How to build a career in beer

Brewing is no picnic, says Matt Hall, 25, of Yards Brewing Co. in Philadelphia:"It's a lot of hard manual labor."
Brewing is no picnic, says Matt Hall, 25, of Yards Brewing Co. in Philadelphia:"It's a lot of hard manual labor."
Posted: February 18, 2011

Matt Hall majored in business administration at Bloomsburg University, but even in college, he knew there was only one thing he wanted to do: brew beer.

Traditionally, the world of craft brewing has been small and insular - like a hidden pub on a back alley. But in Philadelphia, where the roster of upscale gastropubs is ever growing and Philly Beer Week is fast becoming a civic holiday, opportunities to launch a successful full-time career in beer-making are expanding as quickly as the head of a carelessly poured pint.

Which is why Hall, 25, of Richboro, got a job as an assistant brewer at Yards Brewing Co. in Philadelphia this month. One of the city's first microbreweries, the 16-year-old company recently installed two new fermenters, which increased capacity from 15,000 to 24,000 barrels as it makes a push selling its beer in Delaware and other Mid-Atlantic states.

"I just really had great timing and lucked out," Hall said at the company's Delaware Avenue headquarters, where a table of beer lovers in the tasting room was planning this year's Beer Week, June 3 to 12.

Not just brewers are benefiting from the region's beermania. New brewpubs mean jobs for warehouse workers, packagers, drivers, sales representatives, and restaurant staff. At least three more gastropubs are scheduled to open soon: Forest & Main, a small brewpub in Ambler; American Sardine Bar, which will sell American craft beer in South Philadelphia; and the Grainery, specializing in small batches of European-style beers in Center City. Several other microbrewers have responded to growing demand by adding equipment to increase their output.

"Everybody had a great 2010," said Suzanne Woods, a sales representative for Sly Fox in Phoenixville and Royersford and author of the "Beer Lass" blog. "And it's still growing."

Mat Falco, who founded the monthly Philly Beer Scene magazine, said craft beer "is growing massively."

"Every time I put out a new issue I need to update the directory with new places," he said. "It's honestly hard to keep up with and visit all these places, but they're doing good business and offering up new jobs."

Craft brewers provide an estimated 100,000 jobs in the United States, including serving staff in brewpubs, according to the Brewers Association, which promotes small, independent brewers.

The craft brewing industry in the first half of 2010 grew 9 percent by volume and 12 percent by sales even as overall beer sales were down a bit. Sales of craft brews were up from 2008 to 2009 as well, from 8.5 million to nine million barrels.

The country is enjoying the highest number of breweries since before Prohibition - 1,595 in 2009, the last year of data, reports the Brewers Association.

Add to that the Grainery, opening at 12th and Walnut Streets in the spring, from the team that launched Fork & Barrel in East Falls last fall.

Unlike Fork & Barrel, which sells a wide variety of speciality beers, the Grainery will produce its own brews in very small batches. Terry Hawbaker, 38, lured away from the Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, Pa., will make what he calls "eclectic, true European farmhouse ales using native spices and herbs."

He came to Philadelphia because "it has a very unique and diverse brewing atmosphere that's really conducive to more of the beers that I prefer brewing," he said.

When Hawbaker started in the business 16 years ago, it was much harder to get a job. Like a lot of old-timers, he was a home brewer who got into the profession without formal training. Nowadays, brewers can take courses that teach various styles and techniques.

That's what Hall did last year.

After working as a sales representative for a wholesale beer distributor following college graduation, he enrolled in a three-month beer-making course, including a month studying German methods in Munich. The course ended in April, and Yards hired him a month later as a packager.

"No matter how many credentials you have, they're not putting you in the brew house" at the get-go, he said. But he was willing to do the "grunt work" to get a foot in the door.

Even as a brewer, Hall works in a warehouse that is frigid in winter and steaming in summer, and he's not getting rich. Established brewmasters make about $30,000 to $50,000 a year.

"It's a lot of hard manual labor," said Hall, wearing a knit hat and rubber shoes so his feet don't get wet, his clothes covered in bits of grain, after a tour of the warehouse.

"The reward is seeing people drink your product and getting excited about it. It's a dirty job, but everyone loves what they're doing, so they put up with it."


Beer Brewer

Responsibilities: Brewers select and check the malted barley or grain used in making a particular kind of beer, adding yeast, hops, water, and other ingredients. They monitor the fermentation process, operate a milling machine, and clean and repair tanks.

Education: A professional brewer's certificate earned after several months of training at one of the major training programs: Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago; University of California, Davis; and the American Brewers Guild in Vermont, which offers distance learning.

Preferred background: An entry-level position on the bottling line can lead to a job as an assistant brewer.

Salary: $25,000 to $35,000 for an assistant brewer, $30,000 to $50,000 for a brewmaster.

SOURCE: Brewers Association


Find a map of brewpubs and microbreweries in the region at

craftbeermap


Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.

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