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How to get your dream job in craft beer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Today he is head brewer at one of the state’s largest and most decorated craft beer producers, but Josh Trujillo’s career at Marble Brewery started with a broom.

Craft breweries employ more than 2,000 people around the state currently, according to the executive director of the New Mexico Brewers Guild. A few hundred of those jobs are on the production side. Here, brewer Terrance Romero adds ingredients to a kettle at Marble Brewery.

Craft breweries employ more than 2,000 people around the state currently, according to the executive director of the New Mexico Brewers Guild. A few hundred of those jobs are on the production side. Here, brewer Terrance Romero adds ingredients to a kettle at Marble Brewery. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

A welder by trade, he wound up at Marble after leaving a fence company where he felt professionally stifled. A Marble customer and beer lover, he joined Marble in a very limited role about six months after its 2008 opening.

“I worked for eight hours a week when I started here. I would clean the pub on Mondays and I would bar back on Fridays,” he says. “At the end of each one of my shifts, I would go to the back and I would say ‘I’m done with what I’m doing. Do you guys need help?'”

Marble’s owners found plenty of ways to deploy his ambition – not to mention his welding, plumbing and electrical know-how – and moved him into the production side, where he studied under Marble president and brewmaster Ted Rice and industry veteran Daniel Jaramillo (now at La Cumbre). Trujillo showed such promise, Marble also paid for his formal brewery training through the American Brewers Guild.

In 2013, he became head brewer.

While that might sound like an implausible career arc in most professions, it is not unprecedented inside New Mexico’s fast-growing craft brewing scene, which continues to cultivate its own workforce.

Greg Dupy checks sugar concentration during the brewing process at Marble Brewery.

Greg Dupy checks sugar concentration during the brewing process at Marble Brewery. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Rice says he looks for the intangibles he saw in Trujillo – passion for beer, initiative – in prospective employees. He will hire people who match Marble’s culture, even when they have no professional brewing background.

While he has recently added a few employees with brewery experience, “Most people walk in the door with nothing (in terms of brewery skills),” Rice says, “and we train them.”

The state boasts more than 50 craft breweries and will continue seeing new additions, said John Gozigian, executive director of the New Mexico Brewers Guild. He estimates those breweries employ 2,000-plus people. A few hundred of those work on the beer-making side, where jobs have become increasingly specialized.

Gozigian says the local industry has a great track record for developing its own brewing expertise rather than importing it.

“Really most of the talent is homegrown; I would say 90 percent,” says Gozigian, who was a former partner at Marble and also worked at La Cumbre Brewing Co. before taking over at the guild. “There have been a handful of people who have been recruited out of state both at the brewpub level and the packaging brewery level, but, really, I would say that’s a much smaller part of the source of talent.”

Several of the state’s most experienced brewers have formally trained through

Greg Smith works the bottling line at Marble Brewery.

Greg Smith works the bottling line at Marble Brewery. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

programs such as the American Brewers Guild or Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology, but much of the education still happens on the job. Breweries often bring in entry-level employees and mold them in-house.

“They grow up in an very old-school kind of apprenticeship program,” says Jeff Erway, president and founder of La Cumbre Brewing Co.

His head brewer, Alan Skinner, had a biology degree and some home-brewing experience but had never worked at a commercial brewery until joining La Cumbre in 2014. His science aptitude made him a logical choice to handle the associated lab duties, but he still logged plenty of hours performing the more menial tasks and learning what Erway calls “the nuts and bolts” of the business before rising up the ranks.

“Just about every production brewery in this country is experiencing the same thing. They hire people kind of off the street and kind of teach them from point A and take them to point B and hopefully end up with a great employee in the long run; if not, hopefully that employee goes on and does great things in their career working for someone else,” Erway says.

The more-established local breweries have helped produce a workforce that continues fanning out amid the craft beer boom. Rice and Erway each can list several former employees who now lead breweries elsewhere in town – career advancement they applaud rather than begrudge.

Micah Reeves works on the canning process at La Cumbre Brewing Co. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Micah Reeves works on the canning process at La Cumbre Brewing Co. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

And when they find themselves looking to hire more, they generally do not have to look far. Potential employees practically line up. Erway says he has hundreds of applications and résumés at his fingertips, while Rice says prospective employees often approach him directly.

“Typically I find them when they knock on my door. People send me emails and when the emails are inspired and driven by the passion for the industry and beer, then even if I really don’t need to fill a position at that point in time, I like to bring people in and meet them,” he says.

The pipeline will likely only grow with the new brewing and beverage management curriculum at Central New Mexico Community College. (See sidebar.) Rice says it could be “incredibly valuable” when hiring to have candidates who already know the basics.

Of course, getting a brewery job is hardly a fast track to fame and fortune. A gifted

Production-side tasks run the gamut in a brewery. Chase Palmer cleans equipment following a brew run at La Cumbre Brewing Co. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Production-side tasks run the gamut in a brewery. Chase Palmer cleans equipment following a brew run at La Cumbre Brewing Co. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

veteran with decades of experience might command a salary nearing six figures, but a midlevel staff brewer likely earns around $30,000 a year, and an industry newcomer could make $9 or $10 an hour and spend the day packing bottles into cardboard boxes.

Yet the industry has so captivated the public that some people leave more lucrative careers for it.

“You could be paid five times that amount (in a different profession), but are you tortured? Do you dread the alarm clock every morning? Or do you wake up with visions of malt, hops, barley and yeast in your head and fanciful ways to combine them to make people happy?” Rice says.

And the good news for aspiring brewers is that there are jobs. New breweries continue opening and the existing ones continue growing, Gozigian says. Erway says he rarely goes a couple of weeks without hiring someone. Marble’s recent $4 million production expansion means it is also in hiring mode.

Just be prepared to work.

Rice has taken to warning prospective employees that the brewery is not always glamorous. Making beer is part art, part science and a whole lot of manual labor. Cleaning equipment. Hauling heavy grain sacks. Rolling barrels.

It takes a special mindset, worth ethic and, Erway notes, thousands of hours to truly learn the business.

“People always ask is there opportunity in this industry,” Erway says, “And it just depends on what kind of person you are.”

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