Craft Beer and Musical Chairs

Brewers Association infographic celebrating new record (courtesy of the Brewers Association)

Brewers Association celebrates 2015 record (courtesy of the Brewers Association)

These days, we hear all sorts of stats about the crazy growth of craft beer, like how last year the number of U.S. breweries eclipsed the previous all-time high. By the end of 2015, that number stood at 4269. We see breweries, pubs and taprooms popping up and notice new beers that weren’t on the grocery store shelf last week. But what does the explosive growth of craft beer mean for its workforce?

Regarding last year’s growth, Bart Watson, economist for the Brewers Association, wrote in a March 11 article, “Combined with already existing and established breweries and brewpubs, craft brewers provided nearly 122,000 jobs, an increase of over 6,000 from the previous year…As breweries continue to open and volume increases, there is a strong need for workers to fill a whole host of positions at these small and growing businesses.”

A good analogy is musical chairs, except instead of taking away a chair each time the music pauses, craft beer adds one. Of course, not all 6000 new jobs last year involved brewing. Somebody has to deal with marketing and sales. Brewpubs need servers, cooks and bartenders. Breweries with shops and tours need hospitality workers and guides.

With Kevin Clark at Peter B's

With Kevin Clark at Peter B’s

Still, there’s plenty of demand for skilled, experienced brewers. When Imaginary Brewery hires a brewer from Fictional Brewery, Fictional now has to find a replacement. They have several options. The most obvious, is to hire someone from another brewery—and force the other guys into the game. This happens all the time at breweries of all sizes.

Two recent examples: On March 23, I attended a farewell party for Kevin Clark, Head Brewer at Peter B’s, one of our two neighborhood brewpubs. Four days later, Kevin was on his way to Minnesota and Peter B’s was still interviewing candidates to replace him. On March 11, Scottish BrewDog, who is building a 100,000 square-foot brewery in Ohio, announced they’d hired Tim Hawn as the Head of Production for BrewDog USA. Wait a minute! Tim Hawn, Brewmaster at the famous Dogfish Head Brewery? Yep.

Brandon Keck at Gordon Biersch

Brandon Keck at Gordon Biersch

Another hiring option for Fictional Brewery, if it’s big enough, is to promote an employee, say a cellarman (entry level position), to a night-shift brewer—but then they have to find a new cellarman. If they have a good intern, they can hire him or her. Ultimately, the employee pool has to expand.

Not so long ago, craft breweries often hired experienced homebrewers, but, as the industry has grown, so have the expectations for brewers. In the last decade, brewing courses and programs have proliferated at universities and elsewhere. It’s not uncommon for aspiring brewers to hire on as tour guides or restaurant staff at larger breweries. Others bide their time, working as interns. Even with so much growth, there are plenty of homebrewers looking to go pro, which keeps starting salaries low and, often, interns unpaid.

Jeff Vitalich at Bottoms Up

Jeff Vitalich at Bottoms Up

The good news is that once a brewer gets some experience, job opportunities increase. When I met Brandon Keck, he was an experienced homebrewer working at Bottoms Up, our local homebrew supply store, and interning (unpaid) at a small brewery. Last spring, he got hired as a cellarman at Gordon Biersch in San Jose. A month ago, he started working at Russian River for Vinnie Cilurzo, one of the top brewers in the country.

Meanwhile, Gordon Biersch hired a new cellarman, Jeff Vitalich. His experience? Some serious homebrewing and working part-time at Bottoms Up.

Duane, the owner of Bottoms Up, just replaced Jeff. This time he went with a homebrewer who’s retired from his day job.

If you live on the Monterey Peninsula, stop by Bottoms Up and say hi to Col. Peter Gustaitis!

Peter Gustaitis at Bottoms Up on April 2

Peter Gustaitis at Bottoms Up on April 2

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