Brewmaster is surely a title that appeals to the imagination; many people seem to place it on a scale somewhere between “quarterback” and “astronaut” when thinking about the perfect dream job. But just as no one thinks about getting sacked by 300-lb behemoths or spending quality time in a g-force simulator, few people consider what the brewmaster’s job truly entails.

The brewmaster is, in essence, the chef of the brewery. A chef is responsible for the kitchen equipment, running the kitchen staff, putting the menu together, food safety, inventing new dishes, cooking, and plating and bears ultimate responsibility for every morsel of food that is served at a restaurant table. Similarly, the brewmaster often designs the brewery, trains a staff, keeps the equipment clean and running properly, orders ingredients and brewery supplies, keeps the costs of production in line, designs every beer down to the last detail, supervises the packaging of the beer, oversees quality control, and then follows the beer out into the marketplace to make sure that it always meets or exceeds the expectations of customers. At the end of all this, he or she may represent the brewery in public, train sales staff, and maintain draught lines at a brewpub. Sometimes the brewmaster has a staff, but at pub breweries they may work alone.

It is a balancing act that requires parts of the skill set of a plumber, architect, engineer, electrician, cook, artist, welder, salesman, chemist, accountant, and microbiologist. Many amateur brewers make excellent beer at home, just as many home cooks have serious skills and can prepare excellent food. This leads many to believe that homebrewing resembles professional brewing, but in fact it does not, just as home cooking bears little resemblance to running a professional kitchen.

French brewmaster medal, c. 1900. pike microbrewery museum, seattle, wa

Just as for the chef, there are many paths to the position of brewmaster. In the United States, the brewmaster’s job description has largely shifted from the heavy engineering focus required by large industrial breweries to the far more variegated work of the brewmaster working in a craft brewery. Some spend months or years attending brewing schools, whereas others work their way up through formal or informal apprenticeships and then later through ascending positions at breweries. Sometimes the brewmaster owns the brewery; often he or she does not. Most brewmasters in the United States started as amateur brewers, a fact that has surely led to the wonderful passion and creativity at work in the American craft brewing scene. Also instrumental is the fact that for most American brewmasters today, brewing is their second or third career. This allows them to bring to bear skills and experiences gained in their “previous lives.”

In the United States, “brewmaster” is actually a job description, not a formal title. In Germany, the title “braumeister” implies the successful completion of some formal brewing education and the attendant degree. Although there is no US equivalent, the title “Diplom Braumeister” is considered akin to a bachelor’s degree in brewing, whereas the “Diplom Ingenieur” might be considered a master’s degree. In Britain, the job title is “head brewer,” whereas the title “Master Brewer” is reserved for those who have passed the tough exam issued by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. Regardless of the title used and despite the rigors of the job, an increasing number of people worldwide seem interested in mastering what an early British brewing book called “the whole art and mystery of brewing.”

See also brewing schools.