    Yazoo Brewing
    Nashville, TN


    • #3
      Hey Anon-

      You are getting ripped off. You don’t say where you are located, but there are TONS of jobs out there right now. So many that most breweries can’t find qualified applicants to fill the positions. And most I’ve seen are paying more than what you are currently getting, plus benefits and vacation time.

      Lots of owners totally take advantage of a brewer’s passion. “Creative control” is nice, but it doesn’t put food on the table. The very concept that FOH staff can make twice the money of the brewer is completely ridiculous and all-too-common in this business. I won’t get into my thoughts on the tipping-based economy, but let’s say I think it is insane that we ask our customers to pay our employees directly; the onus should be on the business to charge a fair price that allows them, in turn, to pay their staff a living wage. Imagine if your dentist or grocery store worked that way... (Look up Optimist Brewing’s tipping policy - they have a nicely presented treatise on their website.)

      Regardless, your three years’ experience would make you a plum candidate for a mid-level position at a small production brewery. What you’d give up in “creative control” (which is overrated, frankly) you would make up for in $$$ and work/life balance. And it would expand your skillset and make you better, more rounded, and more “valuable” later in your career.

      If I were you I’d look at what positions are available in your area. That will at least give you some more leverage in negotiating with you boss. And be willing to call his/her bluff and walk. There is 0% chance that they will be able to replace you in this labor market for $40K with no benefits.

      Good luck and cheers!



      • #4
        If you're not happy, you should go. Always gravitate to happiness.
        Phillip Kelm--Palau Brewing Company Manager--


        • #5
          Thanks, all, for informative and helpful responses affirming what I already felt but wanted confirmation on. My main concern was that--having only had experience at one professional brewery--I might not be in a position to demand much. Your insights have helped, though, and I've already been offered one other position with significantly higher pay and PTO. I likely won't take this one, but it's given me confidence that I'll find something better suited in the near future.



          • #6
            I would argue that leaving for another job is in your best professional interest. Head brewer at a small brewpub for two years doesn't leave you with a lot more room to grow. Learn more under a larger roof in order to develop your career. Find a larger brewery with a head brewer that you can respect, and dive in. You'll find that you learn much more when you see things at more than one place. You will learn tons more by canning, bottling, kegging, working with barrels, different SOPs, and all the ideas that come from a larger team. As well, the entire brewery won't be your responsibility so your hours will be more stable and likely shorter. All while getting better pay & benefits. You may not be in a position to demand much now at the same place doing the same thing, but you will be if you continue your journey.
            Phillip Kelm--Palau Brewing Company Manager--


            • #7
              I would advise you to formulate a solid outline for another frank discussion with your employer. If you are making and selling excellent beer and making the owners money, then you should be benefiting from your efforts as much as they do. $16/hr is below starting wage for an entry level packaging job in our industry right now. The best bet would be to list what you are currently doing in the brewery. Be honest. Do not exaggerate. Do not sell yourself short either. If you truly are doing all the items you list, then I would say asking for 50k to 65k a year plus 3 weeks off would be fair. At the lower wage you'd still be hard pressed to afford acceptable medical coverage, the higher wage might get you there.

              750bbl is 186,000 pints. 186,000 pints at $6 a pint is $1,116,000 gross. Operating a business is expensive, so let's cut that down by 50% $558,000 remain. Minus $65,000 leaves $493,000 to mess with. Get paid or happily go elsewhere.


              • #8
                Covid sucked for a lot of eat in establishments such as brew pubs. That said, if they want to retain their only brewing employee, they should put in more cash
                Six Sigma Master Blackbelt - Lean manufacturing expert. Beer production is food manufacturing. Why not do it efficiently!