Breweries have never been more prevalent in the U.S., with the total number now in excess of 7,000! A majority of these are microbreweries dedicated to making smaller batches of craft beer to be sold regionally. Nonetheless, the industry is huge and growing.
In fact, for the last decade over half of all new jobs in the entire beverage industry were due to workers entering the brewing field. Some states hog more of the share of jobs than others, such as California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, and Ohio. But with over 60,000 jobs in the beer industry, there is plenty to go around.
No matter where you live, if you’re interested in a career in beer, there’s never been a better time. So let’s hop to it!
Breaking into the Trade
What makes a person want to get into this trade in the first place?
If you are a beer expert and can explain the difference between an ale and a lager, you may be in the running. You might even be a homebrewer with a batch fermenting in your closet right now. But none of these things are going to get you a job in an actual brewery. Yes, passion for the art of making beer is important. But at the end of the day, it boils down to whether or not you’ve got the skill set needed.
Working in an industrial brewery is not the same as making your own in the comfort of your home. Indeed a lot of the entry-level work at breweries is related to standing on your feet for long shifts, doing manual labor or repetitive tasks. So the reality is that the hiring manager is likely more interested in your ability to do what they need you to do, versus whatever chemistry experiments and projects you’re running on your own time.
This is an important distinction, especially for homebrewers who may have a certain proficiency and knowledge level that applies to their small scale, but which simply will not translate to a larger, industrial scale process.
The point is, before trying to get into the trade, understand the scope of the work. And have a reason for wanting in. Do you have a specific career goal, or does it just “sound cool” to make beer for a living? If the former, what are your goals? If you’re wanting to become a brewmaster, that’s a highly specialized job…and we’ll take a look at that in just a second. But there’s lots of other options to choose from, so it’s good to narrow down your actual goal before firing off a resume.
Understanding the Different Roles
Breweries employ brewers (obviously), engineers, chemists, managers, and marketers. So let’s start at the end of the list and work our way back…
Marketing and sales is all about finding creative ways to stir interest in the products and boost business. Knowing the consumer base and how to reach them and appeal to them is the key to success here.
Managers, as you can imagine, are there to ensure the smooth flow of work processes. They’ll also oversee the human resources elements, payroll and accounting, compliance and safety, logistics and transportation, etc. All the fun stuff!
Chemists and microbiologists are there for quality control, ensuring the product meets specifications and is ready for bottle and ship. Clearly, these positions will require specialized degrees and qualifications…as will engineering roles.
Engineers work in a variety of areas within a brewery. Taking care of mechanical and process issues along with staying on top of any systems problems. When production has to halt for any reason, the brewery bleeds money. It pays for them to retain the most highly-qualified engineers to keep things humming.
And this brings us back to production and to the brewers themselves.
What the Brewers Do
Okay, the brewers! Here’s the heart of the brewery, the makers themselves. Depending on the size of the brewery, a brewer may perform basic operations work or work requiring more technical know-how. Brewers may be selecting ingredients, running the fermenting and malting processes, taste testing, and, in smaller businesses, performing some (or most!) of the logistical work such as bottling and even distribution in some cases.
A brewer’s specific duties, then, relate back to the company itself. The largest breweries operating in America right now are Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), MillerCoors (Miller and Coors, obviously), Constellation Brands (Corona), Heineken, and Pabst Brewing. Clearly, working for the top dogs in the market will mean far more delineation of duties, because they can afford to maintain larger staffs. The smaller you go, the more you can expect to be a jack-of-all-trades…which is not a bad thing.
In many regards, having a more comprehensive understanding of the entire process can aid you, especially when working in management. But for your average boots-on-the-ground brewer, there’s already enough work to do just focusing on making the beer!
Looking at The Jobs
The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t yet track stats for brewmasters, but the average income range is roughly from $50,000 up to $100,000. In order to qualify, prospects need a degree related to either brewing, chemistry, microbiology, or food science/fermentation science. Many educational institutions also offer shorter study programs. A bachelor’s degree is likely a prerequisite to be a brewer, no matter what size of the brewery you aim for.
In fact, let’s borrow some details from a recent brewer job posting. This comes from Rogue Breweries, one of the larger Oregon-based breweries. The job description states that the position is “responsible for the brewing process from preparation of the raw materials through the fermentation process.” Pretty straightforward.
Let’s get into the listed duties on the post. Some include: “Operation of brewhouse with maximum attention to detail and accuracy; Documentation of brewing activities; Sanitization of brew vessels; Tank Management; Maintain safe and clean working environment; Yeast management including harvesting, pitching, and record keeping.”
But the list keeps going! “Use of proper PPE; Adhere to established recipes and processes; Communicate changes in recipes or process to management; and Communicate maintenance needs to keep production on schedule and ensure team member safety…” You get the gist. There’s a lot to it! But this comes straight from the horse’s mouth, and offers a broad overview of what a brewer at a fairly large facility could expect to be doing on a daily basis.
Safety in the Industry
Apart from a degree (as mentioned above), other listed skills Rogue is seeking include: “Ability to read and follow written English instructions; Safe chemical handling knowledge; Adaptable and solution-driven; Writing and math skills necessary to accurately complete dilution calculations, volume, flow, weight, length, pressure, and other unit conversions; Mechanical aptitude – knowledge of machinery and systems; Forklift certified; and Ability to work independently, and with others.”
Phew! A few of these clearly indicate they are seeking a person with a background in the industry. This means it’s not an entry-level job! Needing to have a forklift certification is also telling since it suggests you’d need to be moving things around yourself.
In fact, the ad goes on to cite physical demands, one of which is “The employee must frequently lift and/or move up to 40 pounds and be able to move kegs which weigh close to 165 pounds.”
As you can see, being a brewer, even at a big site, can involve some challenging physical activity!
All told, working at a brewery can be challenging work. But for those with a sincere interest and aptitude, the job outlook is positive.
The beer market rakes in over $110 billion a year, over 20% of which comes from smaller craft breweries. Those figures are all potentially going to keep getting higher. While it is possible the industry could face a bubble at some point, consumer demand for a wide variety of beer. From microbrew specialty ales with 9% alcohol per volume to traditional inexpensive bulk sale lagers–remains high.
That means breweries will remain on the lookout for new hires for many years to come! So put down your ice cold tasty beverage and get your foot in the door while the market is hot!