……CAN I MAKE A LIVING IN BEER?

Working in the beer industry

Some honest advice to homebrewers wanting to work in the beer industry.

It is fair to say that although not all homebrewers will want to make the move to professional brewing, at some stage we have all fantasised about starting our own brewery or working with beer full time.

A lot of this stems from the idea that professional brewers are just doing homebrew on a larger scale, and that this = more people telling me how awesome my beer is. But there are some big differences we should acknowledge first;

  • Less creativity – you will be making the same recipes every day and the more popular they become, the more you will be brewing them,
  • Commercial brewing is not like homebrewing in that it is highly physically demanding, your body will suffer from increasing aches and pains. As you get older getting out of bed becomes difficult so a career plan to remove you from day to day brewing is required,
  • Cleaning and Sanitising a full brewery is a lot more difficult than your 23L Fermenter set up, in fact cleaning and sanitising will take up at least 80% of your time,
  • Paperwork will become a much bigger part of your brewday,
  • Working at a brewery is almost never 9-5 – Expect to work evenings, weekends and public holidays including Christmas and long days with little chance of time off,
  • Some people won’t like your beer and will tell you and other drinkers so.

Money:

Unfortunately almost everyone wants to work in the beer industry and because of this, breweries don’t have to pay much in order to get people to work for them. Typical salaries for positions in the brewing industry are;

– Assistant Brewer – £15,000 – £18,000 p/a

– Technical Brewer – £18,000 – £20,000 p/a

– Head Brewer – £20,000 – £28,000 p/a

– Sales and Marketing – £25,000 – £40,000 p/a

It’s safe to say don’t get into brewing to get rich (as it’s very likely you won’t), you should be doing it for the passion, not for the money. A good friend once said ‘There’s only one sure way to make a small fortune in beer, start with a large fortune’.

Getting a Job:

The Craft beer industry is the one sector of the beer industry that’s growing so there are lots of jobs coming up, however at entry level the competition is for these is still high. Here’s some tips to help you get an interview:

– Get a qualification – It shows your serious about beer if you’ve invested time and money into it, the IBD , Beer Academy & Brewlab sites are good places to start

– Engage in self-directed learning into all aspects of brewing science by reading as much as you can about it. Having the ability to talk to a professional brewer on their level will stand you in good stead.

– Volunteer at beer events & festivals – they’re often good fun and a great networking point with potential employers

– Volunteer at breweries on packaging days – this gives a good insight into how a brewery is run, shows willing and gets you known

– People like to hire people they know, and beer people so getting your face known in the industry and having an online presence is increasingly important

– Your personal skill set should include – Knowledge of brewing science, High attention to detail, physically fit, Strong Work Ethic, Organised & Disciplined, Patient.

Brewing is an industry where people will volunteer and work for free in order to make their way in, so you need to consider if this is something you are both willing and able to afford to do.

Jobs Available:

Be aware that starting jobs in a brewery include cask cleaning, packaging and bottling, none of which actually involve brewing. The typical progression then moves from these duties to assistant brewer, to brewer and headbrewer/manager with a minimum of a couple of years at each level.

Best industry specific websites to have a look for jobs are SIBACarling PartnershipBrewing Work &  Indeed

Also worth remembering you don’t have to be a brewer to make a living in the beer industry – there are many jobs that are available in the industry worth considering that may be easier to adapt to your current lifestyle (they can also be more lucrative); these include:

  • Sales- this can vary a lot from brewery to brewery but you’re chances of a set hours role are improved in your working on the sales end rather than brewing.
  • Beer Writer – see British Guild of Beer Writers for more info.
  • Engineering/Brewery Design – The amount of new breweries popping up, there’s lots of people needing guidance on the design and equipment set up. Johnson Brewery Design is a good example of a business doing this.
  • Beer Distributor – SIBA has a good list of distributors (potential employers); James Clay and Cave Direct are other UK based ones worth mentioning.
  • Beer Retailer – There are a lot of established specialist retailers about so competition is high, but this means that are lots of potential employers, or if you can find a good niche like Beer Bods have setting up on your own could be an option
  • Supplier – selling malt, hops, yeast, equipment etc. A walk around Beer X  or look at the SIBA Directory will give you a good idea of potential employers.
  • Beer Festival/Event Organiser – http://www.beer-festival-calendar.co.uk/ is a pretty comprehensive list of existing beer festivals in the uk, you could work for one of the bigger ones or find a niche and start your own
  • Website/Packaging Design & Marketing – Every new brewery and beer that comes out needs labels, pump clips, tshirts etc – if you’re into your graphic & web design and love beer this is the dream gig. Larger breweries like brewdog will also hire people specifically to work in marketing – follow @sarahfwarman for an insight into what brewdog’s digital marketing manager gets up to, or keep an eye on http://www.brewdog.com/careers for any vacancies.

Setting up on your own:

As your experience in the industry grows, likely too will your desire to set up on your own and create what would undoubtedly be a brewery better than any that has ever existed before ever. If you’re at this stage here’s a few tips to consider:

– Do it for somebody else first, if you feel you have the skills and the experience to run a brewery then let somebody else take the financial risk first. Once you’ve proved you can make this work and you enjoy the lifestyle, you’ll be much better equipped to do it for yourself

– Start small, do a Nano brewery set up, brew part time with a tap room or Cukoo Brew (using an existing breweries equipment to brew your beer). These options require smaller investment and allow you to work on this part time alongside a paying job. What is important is, are you selling that beer to the same customers? Are you getting repeat purchases? It’s only if people think your beer is good enough to buy again and again that your brewery will actually work.

– Don’t start with a brewpub, Many people feel that starting a brewpub is a good first step, but in truth a restaurant is one of the most failure-prone businesses you can start and the restaurant industry is every bit as complex as the brewery industry. Best to focus on getting one right first.

– Understand Business fundamentals, securing finance, working capital, cask/keg float, understanding that it takes more money to grow, and that it takes 8-16 weeks to get paid from your outlay are all important fundamentals you need to know and issues that I’ve seen breweries end up in trouble for not managing correctly.

Don’t take the above as me trying to put you off as it shouldn’t, a career in beer can be fantastic and on the whole the industry is full of interesting, friendly, creative and helpful people so it’s about asking questions, speaking to people and finding a role that best fits you. If you have any advice for someone starting out in the industry add it to the comments below.

 

Formerly of Fullers, Thornbridge and Buxton. Now a freelance Black IPA advocate, homebrew geezer and creator of Baby Back Bacon Black IPA™

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