Most brewers will tell you they chose their career because of a passion for brewing and the enjoyment they get from making great beer. That’s a good thing, because they aren’t getting rich doing it.
A recent survey of brewer compensation by Jeff Alworth showed all brewers typically make between $30,000 and $50,000 per year. At larger breweries above 10,000 barrels, Alworth found Brewmasters and Head Brewers making considerably more, $70,000-$80,000, with brewers with less seniority still earning under $50,000. These figures are comparable to other brewer compensation reported by employment websites Glassdoor and Payscale, and the Houston Chronicle. While Alworth pointed out most brewers make a living wage, which he explained as enough to cover their minimum basic needs ranging from $22,000 per year in a small town to $28,000 in a large city. However, many brewers make little more than that. Alworth also found that brewers often received little in additional benefits like health care, vacation time, and retirement.
This compares unfavorably to winemaker salaries, which range from $60,000-$90,000 according to Glassdoor, while Payscale indicates the middle 50% of winemakers earn between $45,000 and $76,000 annually. The Houston Chronicle reports that Senior Winemakers routinely earn over $100,000. These numbers are probably elevated somewhat since many winemakers live in California coastal areas where wages are higher, but are still well above what brewers earn.
Since breweries are essentially beer factories, let’s compare brewer salaries to leadership positions in food manufacturing. Look there and you’ll find Production Supervisors, Quality Assurance Managers, Production and Plant Manager in food manufacturing make between $45,000-$100,000.
Think brewers are like chefs? Head Chef salaries range from $30,000-$60,000. But chefs at high end restaurants can earn between $70,000 to over $100,000, depending on the type of restaurant and location.
While brewer compensation depends on things like brewery size, location, and years of experience, it’s a good bet in any city, a skilled Brewmaster at a small brewery makes considerably less than the Head Winemaker at a nearby winery, less than the Head Chefs at the city’s better restaurants, and less than those in leadership positions at food and beverage factories.
Part of the allure of America’s brewing revolution is that legions of self taught home brewers without any formal brewing education turned their hobbies into a business, but that might be why so many brewers earn less than their counterparts in similar industries. Alworth noted that education and experience played a significant role in how much a brewer earns. Head and Master Brewers running larger breweries pumping out over 10,000 barrels a year often requires a college degree, completion of a brewing certification program, or at least several years experience at a production brewery. In that respect, these positions at large breweries are similar to running factories, which usually require college degrees and at least a few years experience, and the pay is comparable.
One of the great things about craft brewing is that it’s open anyone, regardless of background or experience, as long as you make good beer. But for many, there just isn’t a lot of money in it.