Good Beer Hunting

Fervent Few

Fervent Few — Considering Labor

The members of the Fervent Few come from all walks of life. They each have unique experiences in—and opinions on—the world of beer. This week, we wanted to hear from the members who work in the industry. What do they think about the state of laboring over the beverage we all love? What’s exciting, what’s bothering them, and what can we do to make things better?


Lana Svitankova: “It's a bit selfish, I know, but the thing I think about the most is how to make my (and those around me as well) journey into the beer world more exciting. What new beers to brew, what yeast to get from travels, what new educational and plain interesting info to put on our brewery's page. It's a constant search for new experiences and amusement, but the thing I urge myself not to forget about in the pursuit of new is consistency. And to be honest, the most frequent thought is about how lucky I am to have found the job and hobby I enjoy immensely. Even if sometimes it's a headache.”

Nick Weber: “I've been in beer for about six months now after a decade stint in kitchens, and I have seen two strong threads that pervade both industries. The first problem is the poor pay rates that plague brewing, much like cooking. Long hours, strenuous and dangerous work conditions, and handling several thousands of dollars’ worth of product at a time should come with aggressive and competitive pay. However, the median salaries are laughably close to poverty. That said, I love every second of brewing and I'm so fortunate to work in the field. But perhaps that attitude—which is shared with pretty much everyone else in the industry—is why we're complacent with substandard wages.

The second issue I have with the industry is the dead-horse sexism that I still cannot believe exists these days. Forgoing comment on the overall bro culture of craft beer, not a day goes by that I don't get some delivery driver aghast that I'd let my cellarwoman drive a forklift unsupervised. This Labor Day, I drank some Pilsners in respect and remembrance of all the women who had brewed beers for millennia before it became a man's job, and for all the women brewing today and tomorrow.”

Mark de Leeuw: “I've rolled out of bartending gigs and such into my current job as customer support agent for an online beer store. However, I must admit to being in a lucky spot: I work in the Netherlands with decent labor laws and matching pay, I am a white male, and so on. I however, keep considering the luck I've had to land this job, which I really enjoy, challenges me every day, and allows me to grow as a person and a beer drinker. The pains and challenges from others that I read (both here and on Twitter) made me realize quite quickly that the beer industry is a lot more complex than I expected from the start. All the things that Nick mentions are things I never see firsthand, but do worry me greatly. Does that make me lucky or spoiled? I don't know.”

William Weber: “The craft beer industry’s culture is so great (for some, at least) that people will literally volunteer to do the work. The power of supply and demand is strong, and with so many eager to do the work it’s almost inevitable that wages will remain depressed relative to the effort required and the dangers faced.”

David Purgason: “I’ve been a brewer for 10 years. I’m finally opening my own place in the next few months. I’m constantly worried about being a boss, trying to pay fair wages, and create a place people look forward to coming in to work. The challenging dynamic between the back and front of house staff, hours, pay, and responsibility concern the fuck out of me.”

Tiffany Waldron: “One of the challenges I face (and this may be somewhat limited to Australia) is the perception of women who drink beer. Beer is still seen as an unrefined beverage and I still run into women I work with (in beer) who will make comments like, ‘Do I look like someone who would drink beer?’ And people still believe there are no gender gaps in the beer industry! Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

Suzanne Schalow: “People are the single most important asset of our business. It’s important that we have the right ones, and that we take care of them, every single day. I’m a small business owner, and I still work more hours than anyone, which is the way it should be. I can’t ask the people that have made choices to work alongside me to do things that I can’t and won’t do myself. I work every Sunday, with my business partner, so everyone else can have the day off. We respect the people that have made choices to work with us, and work to show this, in actions, not just by policies and excellent pay. Creating a positive, creative, clean, fun, and respectful working environment is just as important as salaries and time off. We set the ground rules before we hired our first employee and we hold these philosophies and policies in high regard, asking everyone to treat them with the same respect.”

Matthew Modica: "The biggest issue facing this industry is mental health and agency. Nobody will be happy working on Labor Day, but we do it anyway because it’s what we signed up for. With positions in this community come an understanding that you have to find your maturity at the rate you can afford yourself. It takes years. Years to understand how to stand up for your time and worth. Unfortunately, in some cases, to be able to stand up and speak out about being sexually harassed. A culture of which is inhibited by male driven nasty ego. A culture of which protects its own nasty male ego. There is no doubt that if the people who wrote our checks and paid us personal attention that these things would be noticed more often and corrected and in turn become non issues. This comes to the overwhelming ask that employers be proactive. Get ahead of the expected instead of sitting back and hoping one of your employees doesn’t harass someone else, or burn out overworking themselves for your profit to the point that they develop/envelope anxiety. If they got ahead of it then the “excepted” is not that. Most employers expect the world and put their trust in the hands of people who are ill equipped to recognize when someone is in need. You can ask the world from someone, but you can’t turn around and tell them build it too. Pay your people, mentor your people, give them the time they need to cope, don’t touch your people. That’s it. That’s all there is."

Do you work in the beer industry? Join the Fervent Few and meet your new best friends. Let's have a couple drinks and chat about what excites and worries you about what you do for a living.

Hosted by Jim Plachy