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I want to be a craft brewer. What will my salary be?

Steam Whistle Brewing’s Erica Graholm opens a Lauter Tun used to perform a test that measures fermentable sugars during the brewing process.

MARK SPOWART/The Globe and Mail

Job: Craft brewer

Role: As with any other small business, those who work for independent breweries often have to wear many hats and possess a wide variety of skills.

"They oversee the actual brewing operation in the brewhouse; they also oversee and are responsible for the fermenting and aging processes that go on at a brewery, and also the filtering and purification process," said Gary McMullen, president and founder of Muskoka Brewery Inc. in Bracebridge, Ont., and former chairman of Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB), a trade association representing more than 40 of Ontario's independent breweries. "Essentially, the brewer is responsible for delivering a fresh, clean, stable beer to the packaging side of the house, where the packing team would take over and put the beer into bottles, cans or tanks."

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Salary: The salary of a craft brewer ranges widely, depending on their experience and education, as well as the size of the brewery they work for. Mr. McMullen says that hourly pay ranges from $15 an hour to just under $30 an hour, or about $30,000 to $60,000 a year.

Craft brewers also have an opportunity to eventually become brewmasters, people who are responsible for crafting original recipes while supervising the brewing process, a more senior position that comes with hefty responsibilities and a salary to match.

"Brewmasters, depending on the size of the company, could be making anywhere from $90,000 to in excess of $100,000 a year," Mr. McMullen said. "As a brewmaster, you're responsible for innovation, [research and development], making clean, consistent and stable beer, and you're probably working for a company that's making between $15-million and $20-million a year in sales, so it's a big position of responsibility."

According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, brewery production worker wages are among the highest in the food and beverage-processing sector.

By the numbers: There are approximately 75 operating breweries in Ontario alone, employing a work force of over 1,000, including brewers as well as other positions within the organizations, according to Ontario Craft Brewers.

Education: In 2012, Alberta-based Olds College partnered with the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College to create Canada's first brewmaster and brewery operations management college diploma. Since that time, a number of other colleges and independent training programs have emerged to meet the demands of a fast-growing industry, including the Beer Academy in downtown Toronto and Durham College in Oshawa, Ont.

While there are no official educational standards in the industry, Mr. McMullen says applicants are often expected to have some form of specialized training.

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"While we have a preference for some kind of formal education, there's nothing set in stone," he said, adding that a majority of Canada's brewmasters – many of whom entered the industry before specialized training programs existed – have at least earned a bachelor of science or engineering degree.

Job prospects: As a result of tremendous growth in the industry over the past few years, Mr. McMullen said, there has never been a better time to look for work as a craft brewer in Canada.

"If you're interested in a career in brewing, it's a good time to get in. There's lots of companies looking to hire brewers," he said. "Our market volumes are still flat or marginally growing, but the industry is fracturing into more specialized production, which implies more man hours per batch of beer."

Challenges: With a wide variety of roles and responsibilities, and with a product as delicate as beer, brewhouses can make for surprisingly stressful work environments.

"At smaller brewers, you end up in a situation where you have to multitask many processes, and the stress from that can be palpable," said Mr. McMullen, adding that craft brewers need to remain on their feet for much of the day. "Say you've got two brews going on in the brewhouse and you're doing a tank cleaning in the cellar, if something goes wrong with the tank cleaning – say a pump breaks down – you've got two brews that don't want to wait. It can be stressful from a time-management perspective."

Why they do it: While a love for beer is at the core of any brewer's motivation for entering the industry, the job also has an appeal for craftspeople – those who like to work with their hands and create something they can be proud of.

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"Making a great beer is as much an artistic expression as painting, it's just a different medium," Mr. McMullen said. "When you can be acknowledged for making a really great product instead of a commodity, it's inspiring."

Furthermore, the past decade has been a particularly exciting time for craft brewers in Canada.

"It feels to me like there's a bit of a renaissance when it comes to an appreciation of all things creative at this point in time," he said. "The wine industry went through it maybe 20 years ago; it feels like the beer industry has gone through it over the last maybe five to 10 years."

Misconceptions: Mr. McMullen said he is regularly asked by enthusiastic beer drinkers about the availability of quality control and tasting positions at his brewhouse. While craft brewers are among the few who can consume beer on the job, Mr. McMullen explains it's not as much of a perk as some might think.

"Believe it or not, that can become mundane when every day you're tasting products to try to detect flaws," he said. "It's tiresome work."

Give us the scoop: Are you a craft brewer? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to careerquestion@globeandmail.com and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

Want to read more stories from our Salaries Series? Find more here.

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