Unless you’ve been living under a rock (as opposed to a rocks glass), you’ve probably noticed that new breweries have been opening in American at an absurdly rapid rate—somewhere in the neighborhood of about two every day. Not only has that meant more beers to drink (awesome!) but also more jobs in the brewing industry (awesome for the economy!) But who are the people working these jobs and what is their training? If you talk to be people in the industry (which I do extensively) the answers are extremely broad: everything from highly qualified former head brewers to enterprising homebrewers to more business- or marketing-minded types with an interest in beer.
But what if you’re starting from nowhere – other than a love drinking (er, I mean, beer)? Forbes’ Tara Nurin recently wrote a piece on “Beer School: Is Getting A Degree In Brewing A Good Investment?” The article is a good overview of the multitude of options – which are expanding, but not quite as quickly as the number of breweries – for educating yourself for a career in beer. These include established four-year university programs like at the University of California, Davis to independent programs and online courses. She points to the website of the Brewers Association, a trusted craft beer trade group, which lists dozens of brewing schools and organizations.
As far as empirical data, Nurin references a survey from the Master Brewers Association of the Americas suggesting that 60 percent of brewer members said that applicants with a four-year degree in brewing and fermentation science are highly valued. 55 percent said at least a two-year degree would be required for brewery positions. Still, that’s 45 percent of brewer members who don’t care about a fancy degree if you know what you’re doing.
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In the end, Nurin doesn’t really come to any firm conclusion on her own question – which is fine. As with any degree, it’s only as good as what you do with it. You can earn a degree from UC-Davis, considered by many the granddaddy of brewing education in the United States, and then decide you’d rather spend the rest of your life drinking 40s of Mickey’s in a gutter. However, a good degree certainly won’t hurt your career: For instance, this past weekend, while hanging out at The Saint Louis Brewery (maker of Schlafly Beer), employees’ pedigrees as UC-Davis alums were cited regularly, both from the people who went there and the people who hired them.
With the beer boom right now, plenty of jobs are certainly out there, but at the same time, since the market is so full, at some point the strong are going to be more likely to survive. It creates a double-edged sword: A brewing degree could make you more competitive, but if the industry contracts, it could also become less valuable for finding work in general. Still, as long as you choose a reputable program (and don’t go broke in the process) I’d probably lean towards saying more knowledge is rarely a detriment – assuming, of course, you’re actually interested in learning and not just the aforementioned drinking.