Earlier this year, The Atlantic called craft beer the "strangest, happiest economic story in America" as jobs grew near-exponentially thanks to a rapid influx of small and independent breweries. From 2001 to 2017, writer Derek Thompson reported, the total employment at U.S. breweries grew from 27,805 to 69,359 full-time workers.
"Technology and globalization are supposed to make modern industries more efficient, but today’s breweries require more people to produce fewer barrels of beer," he wrote.
This only tells half the story, however. It’s true that craft is pushing this upward swing, but for the same reason beer’s “longtail” is leading craft’s growth, it’s also key to its job market, too.
In a follow-up to that Atlantic piece, economist Ian Hathaway did his own analysis to show how impactful the size of a brewery can be in creating more jobs. He found that in the 10-year period between 2008 and 2017, breweries of less than 20 employees grew their net staff numbers by 1,160%, going from an estimated 1,384 employees to 17,438. As you might expect, the creation of new, smaller breweries meant that jobs that didn’t exist were being created, boosting the tally:
Similar to numbers shared in part one of this series, which focused on wages, figures and estimates differ by source and method of analysis, whether they come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Brewers Association, or the Beer Institute. While The Atlantic and Hathaway use government data to source their numbers, it can leave out some businesses like brewpubs, which the Brewers Association includes in its reporting.
No matter where information is coming from, it can clearly point toward the smallest breweries as engines for growth, if only because they’re creating new jobs where there were none before. And it makes perfect sense: about 90% of U.S. businesses are estimated to have less than 20 employees.
In beer, like so many other industries, small firms drive growth. As you may expect, there’s a direct correlation between number of employees and production level for breweries, with two-thirds to three-quarters (depends who’s counting) of U.S. breweries producing less than 1,000 BBLs a year.
But there’s an interesting side to this, as it’s not just who is hiring, but when.
Based on figures self-reported by Brewers Association members to the organization, a small sample size of businesses show a clear shift of hiring once certain production thresholds are reached.
When it comes to those parts of the production process, from keg washers to head brewers, there’s a clear jump once a brewery hits somewhere in the 2,500 to 5,000-barrel range. Up to that point, production breweries making less than 2,500 BBLs a year average two to four full-time brewing staff members. After that, employee numbers increase steadily, with some industry pros suggesting one brewer is needed per 1,000 to 1,200 BBLs produced (which also varies depending on system, automation capabilities, etc.).
The non-production jobs—ranging from taproom staff to sales or lab analysts—show similar growth. Breweries under 2,500 BBLs average three to seven such jobs. Once a business moves beyond 5,000 BBLs, there's an average of 23 full-time employees to 15,000 BBLs and 40 for businesses making 15,001 to 40,000, according to information reported to the Brewers Association.
An example of this kind of growth, and where it can take you, is Aviator Brewing Co., which is in the midst of expanding in a big way, creating a “beer entertainment complex” in its home of Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. Aviator will produce 18,000 BBLs in 2018 and has about 125 employees across brewery, bar, restaurant, and bottle shop. The business will add another 75 between now and next year. Aviator is by no means small in the industry, but it's a nice case study for showing how jobs grow alongside production.
Separately, the Beer Institute (BI) likes to tout how jobs in beer impact other companies and industries, such as agriculture or shipping.
BI estimates that each job in the beer industry creates 33 full-time employees elsewhere, though those responsible for that large a number are typically the biggest corporations. “Broadly speaking, the more widely available your beer is, the more jobs you are creating per job at the brewery,” says Michael Uhrich, chief economist at the Beer Institute.
For example, 58% of brewing jobs are linked to “mid-sized and large brewers and beer importers,” Uhrich notes, which is why the biggest breweries (craft or not) end up creating more jobs downstream.
To put it in simplistic terms: the smallest breweries are offering the most jobs in the industry, and the biggest ones are doing the same, with an emphasis outside the production space, too. All this puts an interesting spin on the original insight created by The Atlantic and Ian Hathaway’s separate analyses.
Yes, the owners of the smallest craft beer producers are creating full-time jobs, but at least initially, it’s often their own. Those positions simply didn’t exist. But once you get to something a little larger, and a company shows more growth, it makes sense that that’s when employment jumps really start to happen.
It also mirrors national trends. According to most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, establishments with fewer than 20 employees actually average four staff members. The next comparable range to Hathaway’s analysis, a business with 20 to 99 employees, has a national average of 29 staff members.
A small brewery can do a lot these days (and they do), and that also fits within Hathaway’s data for businesses with less than 20 employees. These companies aren’t just driving industry growth from a production level, but through jobs, too.
For nearly the first three years of his business’ existence, Doug Reiser and his team at Asheville, North Carolina’s Burial Beer Co. had stayed small. At the start it was just him and two co-owners: his wife, Jess Reiser, and head brewer, Tim Gormley. They made about 300 BBLs in 2014, Burial’s first full year of operation, but needed to add two production brewers for a jump to around 1,200 BBLs in 2015, then another six employees—two production, two packaging, one marketing, and one sales—in 2016 as growth picked up to about 2,200 in 2016.
With the opening of a new production space and taproom, “we got to 25 real quick,” Doug Reiser says. Burial's now at 34 full-time employees, which includes the three owners. Recent jobs, which had never existed for Burial before, include staff to oversee shipping and receiving, a head of maintenance, additional sales associates, and a food operator who will oversee an on-site restaurant. Burial is expected to produce about 10,000 BBLs this year.
Reiser says he prefers in most cases to promote from within, moving employees up the professional ladder and filling entry-level jobs for those hungry to get in the industry. As noted in part one of this series, those positions are typically low in pay, but Reiser says he offers the low-to-mid $30,000 range for new hires, which puts Burial above national averages for a variety of jobs reported to the Brewers Association.
“Sometimes I look at what brewers get paid and it scares the shit out of me," he says.
In part three of this series, Reiser and other brewery owners share insight on recruitment, retention, and what it means to create an ideal workplace in beer.
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