A career as a technical brewer would suit you if you want a hands-on role in brewing, but also want to use your business and people management skills

Working as a technical brewer means you are in charge of the whole process of brewing and packaging beer. One of your key aims is to ensure the quality and consistency of the product and you'll manage a team of people to help them achieve this.

The role involves:

  • taking responsibility for raw materials, operatives and technicians
  • maintaining the safe and effective running of the plant and machinery
  • developing new recipes and products.

You may specialise in just one area of production, which is particularly likely in larger breweries, while you may be responsible for all aspects of the process in small breweries.

Technical brewing remains a hands-on occupation, despite increasing reliance on technology.

Responsibilities

Depending on the size and type of brewery you work in, you'll need to:

  • check temperatures and quality of samples and make any necessary production adjustments
  • work with the laboratory team, who carry out further tests to improve the product
  • introduce new or different methods of brewing
  • find new suppliers and review existing ones
  • accurately record raw materials, production stage timings and quality checks
  • manage resources and staff to meet objectives
  • work on new recipes for seasonal and speciality beers ensuring they appeal to a certain market, or will enhance sales at a specific time of the year
  • help to design beer labels or marketing materials
  • plan budgets, keeping track of stock and records of raw materials
  • clean and maintain all equipment
  • keep up to date with developments in technology in the industry.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries for trainee technical brewers vary between £18,000 and £25,000.
  • An increase in salary within any brewing company is dependent on increased responsibility. A shift brewer can expect to earn £25,000 to £33,000. A head brewer in a fairly large company may earn more than £40,000.

Salaries vary according to the size of the company, geographical location and nature of the role. Larger breweries may provide benefits such as a pension scheme, healthcare and life assurance.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Brewers typically work 40 hours a week but, as the production process is continuous, this will be spread over weekends and evenings. Flexibility may be required as you could be called into work at short notice to deal with sudden problems.

What to expect

  • The environment is an industrial one and you will need to wear protective clothing as it is likely to be loud, hot and wet. Office work may be required at some points.
  • Although the number of women working as technical brewers is increasing, they are still underrepresented in this profession.
  • Breweries are spread across most areas of the UK. However, the number of large breweries offering training is limited and you may need to relocate to find employment.
  • The physical demands of the job can vary according to the nature of the brewery for which you work. The smaller the brewery, the more hands-on the job is likely to be. Good physical fitness is generally needed for maintaining and cleaning machinery.
  • Travel is occasionally required within the working day, although absence from home overnight is rare. Overseas travel is occasional.
  • UK brewing qualifications are internationally recognised and there are opportunities to work overseas, especially with multinational brewers.

Qualifications

A degree is typically required for entry into the role of a technical brewer. Relevant subjects include:

  • applied chemistry
  • biological science
  • chemical, process and mechanical engineering
  • food science or technology
  • microbiology.

A specific BSc in Brewing and Distilling is available from Heriot-Watt University, which also houses the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD).

A postgraduate qualification is not essential but may be useful if you do not have a related first degree. There are several relevant courses in:

  • brewing and distilling
  • brewing and packaging
  • brewing science
  • brewing science and practice.

Other subjects that may be relevant to brewing, such as biotechnology, may also be helpful.

Search for postgraduate courses in brewing and distilling.

Entry without a degree may be possible at the level of production assistant or brewery technician and it may then be possible to work up to the role of technical brewer with experience and further qualifications.

A range of training courses, including the Fundamentals of Distilling and Fundamentals of Brewing and Packaging are provided by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD).

Skills

You will need to show:

  • general management, business awareness and decision-making skills
  • attention to detail and the ability to communicate effectively at all levels
  • familiarity with the technical language of the brewing industry
  • teamworking and leadership skills
  • scientific knowledge
  • a logical approach
  • creativity, particularly if celebration or seasonal beers are produced
  • physical fitness.

Work experience

You will find it useful to gain pre-entry experience in a brewing environment. The larger breweries may be able to offer work placements or shadowing opportunities. Management skills are also highly valued so any experience you have that demonstrates these skills will be advantageous.

Employers

Some large brewery companies operate graduate recruitment schemes but places are limited so check company websites for details of vacancies.

Large brewing companies are the main employers of technical brewers but opportunities are available in small or regional breweries.

You can become a member of professional bodies, which can help with networking opportunities and contact details of breweries.

Relevant organisations include:

There are opportunities to work in breweries abroad, as UK brewing qualifications are recognised on an international level. There are many international companies within the industry.

Once you have gained significant experience, it is possible to set up your own microbrewery. You can also move on to work within education and research.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Larger breweries offer structured training programmes, which may involve visiting other production sites to gain an insight into how the whole business functions.

In smaller breweries you may need to look for relevant training with external organisations.

The IBD offers a range of training courses to expand your knowledge and experience.

The qualifications include general certificates and diplomas in:

  • brewing
  • distilling
  • packaging.

The IBD also offers the Master Brewer qualification if you have successfully completed the Diploma in Brewing. It covers five modules, which all aim to be relevant to international brewing practices. For more information on available courses see IBD Training.

A variety of training programmes, which range from one-day workshops to three-month courses, are also available from Brewlab.

It is important that you keep up to date with developments in the industry and continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities are available through the key professional bodies. Short courses and advanced training units, which will help you to develop knowledge of specialist areas or new technologies are available from:

Career prospects

It is possible to progress to the role of departmental manager, head brewer or technical director. These more advanced roles change emphasis from hands-on brewing and plant tasks to staff management and strategic issues.

You may need to move breweries or be prepared to relocate in order to progress in your career.

If you are aiming at senior posts, you need to be able to lead a team of specialists and maintain an understanding of new research.

As well as technical and scientific knowledge and an ability to manage people, an aptitude for business is essential. For example, an understanding of financial data systems is important for a departmental manager and vital for a head brewer. Sales, marketing and commercial experience prior to joining the profession is therefore an advantage.

It is possible to work towards chartered scientist (CSci) status, which can help your career progression. You will usually need to have around four years' experience, depending on your level of qualification, and have completed a certain amount of continuing professional development (CPD).

Larger companies may provide the opportunity to progress into other areas such as:

  • logistics
  • purchasing
  • quality assurance
  • health and safety.

As a technical brewer, you could go on to set up your own microbrewery once you have gained significant experience. If you are considering this, check out Brewlab's two-day course on Professional Craft Brewing. More information is also available from the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA).