What Brewers Earn

Below you will find the results of the brewer compensation survey I did a few weeks ago. After removing some suspicious responses and those from outside the US (sorry Canucks!), I ended up with 397 valid responses. As promised, I dumped identifying information after verification and before I started any data crunching. They are gone from the database, but I wanted to mention that during the verification, I was heartened by the number of female names I saw flit by. We're definitely seeing women entering this profession.

I am very pleased with this data set. There are a number of ways to confirm that it's both valid and representative when you start looking at the numbers, and at each of those points, the distribution looked as one would expect with a robust sample. This is only a sample and has the same margin of error any sample does; I am satisfied that it's fairly representative of the brewers in the US.

Again, I want to thank all of you who took the time to fill this out. There is an incredible wealth of information in the comments, and I will do a separate post looking at those. They give some feeling to the dry numbers that follow. Finally, after all the posts are done, I'll compile this into a .pdf report for anyone who'd like to have it on hand.


The vast majority of breweries in the United States are small, and responses reflected that. Seventy-five percent of respondents work in a brewery of 10,000 barrels or less. Just 6% work at a brewery making more than 100,000 barrels. I didn't do a great job of getting this survey into the hands of people in the cellar or on packaging lines, but the distribution otherwise was fairly typical. 

I have no way of knowing how much experience the average brewery worker has, but in my survey, respondents tilted toward experience. Three-quarters have more than two years experience, and a third have more than five years. I was also surprised to see that over a third of respondents said they had a degree in brewing or related field. We'll see later in the report how experience and education affect salaries. Finally, I wanted to be able to see if owner/brewers treated themselves differently and so I asked whether respondents were owners or had an ownership stake.

Finally, there was a very nice regional distribution. Half this blog's traffic comes from the Northwest, but the West Coast, Northeast, South, and Midwest all had similar representation. Only the Mountain West and Southwest were sparse, and I've collapsed them here and throughout the report. Respondents also work in small, medium, and large cities in roughly proportional terms (small and large town responses were nearly identical). Again, we'll see how that affects salaries below.

Salary Distributions

I created this survey so I could pull apart some of the factors that might affect what a brewer earns: job position, experience, a brewing degree, the region of the country, size of the brewery, and size of the town in which a brewery is located. As I begin to reveal the findings of what brewers earn, keep in mind my post about what they should earn. A living wage--the bare minimum a single person needs to remain self-sufficient--is about $22,000 in a small town and about $28,000 in a large city. (You can find out how to assess a living wage at that post.) Generally speaking, most brewers appear to be earning at least a living wage, though things are still ragged at the margins.

Only 15% are paid less than $25,000, and these tended to be people working on packaging lines or the cellar--though in smaller breweries, it's not that rare for a brewmaster or head brewer to be earning less than $30,000. Several factors both account for and also mitigate low wages. To make it easier for respondents, I offered nine different salary categories rather than having them enter a figure. To get the following salary numbers, I recoded each salary level as the average; if the answer was $35,000-$39,999, it was recoded as $37,500. Below is a graph with the averages by position.

Size of Brewery
There is a quirk in the data that we'll see going forward. In larger breweries with multiple brewers, the brewmaster/head of brewing operations is the most highly-paid brewer. But there are many small breweries in the sample where the brewmaster may be the only brewer. As a result, small-brewer brewmasters often make less than head brewers, lead brewers, or even shift brewers at bigger companies. This is reflected in the graph at right, which shows the average across all salaries offered in breweries of different sizes. (The sample shown has been weighted--see explanation below.)

The following table is going to be difficult to read on phones, but it shows how size affects what salaries brewers are likely to make. (The salaries jump around a bit, and this is due to the low numbers; some of the cells here have just a few salaries and outliers can throw the average off.) In this chart, you can see how size affects salary; for example, the average brewmaster at the smallest brewery makes less than the average lead brewer at a 35,000-barrel brewery. Within the same size category, though, there is a predictable descending order of income from the brewmaster on down.

Region, Size of Community, and Ownership
I wanted to see how other factors might affect what people earn, so I had questions about the size of the community and region of the country in which the brewery was located. I was also interested to see what effect having an ownership stake in the brewery would have. Would owner/brewers pay themselves differently than brewers who worked for them? As you can see, brewers get paid more in big cities--though there's no difference between small towns and mid-sized cities. There's a substantial difference among the regions of the country, as well. In fact, brewers on the West Coast make, on average, $6,500 more than their Southern counterparts.

Weighting Salaries
If you want to compare salaries in different parts of the country, how do you know they contain the same blend of positions? What if there are more shift brewers on the West Coast and more master brewers in the South? In order to normalize the different blend of job titles being compared, I weighted all the salaries in this section.

Finally, owners do pay themselves differently, but not as you might initially expect. They actually underpay themselves. This appears to be an artifact of the small-company brewer/owner--there are a lot of one- or few-person operations in which the owner is also a brewer. Owners make more in raw numbers, but when weighted to reflect the difference in position, they actually pay themselves nearly $10,000 less than comparable employees: $31,576 for owners versus $41,099 for employees. Owners are also less generous with benefits. A third of all owners have no paid time off compared to 20% of all employees, and owners are less likely to have a health care plan (51% have no plan) than employees (43% have no plan).

Education and Experience
There are two things brewers can do to improve their salaries: get a brewing degree and get more experience. Getting a degree is costly and time-consuming, but it does have a noticeable effect on a brewer's salary. (Some breweries pay for degrees, too, and that appears well worth the effort from the brewer's side.) Brewmasters/heads of brewing operations earned 16% more with a degree. The dividend was smaller for other positions, but still substantial: 15% for head brewers, 9% for lead brewers, and 8% for shift brewers.

salary by degree.png

Surprisingly, experience has an even more powerful influence on a brewer's salary. Brewmasters and head brewers with five or more years of experience make double what their counterparts with less than a year of experience earn. The effect isn't quite as strong with lead and shift brewers, but it's substantial: lead brewers make 58% more at five years than at one year, shift brewers 54% more. Below is a table that illustrates the power of experience.

Salary by experience.png


As I mentioned in my earlier post, jobs can't be reduced to an hourly wage or salary. The amount of sick time offered, medical benefits, retirement planning, child care and more may all be necessary for a worker. In the main, breweries are doing a decent job trying to meet these needs--but they could be doing better. We'll look at these by category.

Paid Time Off
One in five brewery employees get no paid time off--including sick time. That's true across the board, too, not just a burden shift brewers and packaging teams have to endure. In the chart below, the percentages refer to the job in question. So for example, 19% of brewmasters have zero days off; 15% get up to a week off, 27% get 8-14 days, and so on. To make it scan a little easier, the darker blue the cell, the higher the percentage. You'll notice that the darker blue areas are clustered around 2-3 weeks of paid time off, which is good! (In fact, 56% of all respondents receive between eight and 21 days of PTO and nearly a third receive two weeks or more.)

Health Care
Health care is difficult to assess. This is as true on the national level as it is for workers. At many jobs, workers are offered a free plan that has a high deductible and huge out-of-pocket costs. Those are good for catastrophes but not routine care. At others, the employer asks the worker to pick up a percentage of the cost of a plan, sometimes up to half the cost--which may offer better coverage or not. It's difficult to try to create answer categories that capture all that nuance--and it's actually unnecessary.

Most people understand intuitively whether a plan is good or not. Indeed, even owners understand this for their own coverage, and one in five called their own plans--the ones they bought for themselves!--bad plans. Overall, breweries could be doing a lot better on this score. Only 29% of respondents characterized their plans as "good." By contrast, 71% either had a bad plan or no plan at all.

Other Benefits
Finally, I gave respondents a list of other benefits employers sometimes offer their workers. Nearly half of respondents (45%) received no additional benefits beyond PTO and health care (if they received those at all). Of the benefits I listed, only training and retirement planning were offered by an appreciable number of breweries (29% and 32% respectively). I was shocked to see that not a single brewery in this pool offered child care. Below is a breakout of the responses. Many of the respondents elaborated on the "other" category and I'll list those in the final post.


This is a lot to absorb. To offer a quick summary, here are the key findings:

  • Most brewers earn a living wage or better, and brewers get paid more with experience. A degree in brewing also increases wages.
  • Brewers are paid more in large cities, more on the West Coast, and less in the South, Southwest and Mountain states.
  • Brewers earn more at larger breweries, and they earn more the higher the climb up the ladder of hierarchy.
  • Breweries are doing a good job with paid time off. Over half of respondents get a week or more, and almost a third get two weeks or more.
  • Breweries aren't offering good health care to their workers. Nearly half (44%) have no plan at all, and another 27% call the plan they have "bad."
  • Breweries don't offer many other benefits, though around a third do offer training and/or retirement planning (401k).

I was pleasantly surprised by these results. There is work to do, but a lot of the worst-paid brewers are at small breweries (many of which are themselves start-ups). The more-established and larger breweries offer their brewers a decent if not lavish menu of wages and benefits.

Jeff Alworth18 Comments