Good Beer Hunting

Will Work for Beer, Pt. 1 — The Dollars and Sense of the Industry


Craft beer is booming, but the ramifications for its labor market are an interesting case study for the challenges this ever-growing industry faces. According to the Brewers Association, its “small and independent” members account for approximately 66,560 full and 61,440 part-time positions in the industry, with new opportunities opening on a near-daily basis. Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, notes that all U.S. production breweries combined are adding the equivalent of about 10,000 jobs a year.

But there’s a catch: Beer now exists in a period where employment supply is just as ambitious, if not more so, than demand. Positions are opening, but we’re also at a point where volunteerism is a regular part of the business, and some companies and beer fans see payment through six-packs and clothing as equivalent to a paycheck. The opportunities provided are a valuable stat to track as more businesses open up, but so is the context around what those jobs are and what they provide.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks companies different than the Brewers Association and doesn’t count brewpubs as part of production breweries, average weekly wages were on steady decline from 2006 to 2016, dropping about $300 during a period of strong growth where the number of breweries rapidly increased.


It doesn’t look any better in comparison to other alcohol categories, either. During the same time period, wineries and distilleries were essentially flat in their average weekly wages reported to the BLS, with beer following its slight decline. On a whole, it’s not a pretty picture for employees working in various production or service jobs. It’d be more encouraging if the salaries were trending upward instead, but stagnant wages are common at this point.

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The numbers aren’t great overall, especially when considering cost of living increases that take place. But the “do what you love” argument is often raised for people entering these industries, focused on the potential payoff down the line, or—rightfully so—the personal value that comes with it. And for what it’s worth, these weekly wages from alcohol-focused businesses are also better than a tangential sector like “Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations,” which carries an average weekly wage of $475.20 before tips.

All that said, the wages tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics still paint a rather rosy picture for employees. An average weekly wage of $969 is roughly $50,000 a year, though this tally sounds suspiciously high when it comes to upstart businesses. The reality of BLS including employees for some of the largest production breweries in the country (craft or not) certainly helps to raise the total. What’s more, recent estimates suggest that volunteer time, no stranger to the beer industry, is worth $24.69 per hour. That may sound like the equivalent of a high-end NE IPA four-pack, but it’s also worth about $51,000 in annual salary.

This is also reflected in numbers reported from the Beer Institute, which says that an average job at an American brewery or importer pays 35% more than the median American household income of roughly $59,000. That would mean an average job for one person in beer equates to about $80,000 between annual salary and benefits, $18,000 more than the average American worker. Companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors and others boost that figure.

For a different look at potential salary structure, the Brewers Association has compiled self-reported figures from a variety of members. While a small sample size from about 6,300 breweries, it still provides interesting insight, especially for companies making less than 1,000 barrels a year, which reflects from two-thirds to three-quarters of U.S. breweries.

On the production side, salaries across a range of brewing positions by seniority vary. Presumably, the larger a brewery is by production volume, the bigger the company and higher the pay. For example, an assistant brewer at a company making less than 500 BBLs averages $27,615, according to the BA's survey results, and the same position at a brewery making 501 to 1,000 BBLs earns $31,157 a year. Head brewer ($38,079 for <500 BBLs and $43,751 for 500-1,000 BBLs) follows a similar trajectory.

When it comes to making beer, these reported figures put brewers on par with overall average income for individual Americans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most recent figure for average annual income of workers between 20 and 64 was $44,200. Generally speaking, assistant brewers make less than this, while more senior production positions meet or exceed that annual average.

Things are a little different for non-production information reported to the Brewers Association.

For example, most taproom staff, regardless of brewery size, make half the average salary of an American worker before tips. Base pay for sales staff, who may receive bonuses, earn up to three-quarters of an average U.S. salary for breweries making less than 5,000 BBLs a year. Above that, the Brewers Association survey shows higher-than-average wages. Administrative roles, which can include a variety of office and general workplace tasks, range in salary from $15,333 on the low end to $50,304 at the top.

The reporting, collection, and analysis of all these numbers vary, so while not a definitive and absolute view of wage scale, they at least provide a glimpse at the financial realities within beer, which aren’t always ideal ones.

With an understanding of how much people are getting paid, part two of this series will offer context around where these jobs are coming from and implications for new hires.

—Bryan Roth

Will Work for Beer, Pt. 1 — The Dollars and Sense of the Industry
Will Work for Beer, Pt. 2 — It's a New Job and Somebody's Gotta Do It
Will Work for Beer, Pt. 3 — More Than Just Pay
Will Work for Beer, Pt. 4 — Balancing Budgets and Dreams