The following article was originally published on May 14, 2014. It has been reviewed and updated as necessary by the ProBrewer editorial staff.
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by Teri Fahrendorf
© Teri Fahrendort, reprinted with permission of author
In this dissertation, Teri Fahrendorf, former head brewer for Steelhead Brewing Company discusses how she made the jump from homebrewer to professional brewer.
The term ‘microbrewery’ is used inclusively, including brewpubs and microbreweries as microbreweries by definition.
When I give tours of the brewery at Steelhead, one of the most commonly asked questions is, “How did you become a brewer?” Part of the answer lies in the question, “Why did I become a brewer?”
Some artists use paint and canvas or clay to express their art. I must ferment.
At 10 I baked my first loaf of bread. Neither parent had ever baked bread, but I did, alone. In 1979 I started making home-made wine. In 1983 I made my first mead. In 1985 I made my first homebrew. In 1986 a girlfriend and I went on a West Coast microbrewery road trip between San Francisco and Portland. There weren’t many micros, and I’d heard there were even fewer all-girl microbrewery roadtrips.
I was an extract brewer for three years while I worked as a Systems Analyst when, in 1988, something pivotal happened: I attended the AHA Hombrewers Conference, just like you are now. I had never seriously entertained the idea of becoming a professional brewer, after all, there were only three women in the San Andreas Malts, the San Francisco area homebrew club that I belonged to. And, as far as I knew, there were no women brewing professionally in any micro-brewery. At the conference, I watched Mellie Pullman, the head brewer at Schirf Brewing Co. of Park City, Utah, receive a medal at the GABF, and I talked to John Maier, the brewmaster at Rogue Breweries in Newport, Oregon. John told me he had been a Senior Electronic Technician for Hughes Aircraft in L.A. before going to the long course at Siebel in 1986. An idea began to form in the back of my brain: if Mellie could do the work of brewing, so could I; if John could switch from a well-paying technical field to become a brewer and survive financially, so could I! Before I left Denver that June, my decision was made.
Upon arriving home, I applied for admission to Siebel, and my company, Unisys Corporation, happened to send me to Chicago on a business trip the very next week. I took the bus out to Siebel to check it out. When I got back Unisys wouldn’t give me a leave of absence to pursue further studies in what was then still my hobby, so I quit. I put all my belongings into storage except my homebrew books, kissed my boyfriend goodbye, and flew to Chicago at the end of August.
There were two women in our class of 24 brewers at Siebel. The other woman worked for Strohs. Most of the students were being sent by their megabrewing companies and were on expense account for the 11 weeks. Three of us were paying our own way. The other two were laid off G. Heileman brewery workers trying to get jobs at Anheuser-Busch. I was the lone microbrewer wanna-be that year.
After Siebel I stayed in Chicago for another few weeks and worked as unpaid labor at the Siebens River North Brewpub. Since I wasn’t getting paid, I just hung around for the fun stuff, which, of course, was brewing. Hindsight is 20-20. I already knew how to brew for the most part from homebrewing. But, I should have hung around for the cleaning! I knew nothing on a practical hands-on level about cleaning chemicals.
After Christmas I went to Portland to try for a job in the Pacific Northwest. No dice. I ended up in Berkeley working for the second incarnation of the now defunct Golden Gate Brewing Co. Finally, my first paid brewing job! Sadly, it wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. Two months and two bounced pay checks later, they went out of business and I landed in the hospital with a serious brewing injury. BUT, I was on my way and had begun to build my reputation as a professional brewer.
Some Non-Brewing Beer-Related Professions
These professions could not only pay your mundane bills, but could also teach you about the beer/brewing field, provide valuable contacts, and give you some beer-related experience to put on your resume.
Homebrew Shop worker
Homebrew Shop owner
Microbeer or Import Beer Sales Representative
Beer Importing/Distributing Co. owner
Bartender at pub with wide selection of micros and imports
Pub or Tavern owner
Beer column writer for newspaper
Article writer for trade magazines (Zymurgy, Brewing Techniques, New Brewer, American Brewer, The Celebrator, All About Beer, Brewer’s Digest, etc.)
Book Author (Style books, Technical books, Guide books, Cook books, etc.)
Free Lance Author (ie: Michael Jackson)
Beer magazine publisher
Homebrew class instructor
Beer appreciation class instructor
Beer raw material supplier employee (ie: hops, malt, yeast)
Brewing equipment supplier employee (ie: tank manufacturer, tank broker)
College level brewing instructor, or T.A. (teacher’s assistant)
Some Non-Paid Beer-Related Positions of Value
Local Beer Judge
BJCP Beer Judge
Homebrew Club Member
Homebrew Club Officer
Article Writer for Homebrew Club newsletter
Award Winning Homebrewer
Other Non-Paid Things That Can Give You an Edge
Enter your homebrew in competitions.
Attend the AHA Hombrewers Conference.
Take chemistry, microbiology, physics, math or engineering classes.
Get a University Degree in chemistry, microbiology, or organic chemistry;
U.C. Davis Degree in Fermentation Science, specialization in Brewing Science; or
U.C. Davis master’s Degree in Food Science, specialization in Sensory Siences, Microbiology, Engineering-Technology, Chemistry-Biochemistry or Enology.
Attend the Siebel Institute long (diploma) course;
U.C. Davis one-year Master Brewer Program; or
Siebel or U.C. Davis short courses.
Attend the National Craft Brewers Conference.
Different Paths to Become a Brewer
Well, all these non-brewing careers may be fine for some, but what about the person who just won’t be satisfied unless they can brew everyday on a large scale? How can they break into the business?
Attending Siebel was crucial to my breaking into the brewing field in 1988, however, everyone will find their own path if they are determined enough. I feel there will always be a need for trained brewers. My hunch is that as time goes on, the educational requirements of microbrewers in the U.S. will increase, if for no other reason than that the demand will increase. One microbrewery owner I spoke with recently declared he will never again hire another brewer without formal training (ie: Siebel or U.C. Davis) or a lot of experience. Obviously the demand for trained and qualified brewers is the same with the large national breweries in this country.
The educational requirements of brewers in Europe is much more stringent than in this country. In 1988 I spoke to Gus Guthrie, Director of Technical Services, of Bass Breweries, LTD. of Burton-on-Trent, and he stated that only those with four year degrees in chemistry or a technical brewery-related field were considered for entry-level positions.
In Germany to become a brewer, one must enter a three-year apprenticeship program at a qualified brewery. One month a year the brewing apprentice attends school. At the end of the three years, the apprentice must take a written test and a practical test – at an unfamiliar brewery – and must know and demonstrate their comprehensive knowledge of operations. Three years experience, shool, and passing these two tests qualifies a brewer for an entry level position. Once a brewer has achieved their entry level position, they can continue their education at a school like Doemens, and pass the State Licensing Exam given by the Handwerks Kammer. This would be akin to an electrician being licensed as a Master Electrician in the United States.
Another reason to go to brewing school besides just trying to break into the business, is if you have experience as an Assistant Brewer, but you are having a hard time making the jump to Head Brewer. There seems to be a glass ceiling of credibility in the field, and I know several assistant brewers who have gone to brewing school in order to get around it.
When inquiring about a brewing school’s program, be sure to ask about the prerequisites for that program. The long course at Siebel requires the candidate to have taken some college level chemistry and math.
A second way to break into the business is to get a job as an assistant brewer. To assist you in this endevor, it helps to be as well known by other homebrewers as possible. Join the homebrew club. Tell the owner of the local homebrew supply shop that if he or she ever hears of an opening, you are willing and able. For an example of why this is important; when I moved to Eugene to set up the Steelhead Brewery, I knew nobody there and I had to find and hire an assistant brewer. I talked to the owner of the local homebrew supply shop and I joined the homebrew club. I haven’t homebrewed since 1988, but I now know many of the local homebrewers in town. Through these contacts I was able to find and hire an assistant brewer.
To be realistic about becoming an assistant brewer, it helps if you are healthy, strong, young (in your 20’s or 30’s) and male. I am speaking from my own experience. When I wanted to break into the business, I knew nobody would hire me as an assistant brewer. Most brewmasters look for a person who is able to take most of the physical work off of their shoulders. Even with a Siebel diploma in hand, I was asked questions like, “Can you carry a half-barrel of beer up a flight of stairs?” Folks, that’s over 160 lbs! I prefer to use my brain instead of my brawn and would probably have developed a dumb-waiter or winch system for that brewery but they wouldn’t give me the chance. In fact no established brewery gave me the chance. I was hired by a new manager representing new owners who were taking a defunct brewpub out of bankruptcy. They hired me because they didn’t know any better. They didn’t know brewing was a physical job. They gave me a chance, I was able to prove my brewing skills in the quality of my beers, and the other professional brewers, my peers, were able to see I could really do the job. When that job evaporated two months later, I was able to get my second job without the “can she really do it?” lack of faith in my abilities.
So what do you do if you want to be an assistant brewer and you are female? You might seriously consider brewing school, otherwise, please use me as an example when trying to convince a brewer to hire you, as well as any other female brewers you may know.
Keg Washer/Bottling Line
These are the entry level positions at most microbreweries of any size. They usually pay a little more than minimum wage, but they can get your foot in the door. Often they are seasonal positions. Most breweries expand production in summer because of increased consumption with the warmer weather, however, I have heard of a few breweries in ski resort areas that increase production in the winter. Apply in advance of the season for one of these entry level positions. If you are lucky, and the brewery likes you, you might be able to work yourself into a more permanent positon.
Wait or Kitchen Staff at a Brewpub
Once in a while this is the entry level position at a brewpub. The McMenamin chain of breweries and pubs here in Oregon has a policy of only promoting from within. Most of their current brewers started as wait or kitchen staff, and worked into their current position in the brewery. I know of no other cases where this is true, but it could work if you are having a hard time finding another way in.
Education: Brewing Schools and Programs
Following are the brewing courses I am aware of offered in the United States. Listed here by Institution, name and duration of the course, and course cost.
American Brewers Guild – an online brewing education, Salisbury, VT contact Steve Parkes (800) 636-1331 email@example.com
Brewers currently working in breweries are able to study for an industry-respected brewing qualification, and those looking to switch careers can study and train while keeping their day jobs.
U.C.Davis, Davis, CA, Phone: (916)757-8899
Sensory Evaluation of Beer (1 day)
Brew Pubs and Microbreweries: Business and Brewing (2 days)
Quality Assurance for Practical Microbrewing (3 days)
Brew Pub and Microbrewery Operations and Management (5 days)
Intensive Brewing Science for Practical Brewing (6 days)
Sanitation and Microbiology for the Practical Brewer (5 days)
Professional Brewers Update (7 days)
Master Brewers Program (9 months)
Undergraduate Degree in Fermentation Science with an emphasis in Brewing Sciences. (4+ years)
Graduate Degree in Food Science with specialization in one of five areas.
(2 years) Undergraduate degree required and/or other prerequisite coursework in the sciences.
Siebel Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL, Phone:(312)463-3400
Sensory Evaluation of Beer (3 days)
Microbrewery and Pub Brewery Operations (5 days)
Essential Quality Control for Brewers (5 days)
Executive Seminar in Brewing (5 days)
Brewing Microbiology and Microscopy (2 weeks)
Short Course in Brewing Technology (2 weeks)
Long (Diploma) Course in Brewing Technology (10 weeks)
U.W. Madison MBAA Courses, Madison, Wisconsin, Phone: (608)231-3446
MBAA Short Course in Brewing and Malting Science (2 weeks)
MBAA Short Course in Brewery Packaging Technology (2 weeks)
Brewing Schools Outside the U.S.
There are many brewing schools worldwide, many of which I am not aware of. The limited knowledge I have about non-U.S. schools and their programs is listed below:
Technical University of Munich – Weihenstephan, Freising, Germany
University education in Germany is free. Weihenstephan has 2 programs:
1. Brewer. 2-year program. Prerequisite is 4-year U.S. Degree or equivalent, plus two years of practical professional brewing experience.
2. Brewing Engineer. 4-year program. Prerequisite is 4-year U.S. Degree or equivalent plus two years of practical professional brewing experience.
Technical University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany
University education in Germany is free. T.U. Berlin has 3 programs:
1. Short/English. 3-month English language program.
2. Brewer. 2-year program. Prerequisite is 4-year U.S. Degree or equivalent, plus two years of practical professional brewing experience.
3. Brewing Engineer. 4-year program. Prerequisite is 4-year U.S. Degree or equivalent plus two years of practical professional brewing experience.
Doemens Technical School, Munich, Germany
Technical schools are not free. Doemens has 2 programs:
1. Short/English. 9-month English language program.
2. Standard. 2-year program. Prerequisite is 3-5 years apprenticeship.
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland
Heriot-Watt has several programs:
1. Short Courses. Short courses in Brewing and Distilling Science and Technology.
2. B.S. 4-year Degree programs in Brewing and Distilling.
3. Postgraduate Diploma. 9-month program.
4. M.S. 1-year program.
Brewlab – Sunderland Polytechnic, Sunderland, England (short courses)
University of Birmingham, Birmingham, England
Agricultural University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
Catholic University of Luvuen, Luvuen, Belgium
You need to be very realistic about salaries before you quit your current job. Yes, you want to brew so bad that you’ll do it for free. Get real. Somebody’s got to pay your rent. It’s one thing to brew for free for a couple of days or even weeks in order to get something to put on your resume because you have little that applies. It is another thing to volunteer for free indefinitely. I don’t like to see it and here’s why. Brewing is a hard, labor-intensive job. Also, picture your continued free labor from my point of view. If the bottom earning tier in the brewery hierarchy is worth nothing, then proportionately, my earnings as a Brewmaster aren’t going to be a lot more. The large national breweries are known to pay their few brewing supervisors very well. They have to, because as the bottom earning tiers are Union wage levels, the top positions pay proportionately higher. And, in case any of you are getting the bright idea to unionize microbrewery pay scales, I think it’s unlikely. How can you organize a bunch of separately owned mom and pop breweries with few employees, each employee doing an unbelievable range of tasks?
Back to salaries. It’s not a pretty picture. Although brewing is a highly skilled craft, a lot of the companies are still start-ups. Some of them are creatively underfinanced and will bounce your paycheck all the way to the bank when they go under. Also, just because I don’t believe in working people for free, doesn’t mean that there aren’t many breweries out there that will pay you minimum wage, or take advantage of your free labor; there are. After all, I don’t own a brewery, I am merely an employee as well.
Basically, if you are doing this for money, you are in the wrong field. Go into brewing only if you love it.
Here are some generalizations to help you keep salary ranges in perspective:
I am assuming you are an employee, not an owner.
1. The smaller the brewery, the closer to the low end of the salary range;
The larger the brewery, the closer to the high end.
2. Brewpubs pay better than microbreweries.
3. Wages may depend on what part of the country you live in, but not necessarily.
4. Microbrewing jobs are harder to get on the coasts than inland.
5. Wages are generally highest in the midwest as it has a history of taking brewing seriously as a skilled profession.
6. Wages are lowest on the west coast.
7. Salary depends on your self-sales and “go-getter” negotiating ability.
8. Salary is based on a 40-hour work week, but reality is often more than 40 hours.
9. Expect low end of the salary range.
Job Hunting Tactics
A lot of tips I will give you here are those that have worked for me in the past. They are not necessarily the standard procedures you will find in job hunting books, but they may help you.
You need a resume, even if all you can put on it is “Homebrewer.” Here is a good example. We have a hypothetical new college grad with a non-beer related major and minor. He didn’t even have the foresight to take one beginning chemistry class. Because he does have a new college degree, education is his strongest category so it goes on top. In this example, Thomas T. Brewster believes that his work experience at a brewpub over the winter is his strong suit, so he listed his Work Experience next. Luckily he remembered to have a separate listing for Brewing Experience, and he listed just about everything he thinks will apply. It looks fairly impressive for someone with no experience who is applying for an assistant brewer position, but it is a weak resume. It looks like he is applying for a wait staff position somewhere.
In this upgraded example, I have switched Brewing Experience to directly below Education. I consolidated the Competition information, and expanded the actual brewing information. The actual homebrew experience levels have been separated out, much as experience levels and promotions would be separated and defined for a job. Types of Beer Brewed and the Mead Brewing information has been subcatagorized. Also, Thomas didn’t realize that his bread baking hobby was relevant, but it is. Remember, beer is liquid bread, and fermentation is fermentation.
The BREWING is the most important part of the brewing experience. Show your creativity and initiative. Some detail also helps show your personality and makes the resume less cold.
Next, I separated work experience into Beer Related Work Experience and Other (non-beer related) Work Experience. Lucky Thomas was able to get some beer industry experience to spruce up his resume!
Originally the job description for Steelhead read, “Wait Person at this fine local brewpub.” It sounds good, but it only describes what you are, not what you do. Use action verbs wherever possible. This new version shows you were able to use your knowledge of beer styles on the job for both the Wait Person position and the Delivery Truck Driver position.
Show what you do, not what you are, and be specific about your beer knowledge. Fill up the resume without going over one page.
Under Other Work Experience on the improved version, I dropped Thomas’ high school experience at McDonald’s. His bread baking experience is more relevant to a career as a brewer.
Also, on the improved version, by separating out any work experience related to beer, I was able to get another brewing related word, Beer, in bold type in another category heading, so at a glance, the whole resume looks more beer and brewing relevant.
Mailing a Resume
Send a cover letter with resume in order to personalize it. Use the head brewer’s name and spell it right. If you are willing to move, say so. In the cover letter tell the head brewer you will be calling them at XX time. ie: 10:00 am on Wed. August 25th. Call when you say you will and follow up with a personalized thank you note after the the phone call.
If you photograph reasonably well at all, send a picture. It is illegal to ask for a photo, but it is to your advantage to send one. Then when they talk to you on the phone, the brewer will feel that he or she is speaking to a real person, not a phone. I have previously landed two jobs, sight unseen, by sending a picture and having a phone interview, one of those with a Fortune 100 computer company 3000 miles away.
Don’t take no to a resume. When you speak to the brewer, if they have no openings and don’t forsee any, ask the brewer to pass on your resume if they hear of any openings anywhere. When you travel while looking for a brewing job, drop your resume off at every home-brew supply shop you can find, and ask the proprietor to pass it on if they hear of anything. I got my first paid brewing position this way.
Brewers are very busy people, and could be less than friendly if they answer the phone and they don’t know you. Be prepared and don’t be a pest. Keep it short. Ask relevant questions: Do you have openings coming in the near future? Would you consider hiring someone from outside your geographic area?
If you are more than one day’s drive from the brewery, ask for a phone interview. Set it up for a time convenient for the brewer.
Follow up any significant phone calls with a thank you note.
Dropping In Without Prior Arrangement
Danger – some brewers can be moody. You might show up at a bad time so it is best to call or write first.
Be prepared with a resume and don’t forget a cover letter. A phone number on the back of a coaster is not O.K. Fill out the job application in advance at home. Attach your resume and extra pages listing any additional brewing information you want the brewer to know about you. Know what you want from the brewer today. Don’t waste his or her time.
There is little need to wear a tie or dress as brewers are usually an informal bunch. Do be on time and well groomed. And don’t, like some bonehead did, wear a competition brewery’s T-shirt to the interview!
Be flexible on the geographic location you will except for the first 3-4 years. Don’t unpack your suitcase until you get the job you want.
Do your homework: Know the brewery’s products. ie: Don’t go to Widmer for an interview and say, “Yeah, I really love that Full Sail Amber you guys make.” (This really happened.) And know how to pronounce and spell the name of the brewery. It’s Wid-mer, not Wid-meer.
Get to know the tank manufacturers. They know where the new breweries are going in. You can find them at the Microbrewer’s Conference Trade Show for example.
Get to know the brewers.
If you have already decided you want to be a professional brewer, or if you decide to do so during this conference, talk to all different kinds of brewers this week. Have your questions prepared in advance and keep them short and to the point. If a brewer seems preoccupied or disinterested in talking to you, don’t push it, go talk to someone else. Talk to brewers from different geographic locations as well as different size breweries. Find out their story. Compare it to what your expectations are. Don’t be surprised if reality doesn’t measure up to your fantasies. In reality, brewing is 95% cleaning and heavy lifting, and only 5% recipe design and other such tasks.
Be as realistic about your income and lifestyle needs as about the unfavorable job candidate and salary situation. Brewers work strange hours and rarely get weekends off consistently. Vacations of more than a few days are often difficult to schedule. If you are still convinced that brewing professionally is for you, consider the different paths to become a brewer, and consider the possibility (and expense) of brewing school. Brush up your resume and gear it toward brewing. And most important of all, don’t give up! If you were to ask me, I would tell you: there is absolutely nothing that I would rather be doing with my life right now. I am an alchemist; I take nature’s goodness, and turn it into Liquid Gold. For me it is not just a job, it’s a calling.