We caught up with Derek of Modern Times Brewery to find out more about being a brewer. Read on to find out if this is the job is for you.

How did you decide to become a brewer?

My decision to become a brewer came from passion for brewing at home and from beer in general. I love great beer, and was fascinated in learning how to make it, so I started home brewing. After a while, I started to work on a plan to open my own brewery. While I was working on that plan, I was offered a head brewer position at a newly opening brewpub, and I decided I needed to take it. I spent a year and a half there before moving to Modern Times.

Could you give us an overview of what the job is like?

Brewing is a lot of things, and it really depends on what your role is. In a small brewpub type setting, you do everything. From writing recipes to brewing to ensuring proper fermentation to packaging. In a larger brewery, the jobs are more encapsulated. Typically, the head brewer oversees production, comes up with recipes, and is responsible for all of the paperwork and ordering of supplies. Brewers make the beer and clean. Cleaning is really 75% of brewing, and takes up most of your time. There are cellarmen who are responsible for fermentation and packaging, and there are line operators who are also responsible for packaging. Most of traditional brewing is really just moving grain and cleaning. It is not very glamorous, but it is rewarding.

How does someone become a brewer?

There are several ways to become a brewer. The most common is working your way up from a lower level position. Modern Times has promoted several people from the canning line in to brewing positions, and it has worked well. If you are lucky enough to get a brewing job without any other formal experience, you are just that. Lucky. It doesn't happen much, but it is a little more common these days with the massive expansion of the craft beer market.

Education can go a long way. You see a lot of new programs popping up all over offering certificates in craft beer, but these are really not as useful as an education from a school that offers a diploma in brewing sciences. Schools like UC Davis have led the field in degrees, and train people properly. Siebel in Chicago and Doemens in Germany are also really well regarded. This can be a good way to get a job at a more formal brewery, and can also be beneficial for a job at a smaller place.

What is the pay like?

Pay is not why people go in to brewing. You really do it out of love for the craft. At most places, a canning line operator will make minimum wage, and moving up to the assistant brewer and cellar at 10-12 dollars an hour. A brewer might make 15 dollars an hour. Of course, these are average numbers and a lot of places are starting to pay better, especially in a city like San Diego where cost of living is so high.

What are the best parts of being a brewer?

Making beer is satisfying. Creating a product that is consistent, clean, and delicious is a lot of fun. The smells, the science, and the process are all big pluses. People do tend to see their jobs as "cool" as well, and there is a high regard for brewers in some circles, so status is also a good part.

What are the biggest challenges in being a brewer?

It is a very physically demanding job. Cleaning, moving grain bags, dealing with hot water and chemicals that can be dangerous, and more. Days can be long, and you need to be able to follow rules well.