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Q & Ale – How do you get a job in the beer industry? Part 2: Brewery

question and aleI received this question via my “Contact Me” link.  Cody from Illinois asked this, to paraphrase ” I was wondering if you knew a good way to go about  becoming employed by a craft beer company?

I chose to answer this question in 2 parts.  In the first part, Q & Ale – How do you get a job in the beer industry? Part 1: Wholesaler, I looked at a career path at a beer wholesaler.  In the second part, we’ll look at how to get a job at a brewery with the possible intent of becoming a brewer.

Like at a wholesaler, there are a whole host of jobs at a craft brewery besides “brewer.”  You can work in the tap room, the gift shop, the office, sales, or anything else the brewery will pay you to do.  There is always the obvious answer, keep an eye open at all the local breweries for job postings you may be qualified for.

Working for a Brewery

Another method that I’ve seen work first hand is for people who are fans of the brewery to visit the brewery’s tap room regularly and become friends with the staff.  Express your passion for beer and the brewery and once something opens up, your friends will clue you in.  With their recommendations, you can probably get any number of entry-level positions.  While this may not lead to the promised land immediately, you get your foot in the door and you did it because you expressed your desire to be a part of their team.  On my recent visit of New Belgium Brewing, my tour guide got her start this way.  She visited the tap room regularly, made friends with the staff, then got hired to work in the tap room.

Cleaning Brewer
A brewer in action! (Picture from oregonlive.com)

Now, she works as one of their elite tour guides who gives tours to industry people and other VIPs.  Additionally, she’s a member of the Sensory Panel.  She’s not a brewer and probably has no real desire to become one, but she’s working at a craft brewery doing a job that’s very important to the brewery and one she loves.  She started at the bottom and through hard work and passion has worked her way up to doing some really cool stuff.  Her’s isn’t the only store like this I’ve witnessed.

Largely, this is one path you can take if you want to get on the brewing side.  Get your foot in the door and get a job at the brewery, then make friends with the brewers.  If someone’s willing to teach you how to brew, soak it up like an eager sponge.  If you do make it into the brewery, you’ll probably make very little money and you’ll be doing a lot of “grunt” work, i.e. lots of cleaning and carrying.  You’ll be in the brewery, but it will be a long time before you’re a real brewer.

Recently, there have been a spate of articles published about getting a job in the brewing industry.  Probably one of the best and most unvarnished is this one published by brewer Chris Shea:

So You Want To Be a Brewer, Eh?

He outlines the years of hard work doing the crappy jobs it takes to work your way up the “brewer” career track.  It’s a great dose of reality for those who look at a brewer as a magical beer wizard calling forth the elements to make delicious creations in your glass.  The reality is: you’re a janitor who occasionally makes beer.

Mitch Steele
Mitch Steele, Stone Brewing Master Brewer (On the right) (Photo from stonebrew.com)

Another great perspective is voiced by Mitch Steele, Stone Brewing‘s Master Brewer.  Mitch recently joined the ranks of the beer blogging world with his blog: The Hop Tripper.  In a recent 3 part post regarding quality, he outlines a lot of the qualifications one needs to be part of a successful brewery.  While this doesn’t specifically address the question of this post, it is 100% relevant to anyone thinking about getting into this industry.

What is Quality?

What is Quality? Part 2

What is Quality? Part 3. How important is the recipe?

Finally, here’s another perspective from someone who started as a “hobby brewer” and is now the head brewer at Druthers Brewing, George de Piro.

So You Want To Be a Brewer

What’s the common thread here?  You’ll be doing a lot of back-breaking work cleaning.  Then you’ll be spending a lot of time cleaning some more.  Do you like cleaning?  Are you fastidious?  If you’re not now, you’ll sure learn to be.  Also, the days of the home brewer opening a brewery or getting a job as a brewer are quickly coming to a close.  That’s not to say that going from being a home brewer to a commercial brewer isn’t happening and won’t happen in the future, but it will become increasingly difficult.  There are Brewing Fermentation programs opening in major Universities all across the country.  Universities only build new programs because there is a demand.  With so many people getting brewing degrees, there’s a lot of qualified competition out there.  Do you have the time or money to go to brewing school?  Are you good with biology and chemistry?  Can you drop your current life to start a new career in a low paying, time-consuming industry?

The great thing about beer is that just about anyone can make some pretty good beer with some basic equipment at home.  But craft beer is also a business, and one that is becoming bigger and more “professional.”  This is great for the quality of the product as well as the expansion of the craft segment.  But it also means it requires qualified people to be brewing professionals.

Like the people in the posts I’ve linked above, I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from getting into the business.  It’s a wonderful business for sure.  But every career choice has its downside, especially those driven by passion.  A good hard dose of reality will help make your choices more informed.  Maybe you can’t afford to become a brewer, but you’d still like to work for a craft brewery.  Don’t neglect the other job options open to you.  If you have an established career and talent, perhaps you can segue that into one of the many jobs at a brewery that could use your talent.   With open eyes, you’ll be able to really look at your options in the beer business and see if it’s truly “right” for you.  And if you decide it is, you’ll be much happier knowing the negatives instead of being ambushed by them.

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