Regular readers of this column know that I’m fascinated by the economics of the American craft brewing industry. (OK, fine: Casual readers also probably know this.) It’s important stuff! Beer is a wonderful beverage, but as a commercial product it’s also the result of an enormous amount of coordinated economic activity, from agricultural logistics to light manufacturing, and more. Which is to say, beer is a result of labor. For every freshly poured pint or ice-cold stovepipe to reach your lips, workers across the country, supply chain, and brewery organizational chart have done mind-boggling choreography. Take it from me: You don’t have to be a fan of market fundamentalist Leonard Read’s famous “I, Pencil” essay to enjoy the fruits of that work.
But just as important as marveling at the modern beer industry and savoring its liquid wares and cultural contributions is scrutinizing the actual labor that makes all that happen. Even in the craft brewing industry, which has in the past held itself out as a more progressive antidote to cutthroat corporate macrobreweries, this is a tough ask. But it’s a necessary one. There’s no guarantee that individual independent breweries are paying their workers fairly, nor that enough workers will have the wherewithal and flexibility to ensure that the “magic of the market” will force lower-paying firms to raise wages and offer better benefits to compete.
If markets — in this case, American brewing’s labor market — are to function as the Milton Friedmans of the world insist they can, their prices must reflect full and accurate information about the thing being bought and sold. Which is why I think everybody who’s able should take a very close look at the Brewers Association’s new 2023 salary and benefits benchmarking reports.
Released in late October, the reports offer a useful, albeit incomplete, window into how much workers are getting paid at craft breweries large and small. In theory, this allows brewery owners to figure out how much peer firms are paying for what work. If you’re making 10,000 to 29,999 barrels of beer a year, and you need a new entry-level cellarman, it would be helpful for you to know that an average of $15.32/hour is in the 25th percentile for wages based on a response from nine firms of similar barrelage. 75 percent of breweries in your cohort are paying more than that for new cellarmen (on average), so depending on where your brewery is located, you’re probably going to want to offer a better rate than that to attract good candidates. Brewery workers who can get their hands on the document, which is only available to BA members, should be making the exact same evaluation and framing their requests for raises accordingly.
Some common jobs and overall weighted averages (barrel agnostic):
- Head Brewer/Assistant Brewmaster: $72,556 annual salary
- Marketing Event Coordinator: $51,142 annual salary
- Packaging Operator I (Entry): $23.63 per hour
- Operations/Production Manager/Director: $115,528 annual salary
- Tasting Room Assistant Manager: $58,294
You get the idea. There are 80 jobs total covered by the report, and they cover basically every role you’d expect to find at a modern craft brewery. I won’t list them all here because that would be boring, and maybe also plagiarism. But with responses from 60 participating organizations representing 7,396 employees, the study is a fantastic tool for workers and owners alike to get a handle on how much the market will bear for labor. (Another worthy tool: The chart of Bureau of Labor Statistics wage data for beverage-alcohol producers that Feel Goods analyst and Sightlines+ editor Bryan Roth has been collating for years.)
Of course, when it comes to craft brewing labor, there’s no such thing as one national “market.” There are 10,000 breweries in rural, suburban, and urban locations across 50 states with different beer laws and costs of living. You’d expect tipped Pub & Tasting Room Staff – With Food (i.e., taproom servers) to be making more money in New York City than, for example, Chesterfield, Va. Still, the BA notes that “organizational size still drives wage and salary levels far more than geography,” and elected not to provide geographic averages for salaries to avoid “giv[ing] a false sense of variations based on the interaction of size and geography.”
Workers and owners who want to get into those weeds themselves can check out a supplement of BLS occupational geographic data that the BA prepared on common brewing and hospitality jobs. Those who don’t can fiddle around with a cost-of-living calculator, or just set the national average as a North Star and negotiate accordingly.
The BA’s report on benefits benchmarks is almost as wonky, and equally fascinating. Based on a survey of 128 breweries from fewer than 100 bbls to over a million, this one is also broken out by volume cohort, and contains all sorts of non-salary nuggets about working conditions, health care coverage, and the like.
Some points of particular interest to yours truly:
- Larger breweries do not provide the best health care coverage for families. Just 75 percent of breweries over 150,000 bbls cover spouses if they have access to employer-sponsored medical insurance elsewhere; 82.4 percent of 30,000-50,000 bbl breweries do likewise.
- Large breweries also trail smaller ones (albeit slightly) when it comes to extending benefits to part-time employees. 5,000-15,000 bbl breweries do so 26.7 percent of the time; 150K+ breweries, 25 percent.
- All breweries in the survey trail a major indicator for retirement matching. According to Vanguard’s 2022 “How America Saves” report, an influential review of the 5 million individual retirement accounts the brokerage manages, that figure stands at 4.4 percent. Respondents to the BA’s survey average just 3.1 percent.
- Most breweries allow shift beers… but not all of them. 87.7 percent of respondents told the BA that they offer this beloved, longstanding workplace perk. Savvy readers will note that this number is less than 100 percent.
All that said, survey-based reports are only as good as the surveys themselves. The BA could use some help from breweries increasingly reluctant to report their production data, and that holds true of this year’s benchmarkers. The 7,396 employees’ wages represented in the salary report sounds like a lot until you remember the org estimates around 190,000 workers are directly employed at craft breweries and brewpubs nationwide. 128 breweries doesn’t sound like a lot, and compared to the 10,000 in operation, it sounds like even less. “As with many areas of the BA, this is one area where we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without member participation,” wrote chief economist Bart Watson in a blog post announcing this year’s reports. “If you didn’t participate but find the data valuable, I hope you’ll consider participating in future years.”
Your humble Hop Take columnist hopes so, too. What can I say? I find the data valuable.
🤯 Hop-ocalypse Now
Brand refreshes are a tough trick in the American beer business. That’s doubly true if the brand in question has an especially venerable legacy (just ask Anchor Brewing Co.), or if the beer in the bottle has lost a step (see New Belgium’s Fat Tire update.) So giving a face lift to Samuel Adams for its 40th birthday next year was never going to be easy. Boston Beer Company’s plan, revealed last week to its California distributors, includes “a younger, more modern Sam the Man” logo, which sounds “howdoyoudofellowkids.gif” enough as it is. But coming off an unsuccessful rebrand on Truly (down 28 percent year-over-year), the brewer’s zhuzhing scalpel hand has gotta be a little shaky.
Two Roads Brewing Co. has teamed up with Guy Fieri, the Mayor of Flavortown himself, on a new flavored-malt beverage… The National Beer Wholesalers Association released its Beer Purchasers Index for October and the only segment down year-over-year is below premium (and only slightly)… Congrats to the people of *checks notes* Saratoga Springs, N.Y., you’re getting a Tree House Brewing location!…
📉 …and downs
Anheuser-Busch InBev’s global revenues thru Q3 were up 5 percent, but U.S. revenues were down 13.5 percent… The firm also announced a $1 billion stock buyback, presumably to soothe investors over Bud Light’s laggard performance… With Modelo (et al.) surging, Constellation Brands is throwing around its weight in the middle tier…