At a big brewery in Milwaukee, a tour guide told me the employees used to be allowed to drink beer during lunch, and they were given a case of beer to take home at the end of every week. Alas, those days are gone.
But if you love beer, especially craft beer, you can still drink on the job as a brewmaster at a brewpub.
Naturally, you have to taste-test your creations, and for a beer lover that might be the highlight of the day’s work. But you better make it just a sip or two because, according to brewmaster Chris Shea, it’s a dangerous and dirty job. He says, “We’re janitors who get free beer.” Here’s his advice for aspiring brewmasters:
There are only two ways of getting into brewing: working your way up from the bottom by flipping kegs for minimum wage at a brewpub (like I did), or dropping thirty large to go to brewing school for three months (and then probably flipping kegs for minimum wage). There’s no way your wife will let you do that. And she’s right; listen to her.
If you’re not dissuaded by his candid advice, here’s how to get started as a brewmaster. Ready to find out how much you could make once you’re past the “flipping kegs” stage?
Learning the Craft
Yes, you can spend a lot of money to become a master brewer. And there are number of places ready to take that money.
For example, there is the Brewing and Malting Science Course at the University of Wisconsin. At the moment it has sold out and has a waiting list (you’re not the only one who wants to learn to brew). The Siebel Institute of Technology has a World Brewing Academy, which they say is “America’s oldest brewing school.”
Of course, traditional schools are more focused on producing brewmasters for large breweries. Busch, Coors and Budweiser all need people to supervise their brewing processes. If you’re more interested in a microbrewery or brewpub job, you might consider the Craftbrewers Apprenticeship Program offered by the American Brewers Guild.
But as Chris Shea suggested, you don’t need to spend big bucks and get a paper for your wall in order to brew beer for a living, at least not in the United States. Martin Simion, a master brewer in Austria, agrees. “European breweries are totally into degrees, while a gifted, award-winning backyard brewer can make his way all the way up to the head brewer in the US,” Simion says.
Wait… backyard brewer? That’s right: begin your brewing education and training by making beer at home! You can find a good home brewing guide online and buy simple starter kits for as little as $40. Soon you’ll know the basics and be drinking the products of your homeschooling.
Continue your education by trying out new beer recipes. And be sure you understand the following steps in the process:
It might also help to get to know your future customers, so hang out in a beer lovers forum to see what’s popular and what’s not.
Finding Work in a Brewpub
Once you know how to make beer at home and you’ve studied the market, what do you do next? You could do what Kelly Taylor did to apply for an assistant brewer position: “For my interview, I brought a bottle of a home brew I made in my apartment and put my resume on the bottle as a label.” He was hired on the spot and became the brewmaster a year later.
Any job in a brewpub could lead to brewing beer if you’re persistent and you make your desire known. My friend Mike Kopczynski started in a small pub in Colorado as a bartender, became the manager, and then became the brewer’s assistant.
Start by visiting your favorite pubs and asking about job openings. You can also find jobs online. For example, ProBrewer.com has a section in their forums with employer postings for jobs in the brewing industry.
How Much Do Brewmasters Make?
If you want the big bucks, get that degree and go to work for corporate beer makers. But working in a small pub isn’t a bad gig. The average annual wage for brewmasters is $46,955, according to PayScale.com.
The discussion in the “brewery wages” thread of the ProBrewer.com forums suggests a lot of variation in wages. One participant mentions making as little as $11 per hour as an assistant brewer. A head brewer from a pub in a tourist town says that no matter how good you are at your job, as a brewmaster you “will probably never make over 45K.”
The consensus seems to be that there are a lot of low-paying jobs without benefits in brewpubs. Of course, if you’re a beer lover, drinking your creations and hanging out in a pub may be extra benefits that outweigh making more money.
Your Turn: Do you dream of getting paid to brew beer?