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Whither the brewmaster?

The other day Zymurgy editor Dave Carpenter wrote about “Five Beer Clichés We Need to Stop Using,” and this was the first.

Brewmaster: I’m not against the word ‘brewmaster’ per se, just its liberal use. All brewmasters are brewers, but not all brewers are brewmasters, just as not all cooks are Michelin-starred chefs. The mere act of upgrading from 5-gallon homebrew batches in a garage to 5-barrel commercial batches in a larger garage does not automatically a brewmaster make. Head brewer? Sure. But let’s use the title ‘brewmaster’ more sparingly.

I was thinking the “how do you define a brewmaster?” topic had come up here before, but if so I’m not very good at figuring out the archives because I couldn’t find it. There was something Garrett Oliver said in 2013 at the European Beer Bloggers Conference.

Near the end of a video recorded at the conference he talks about “fronting” — when a new brewery presents itself as something it may expect to be, but isn’t yet. He conjures up an image of a peacock spreading its feathers, then makes it clear there is no substitute for time.

“But you haven’t got it, you haven’t got it yet, not five years in, not ten years in, let me tell you, not 15 years in,” he says. “Only now, after 20-some odd years am I getting anywhere near being the brewer that I’ve wanted to be, that I said I was.”

So, “not five years in.” More than 3,000 breweries have opened in the United States in the past five years. Many of the brewers in charge of these new operations have professional experience that goes further back, but, dang, 3,000 newly minted brewmasters? Does that sound right?

An article in a recent edition of the Masters Brewers Association of the Americas Technical Quarterly examines “The Pedagogy of Fermentation Sciences” and, in part, the “brewmaster” education levels in North Carolina across 50 newly established microbreweries. Most of the report focuses on the growing number of brewing related programs universities are now offering. The research was done independently of the MBAA, but the chair of its higher education committee writes the committee agrees on the need for “An industry effort to standardize or at least identify the standards of education and qualifications being offered up from massive open online courses to advanced degrees will help all constituents—breweremployers, students, and schools—to clearly define qualifications for jobs from brewing technician to packaging manager . . . to brewmaster.”

Authors Cameron D. Lippard and Seth Cohen from Appalachian State University found at the beginning of 2015 there were there were 31 different universities and community colleges offering various courses, certificate trainings, and degree programs in brewing or fermentation sciences. Sixty-six percent (22) of these university- and community college–affiliated programs started after 2012 or were still in development to begin in 2015. (There are more now.) They examine in some details what these programs offer and what expectations students bring to them.

As they write, the history of brewing has not been about college education but rather apprenticeships and hands-on training. The authors collected educational information from 50 people they identified as brewmasters (so from about one third of the breweries open in North Carolina at the time). Three-quarters indicated that they had no formal training in brewing before entering the industry, and the other 15% had brewing certificates earned
before and after starting brewing professionally. More than 90% were homebrewers before starting at a brewery.

To return to the question at the top, in their conclusion the authors write, “we see an array of professionals in the industry representing the qualifications of a ‘brewmaster,’ for example. In many cases the title is based on experience and not necessarily through formal education and certification, while some people have completed short- and longer-term certification programs. … For this reason, the qualifications behind a professional ‘brewmaster’ will also be quite diverse, depending on how this title was achieved. For this reason, a move to standardize or at least identify the standards of education and qualifications may be useful for the potential student as well as the potential employer.”

Not exactly a definition, is it? So I probably shouldn’t ask for one for craft brewmaster.

6 Responses to Whither the brewmaster?

  1. Brewer a December 14, 2016 at 5:58 am #

    “Assistant Brewmaster” is a huge pet peeve of mine.

  2. Bill December 14, 2016 at 9:13 am #

    I like the “many years of experience” definition. From what I remember from Lew Bryson’s writings on whiskey, it takes decades to be considered a master distiller, and that title pretty much comes from one’s peers. I’d think something similar should exist in the beer world — so not through education or certification, but from years of work and the title coming from other brewers.

    • Stan Hieronymus December 14, 2016 at 9:34 am #

      When I was writing “Brewing Local” I asked Dave Berg at August Schell if I should refer to him at brewmaster or head brewer. He answers to Jeremy Kral, but is basically in charge on the brewhouse/production side and has the sort of experience we are talking about. He said head brewer because there should only be one brewmaster.

  3. Jeff Alworth December 15, 2016 at 10:20 am #

    Germany has a very rigid system for identifying different levels of brewing accomplishment. To be called a “brewmaster” there, you have to do a master’s-level course. But there is a big downside: the law limits who can act as a brewer in a brewery. Most of the brewers we most admire in the US wouldn’t even be allowed to head the brewery if it were located in Germany.

    Other errata. In the UK “head brewer” means masterbrewer–it’s the top of the heap. And for my purposes, I call everyone a “brewer” unless they have a specific, country-based title like a German brewmaster or British head brewer. In my experience, no American has ever been offended by being called simply a “brewer.”

  4. Ed December 15, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

    The Institute of Brewing and Distilling has Master Brewer as their highest qualification.

    It takes years to get it.

  5. Stan Hieronymus December 17, 2016 at 7:01 am #

    Thanks, Jeff & Ed. Urban Chestnut here in St. Louis regularly employs brewers from Germany for short stints. A recent one was the youngest to achieve brewmaster status. That is defined by structure long in place. It would have taken some imagination in 1980, heck even in 2010, to think the U.S. would be employing so many brewers.

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