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Guess How Much a Brewmaster Makes?

I wrote an entry the other day about Appalachian State University’s new chemistry class in beer making.  It got me to thinking about how brewing beer is becoming a more and more viable career option as the craft beer juggernaut continues to gain steam.  Then I found out how much the average brewmaster makes, and it made me think again. 

Now before I come off as a materialistic jackass, please understand that I live in New Jersey, the state with the highest taxes in America and one of the most expensive places to live anywhere.  The cost of living here would make many a Midwesterner blanch and run back to the cost-effective confines of the Great Plains.  Especially if they were a professional brewer.

According to the Brewer’s Association (by way of an excellent article about becoming a brewer from Philly.com) here’s what you can expect as a professional brewer:

Beer Brewer

Responsibilities: Brewers select and check the malted barley or grain used in making a particular kind of beer, adding yeast, hops, water, and other ingredients. They monitor the fermentation process, operate a milling machine, and clean and repair tanks.

Education: A professional brewer’s certificate earned after several months of training at one of the major training programs: Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago; University of California, Davis; and the American Brewers Guild in Vermont, which offers distance learning.

Preferred background: An entry-level position on the bottling line can lead to a job as an assistant brewer.

Salary: $25,000 to $35,000 for an assistant brewer, $30,000 to $50,000 for a brewmaster.

SOURCE: Brewers Association

That’s right, if you suffer through an entry-level position in the warehouse or on the bottling line, you might be rewarded with a pay bump to $25,000 to $35,000.  Hang in there, learn your craft and become the best-of-the-best, and you might be one of the lucky few who make $30,000 to $50,000 as a brewmaster.

While earning $50,000 puts you in the top 25% of income earners in America (barely), it doesn’t seem like a lot of dough for a job that has “master” in the title.  And that’s IF you make it to brewmaster and IF you’re on the top end of the scale.  At the low end, you’re making about as much as a telemarketer. That seems like quite a lot of risk for a bright young man or woman who has other more secure career options in front of them.

I know that $50,000 is a decent living most places.  It’s about the same as a plumber would make, and you get to brew beer for a living.  But I’m still surprised that the figure isn’t a bit higher.  Maybe it’s because I value the work brewmasters do, and that I marvel at their ability to make something so tasty on such a grand scale.  Or maybe it’s that salaries haven’t yet grown to match the popularity of craft beer.  Perhaps they’ll catch up.

Whatever the case, I hope the current salary levels don’t deter smart and capable young people from choosing brewing as a profession.  Most of the brewers I’ve met had successful careers in other fields before they started brewing for a living.  They took a pay cut to shred their ties and follow their passions. Hopefully the next generation of brewers are willing to take the same risks.

Would you?

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Tags: , , ,

Categories: Beer, Lifestyle

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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54 Comments on “Guess How Much a Brewmaster Makes?”

  1. February 24, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    In a heartbeat.

    • February 24, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

      Now let me qualify that with the following…

      If I was in a position in life to make that kind of change, go through the requisite courses and had a job lined up, I would do it in a heartbeat. As it is, being a husband and father of two (not to mention hurtling towards 40), it is not really a risk and life change I could make at this juncture. But I encourage everyone ELSE to, so I can drink their beer.

      • February 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

        EXACTLY how I feel (also hurtling towards 40).

        But then again, many great brewers started in the business by way of midlife crisis.

      • February 24, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

        I’ve done hurtled past 40 and on to 50, but I would do it as well. The top end is nearly what I was making at my last day job, and the low end is still higher than my current freelance earnings.

        However, I run into the same flexibility problem as Sean, though I only have one young child. Can’t uproot the fam for that, and right now my passion lies with learning about and drinking other people’s creations.

        • February 24, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

          I’m a better drinker than brewer myself – it’s all a matter of practice, I guess.

      • February 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

        Working on it! 😉

  2. Don
    February 24, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Shhhh….If you let the cat out of the bag, it will go into the VoTech programs, then we’ll get grease monkey brew and Hairdressers failure Ale..etc.

    • February 24, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

      Exactly right – It’ll be all Mouthbreather Maibocks.

  3. February 24, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    One might argue the perks of being a brewer also help soften the blow. If you’re never paying for beer, what does your income look like then?

    • February 24, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

      In my case, it about doubles! 😉

      • DELovett
        February 25, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

        Even at $10 a six pack given free every day for a year, you would only save $3650.

      • anon
        February 25, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

        You seem to drink cheap beer.

  4. Elena
    February 24, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    not surprised by how much brew masters make but find me a plumber in NJ that only makes $50K

    • February 24, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

      You’re right about that, Elena. But I’d rather deal with what goes in than what comes out. 😉

  5. AngelaArp
    February 24, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    too funny! When my husband became a brewer, the first thing we heard from other brewers was this…. ‘Behind every brewer is a woman who makes a lot more money’ Funny but seems true!

    • February 24, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

      Good think they’re all so roguishly handsome…

  6. Evan
    February 24, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    This is why my career in professional brewing lasted less than 2yrs.

    • February 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

      That’s a shame – you make excellent beer. It also proves that my fear of qualified people choosing other careers is valid.

      • Evan
        February 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

        Why thank you! Hopefully one of these years I’ll get more sent out to either of you.

        • February 24, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

          Yeah, hopefully so. 🙂

  7. Trevor B
    February 24, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    I say they have it good, in academia we go to college for 8+ years to obtain a PhD, the starting salary for a post-doc, $25,000 to $30,000 a year. That is someone with a PhD, and we live at or below poverty line. Also the pic of Sam is misleading he most definitely makes more than 50,000 a year, I assume he makes about 6 figures.

    • February 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

      I agree that Sam is an exception to the rule, but as Angela Arp pointed out on Facebook, he’s probably in massive debt as well.

      I think in both cases (brewers and academics) it’s a labor of love.

  8. February 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    This will come in handy if and when one of them tries to negotiate a raise *cackle* thanks, Jim!

    • February 24, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

      Crack that whip, Matt!

  9. February 24, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    I don’t think I have what it takes to be a brewmaster, but I would love Love LOVE to own my own bar/restaurant! If I could take the food from this place, http://site.osteriaphilly.com/menu/, and serve the beer from this place, http://www.monkscafe.com/, life would be oh so sweet. Only one danger…drinking all the profits!

    • February 25, 2011 at 11:41 am #

      Why do all the work when you can walk in, eat and drink, and then (hopefully) walk back out?

  10. February 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    I suppose there’s a difference between being a brewmaster for a brewery and owning a brewery. What’s the salary like if you’re both?

    • February 25, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

      Good question. I’m sure you make more as an owner, but you’re up to your eyeballs in debt. If you’re a Sam or a Greg or a Garrett, it’s a whole different story (just like it is for celeb chefs, but to a lesser degree).

    • February 25, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

      I know of a gentleman from church who started out homebrewing, and now owns a brew pub near the Navy base in Everett, WA. I also know where he lives too… the nice end of town… seen his SUV with the brewery’s logo. Seems to me, that even owning a local brewpub one would do better financially than brewmaster. Really, who pays the brewmaster? 🙂

      http://www.scuttlebuttbrewing.com/

      • Don
        February 25, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

        The guy that owns Scuttlebutt Brewing pays the Brewmaster’s salary. At one point he was a brewmaster, but now he is a brewery owner. Big difference. How is he doing BTW? I heard he had some health problems.

      • February 26, 2011 at 1:26 am #

        As far as I know, he’s doing fine. Yeah, at one point, he was owner and brewmaster and marketing specialist.

        • Don
          February 28, 2011 at 9:54 am #

          I think that is how most brewery owners get to where they are, is by wearing many hats and hard work. Most of them don’t stay the brewmaster forever.

  11. February 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    I see it as being really no different than many other professions that pay very poorly but people are primarily attracted by the work itself, in spite of the pay. Wanna know how little zookeepers make? Even so, they REALLY want to be zookeepers.

    Simply put, there is great demand (among job seekers) for these jobs and therefore companies don’t have to offer huge salaries to attract talent. Add in the fact that beer is expected to sell at retail for reasonably affordable prices, and breweries have very tight margins to work under, and usually massive debt to worry about, and voilà.

    • February 25, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

      That’s why I don’t work in TV any longer – the money mostly sucked. Marketing pays better and is (almost) just as fun.

  12. David Murphy
    February 25, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    I believe the reason for the low pay is because of the competitive market. There are more brewers being churned out of the UC Davis, OSU, Siebel Institute, and the ABG than their are positions coming available. I think these wages are set because supply greatly outweighs demand. I work in a craft distillery and the assistant distillers are getting paid about the same wages as assistant brewers for that same reason. We get people sending resumes almost daily willing to relocate themselves for near minimum wage for the experience of working in a craft distillery.

    • February 25, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

      You say you work in a craft distillery? Then you’re right, David. About everything. Always. Can we get some samples now? 🙂

      Actually, in this case I mean it – I think there’s downward pressure on wages because of the allure of the gig. But I also thought that many guys (and gals) would wash out on the bottling line or not have the brewing chops to make it to the top. Maybe it’s not as hard as I think it is to brew great beer.

    • Don
      February 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

      David, Which Craft Distillery do you work at? It would be fun to review your stuff if you make Whiskey. 🙂

      • David Murphy
        February 25, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

        I’m just another one of those guys working for the experience. I work for Balcone’s in Waco, Texas. Our staple product is our blue corn whiskey, Baby Blue. I’m just the bottling/barreling/package guy so sadly I’ve got no say as to where we send samples but I’ll suggest it to your production manager and the owner. If you ever find yourself in central Texas feel free to come by for a tour.

        • Don
          February 28, 2011 at 9:48 am #

          I’ve heard of Baby Blue, but never tried it. Sounds interesting. I’ve had all malt whiskies and they are very tasty, but never a corn whiskey. I’m assuming it is very sweet.

  13. Matt
    February 25, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    Here is where people get it wrong, in my humble opinion. This is a unique area where the craft can be practiced at home and shared with friends and family. You can spend a couple hundred dollars and make great beer or you can spend $1,000+ on equipment and make beer that will rival or beat any of the craft offerings.

    I make a very comfortable living with a stable job so I can have fun hobbies without any stress of running a business, meeting deadlines, or ruining thousands of gallons of product. Once those elements are introduced I bet the allure of a brewmaster job is stripped. I don’t understand how the craft industry is paying entry level wages to a position at the top of its career path while requiring graduate level education. Screw that.

  14. Stephen
    March 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Wow. I cannot believe the income levels are that low! As you know I work at a brewery and my position is about as far away from being a brewmaster as they offer, but I am making more then the low end figures already. I just assumed that the brewmasters at our lowly facility were still making more then that, but in reality it is probably a lot less then I imagined. Still their job has to be more enjoyable then mine. All day I get to see millions of bottles of beer but we are not allowed to have any. It is a cruel, cruel work environment. Plus it may be leading me to alcoholism, because I am thinking about beer more then I presume is normal:)

    • March 7, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

      Sounds like working at a crack factory like in New Jack City. You should feel lucky that they don’t search your cavities for bottles at the end of the day!

  15. Stephen
    March 7, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    It wouldn’t surprise me if they implement that policy in the near future!

    • March 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

      Well then I’d hang in there – sounds like fun!! 😉

  16. January 31, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    Possible dream job? Quite possibly<3

  17. Hop Fiend
    July 3, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

    Jim, I would love to be in marketing

  18. Lucky
    July 26, 2012 at 12:58 am #

    I make 3 times what a brewmaster makes. My job is very difficult and requires a ridiculous amount of mental capacity and ability. You people are making beer and making 50k doing that. Be very, very happy getting that kind of money from a job that requires no intelligence at all. Very few jobs pay 50k that require no intelligence at all.

    • July 26, 2012 at 6:59 am #

      I had no idea they paid trolls that much. Asshat.

      • Brew
        September 27, 2012 at 1:17 am #

        LOL. He’s actually right douchebag. A brewmaster comes up with a recipe and then that’s that. He only has to do this a few times for the different types of brews the brewery makes. And coming up with different recipes is not a matter of intelligence it’s just experience and experimentation.

        You seem awfully offended by Lucky’s comment. I’m assuming you are jealous of the amount of money he makes so you feel the need to hurl 3rd grade insults at him. Bravo my friend, whatever you think of Lucky you are well below him in intelligence. And no I’m not Lucky Jim. Good luck little fella.

        • September 27, 2012 at 6:40 am #

          Must be a troll union or something…

  19. April 14, 2013 at 5:51 am #

    hello all,we at hangover brewery are commencing operations in september 2013,at India ,here the industry is expanding very fast , looking for a experience brew master worked for microbrewerycontact harishsaxena@gmail.com or call directly 0091-9910565919(India) or 001-6103844531 ,life at india is fun

  20. May 6, 2015 at 6:58 am #

    Lucky you are a complete moron if that’s what you believe. Why don’t you educate yourself before opening your trap. You haven’t a clue. P.S. Santa Claus isn’t real, just in case you still believe that too

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