Breweries have a lot of moving parts, and ensuring the end result in delicious beer requires several talented people. It all starts in the brewhouse, where brewers make beer.
But, wait. What’s the difference between a brewmaster and a head brewer? An R&D brewer and a shift brewer? And can dogs really be brewery employees?
Roles vary greatly by brewery size and setup, but there is a basic hierarchy in relation to brewers’ experience. Here are the different types of brewers, explained.
Brewmaster and Master Brewer
The brewmaster develops brands, recipes, and collaborations; knows raw materials inside out; and is the final say on beer quality and consistency.
The title originates in those who completed the “braumeister” course in German brewing school, but today, it essentially denotes brewers who are masters of their craft. The difference between master brewer and brewmaster is really a matter of preference.
The position can require 10 years of experience or more, so brewmasters and master brewers are often industry vets — think Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, Phil Markowski of Two Roads Brewing, or Carol Stoudt of Stoudts Brewing. Basically, each denotes the HBIC. (That’s head brewer in charge.)
Head Brewer and Lead Brewer
Head brewer can be interchangeable with brewmaster, in that this title is often the top position at breweries, but head brewers — and lead brewers, and occasionally senior brewers — are generally in leadership positions, but don’t have the same industry experience as a brewmaster.
At a small brewery, the buck might stop at the head brewer, but at larger breweries, the head brewer would answer to the brewmaster.
R&D stands for research and development, and the title is reserved for brewers in charge of creating new beer concepts and executing them in an utterly scientific manner. For example, at New Belgium Brewing, R&D brewer Cody Reif was recently largely responsible for figuring out how to keep yeast alive and well in wort full of lime juice (citric acid stresses yeast out), hibiscus, agava, and watermelon, and to make that end result taste like an agua fresca. (It worked! Mural Agua Fresca is one of our favorite summer beers of 2019.)
Another example: Molson Coors is currently looking to hire an R&D brewer to bring “innovations” to market.
Brewer, Shift Brewer, and Production Brewer
“Brewer” as a title encompasses many tasks and experience levels. In most cases, a brewer answers to a head brewer, lead brewer, senior brewer, or cellar manager.
A shift brewer might work in the brewhouse, cellar, or packaging department. They can rotate between these departments.
At Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, Conn., “the primary responsibility of the shift brewer is to oversee all wort production on a 100 barrel automated brewhouse… Additional responsibilities include proficiency in all cold-side cellar operations including separation/filtration, CIP, dry hopping, transfers, and barrel racking among many others,” according to a recent job posting.
A production brewer works at a production brewery, or a larger, typically more technologically advanced brewhouse than a nano-brewery. The production brewer at Good River Beer in Denver is responsible for transferring and filtering wort, data collection, and sensory analysis, and “whatever else the brewery may throw at you.” Fair enough.
Assistant Brewer and Brewer’s Assistant
These titles can be interchangeable, but assistant brewer is more common. The title is somewhat deceiving: This “assistant” role often requires professional brewery experience and/or formal brewing education. The catch-22, though, is that in many cases, the assistant brewer does more cleaning than brewing.
This includes washing and filling kegs, cleaning mash tuns and fermentation tanks, keeping the brewhouse sparkling and organized, and did we mention cleaning? On many brewery tours, you’ll hear a brewer — who may also be your tour guide — say something along the lines of, “brewing is 90 percent cleaning,” or “brewers are mostly janitors.” It’s true.