Brewery Start-Ups: Wages, Labor & Costs

Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery in downtown San Diego

Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery in downtown San Diego

Most people who enjoy independent craft beer do it because they love the range of flavors that are possible. The San Diego region is home to more than 120 professional brewhouses and has become well known thanks to leaders like Stone Brewing Company, Alesmith Brewing, and Coronado Brewing Company. Much the way San Diego has done its part to contribute to beer – alongside great beer cities like Portland, Denver, Austin, and Philadelphia, to name a few – the region’s craft beer industry is innovating in other important ways as well.  San Diego is home to White Labs, one of the most important yeast manufacturers in the country, and it is home to great beer education programs at San Diego State University and University of California, San Diego. With changes in wages and compensation structures impacting all industries, we brought together four San Diego brewery owners from differing sized operations to talk about wages, costs and labor in the brewery start-up context.

The panel featured Jim Crute (Lightning Brewery), Curtis Hawes (Second Chance Beer Co.), Doug Constantiner (Societe Brewing Co.) and Jacob McKean (Modern Times Beer).

Here’s the 60-second trailer for the full video (scroll for full video)


The full video of the panel is embedded below (or can be viewed directly on YouTube). It is about 30 minutes and covers a range of topics from philosophical approach to compensation, valuing workers as people, employee benefits, wage transparency and more.  For those who would rather listen to a download, a link to the mp3 is just below the video.  Also, just like some podcasts, I’ve added in a version of show notes below the audio so you can get more information about the beer business and various points made during the panel.



 Show Notes

Below are several links to useful resources, books, or organizations that were mentioned during the show. Making great beer is important. So is working to be a great manager – a skill that also needs cultivation. The panel was awesome, and I think regardless of what state or country you are in you’ll notice some commonalities in the way they approach this industry they love. Enjoy.

  1. I mentioned Work Rules! by Google Chief People Officer Laszlo Bock. The book is fascinating for anyone who is interested in data-driven ideas about managing people. The value his company puts on transparency and on recruiting is really incredible and the book is worth the read (or the listen, I guess, which is my preference for audiobook).
  2. San Diego State University has a great Business of Beer program in its College of Extended Studies.  Yes, San Diego is cool not just because of awesome weather, great beer, and great people. You can also learn about that great beer in school!
  3. Both San Diego and the state of California recently increased the minimum wage.  There is a ton of interesting coverage about the effort nationally to raise the minimum wage and this information on bans for “tip credits”, which has significant impact in California.
  4. The panel includes an interesting discussion on wage transparency (i.e. employees knowing how much each other get paid). This article explains why that’s so important to gender equality in the workplace.
  5. If you plan to visit San Diego, I highly recommend the San Diego Brewers Guild map as a guide to get you around. I also recommend stops in North Park, Barrio Logan, Little Italy, and Convoy for food and drink. This isn’t a note about the show, just a gratuitous nod to neighborhoods with much to offer.
  6. For people who care about beer, check out the Brewers Association. My conversation with their chief economist didn’t make our final edit, but Bart and his colleagues are an impressive bunch who are passionate about helping independent brewers succeed.
  7. We had a conversation near the end about leadership and talent management in breweries. There are many ways to get better at managing people, you can learn more about some of them here.
  8. Regardless of what state you are in, there is a great deal of information about writing a plan and thinking about taking care of your employees.  Find your local Guild to get important resources!

Brewery Wages Specifically

One of the interesting topics that came up was how the owners figured out what a “fair” wage would be.  I did a little searching and found a few sites. These include:

This list is by no means exhaustive and according to Lightning Brewery owner Jim Crute about his fellow owners in the San Diego market, “we all know.”  His point I imagine, is that lots of owners and employees talk about this sort of thing.  That’s good for all involved and if the days of being secretive about what people make die a quick death we’ll probably all be better off for it.

(From L: Ron Troyano of Alchemy Events, Brian Mitchell of Pariah Brewing, Brian Beagle of SD Beer Talk Radio, Mike Beebe of Mike Hess Brewing

Attendees prepare for the session at San Diego’s Silo at Maker’s Quarter in East Village

Brewery Start-up Education

Thanks to Google, there are plenty of hits from a simple search on this topic.  Thanks to many very good brewers and home brew clubs, the San Diego region has become a good place to get a meaningful education (in the classroom and in the brewery).  Here are a few sources to embark on a brewing career or just sharpen your skills by becoming a Cicerone:

With the arrival of the Fall, we’ll see many great events, including the Great American Beer Festival in Denver and San Diego Beer Week.  Today, independent craft beer isn’t just about the art and science of making great tasting beer. It’s about building a business that works for everyone in it.  And I’m grateful to be able to do a small part to help spread that word. Cheers!


P.S. – If you found yourself super interested, you can listen to the unedited hour-long audio of the panel courtesy of the Business of Beer Podcast from Tap Hunter: Full length audio