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Issue retaining brewers at a brew pub. Please help!

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by MatthewPlus, Feb 13, 2019.

  1. MatthewPlus

    MatthewPlus Aspirant (262) Jan 2, 2013 Idaho

    Howdy, y’all!

    I’m looking for a little help, or thoughts, or guidance with something I have been tasked with at work. This will be a longer post, so I appreciate in advance the effort and time you might take to read and reply.

    I am not a brewer, but I am the “beer guy” on the corporate end of a company that owns a beer bar; they brew on site with a 2bbl system. We have a new brewer, after running through 3 previously. The first was garbage, who had garbage recipes and essentially should not have been hired in the first place, but the two most recent brewers were pretty good. They formulated some good recipes, and collectively created 6 “house beers” that are constantly available, as well as several one-offs, where they essentially have autonomy to be creative and do what they want. The problem was that both of them were hired off by larger, commercial breweries; which is a step up from a small brew pub.

    The new brewer is talented, young, eager and also ambitious. He has produced some really nice beers recently, and the High Mucky-Mucks in the company are concerned about losing him to a brewery, similar to our last two.

    The have charged me with figuring out how to keep him happy and to grow the brewery, presumably because I “speak the language” or have a long beard. I’m not really sure about what exactly is it I’m supposed to do, but I’m putting together an Action Plan, or presumed Wish List of things that I, and potentially our talented brewer, might see as improvements to the current system, and things that would keep him involved and willing to work with the brand for the foreseeable future.

    Money aside, as I cannot control that, nor do I have the authority to discuss that with him, here is what I’ve come up with:

    - Enable and encourage the brewer’s creativity, and supply him with the necessary materials to accomplish his goals. This may take form in specialty ingredients and materials, barrels for aging, etc.

    - Make a further and more distinct separation between the bar and the brewery, in terms of branding. Allow the brewery to become, at LEAST from a marketing standpoint, its own entity.

    - Involve the brewer in the brand and make him feel as though he is a vital part of its growth (as he may well be). We have 3 other locations with breweries, one of which is actually pretty successful apart from the brand; pay for him to travel to those locations in a learning/collaborative function.

    - Encourage specialty package sales. This could be accomplished either through a crowler machine, or one of the local mobile canning operations that are available.

    - Promote the brewery as its own entity at local festivals, of which there are plenty.

    - Utilize the relationships with our other local breweries that we, as a bar brand, have fostered over the years to allow our brewer to make collaborations. The area in which we are located is rife with excellent breweries, and the “support local” sentiment is strong here.

    What would you want, as a brewer at a small brew pub, to help encourage the longevity of your tenure?

    Thanks in advance for any replies, and apologies if this post seems unclear or scattered. I’m still in the primary stages of presenting this to my myriad bosses and the brewer himself.
    RyanK252, BayAreaJoe and mikeinportc like this.
  2. darklager

    darklager Initiate (174) Jan 27, 2003 Ohio

    It is nice you are asking us, but it seems this is a conversation you should be having with your brewer.
    RobNewton, 5thOhio, cavedave and 18 others like this.
  3. riptorn

    riptorn Initiate (128) Apr 26, 2018 North Carolina

    Pick the brain of the brewer who's been there the longest and ask why they're still there and what would make it even more attractive for them to remain.
    Armed with that, talk with the new brewer to discover his WIIFM (what's in it for me) and see if what you learned from the old(er) guard can help him toward his concept of success/reward.
    Unless you already know what gets the new guy jazzed, you're shooting in the dark by tossing out access to ingredients and equipment, offering creative license regarding branding, collaboration or off-site activities, etc.
    Be upfront with the guy by explaining that others have moved on and the powers that be are interested in that not happening again. If he's aware that the others left for greener pastures, ask him if he's using his new station as a launching pad or if he has an interest in developing a brewery that can become a landing pad.

    Best way to find out what could keep him there?......ask.

    ....what @darklager said, in many fewer words that I said it.
    #3 riptorn, Feb 13, 2019
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2019
  4. chavinparty

    chavinparty Initiate (124) Jan 4, 2015 New Hampshire

  5. MostlyNorwegian

    MostlyNorwegian Zealot (524) Feb 5, 2013 Illinois

    As a former head brewer of a brewpub that went over to a brewery. Here's what I noticed that caused me to decide I was willing to take a step down in my title to get a better paycheck.
    LACK OF HOURS. I can only clean and organize so much, and if my tanks are full. My empty kegs are clean, and I'm not ready to move beer around yet, i.e. keg it off and wreck my back humping them into place just because. I have no place to brew anything new. Nor do I have shit to do. Look at your head brewers clocked in hours, and I'm pretty positive you will have at least one answer why turn over happens with that position.
    FOCUS. My brewery was pretty much lost in the melange of other ideas my owners were trying to also accomplish. I'd do my own weekly inventory, and didn't need to go over the reports to understand how fast our product was moving. This also became very apparent to me that there was no driving motivation to get the brewery involved in driving profitability because I wasn't participating in managerial meetings, and I was not given much authority nor leeway to participate in a way that felt like I could take charge, or lead initiative in bringing the brew pub to a broader audience than a "nice to have". The profitability from brewing in house should be a no brainer for bottom line interested people. But, it's a matter of getting the rest of the staff, and your servers up to speed and also on board with selling it.
    Festivals? I'm always iffy of beer festivals. Especially the further out they get from what your actual business capability for a footprint actively is. The sister brewery I also worked at to accomplish making up for what my head brewing position was not able to and was not going to provide had the good intention of pouring at festivals. But, honestly. If they are more than a couple miles away. They are a waste of time, and money, and product and don't do anything for your bottom line because it's not like such and such from a suburb three over is going to get a hankering to drive all the way up for a burger and a few of your beers. Unless there is some serious magic in them, and there is a hype train already in built. Honestly. I still doubt it.
    Collaborations are sort of a neat idea. But, if you don't have an audience coming in already that is also interesting in hunting down THEIR product. Big whoopty ding.

    The two things that stick out for me are these
    - Make a further and more distinct separation between the bar and the brewery, in terms of branding. Allow the brewery to become, at LEAST from a marketing standpoint, its own entity.

    - Involve the brewer in the brand and make him feel as though he is a vital part of its growth (as he may well be). We have 3 other locations with breweries, one of which is actually pretty successful apart from the brand; pay for him to travel to those locations in a learning/collaborative function.

    What else would I want? Probably what you provide for your managerial staff. Salary and benefits. PTO, etc.
    Sheppard, eppCOS, capnmike and 20 others like this.
  6. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,319) May 30, 2005 Michigan

    Dollars and work load would drive me.

    Dollars: You said that you can't control the salary/wage that is paid, but you can make the recommendation to the owners that once a brewer has proven his skills, a nice raise should be given as a reward. That salary/wage should be in line with what other brewers make in your area, regardless of brewery size.

    If your small brewery does not keep your brewer busy, hence less hours worked and artificially low wages, why not offer bar tending hours to enhance the wages, which would include tips. Customers always enjoy talking with the brewer.

    Workload: If you are asking your brewer to work 70-80 hours a week to keep up with demand but the level of income does not justify that workload, it's time to hire some extra help.

    Also, consider posting your question on probrewer.com. You'll get some BA members here that are brewers and can speak with personal experience, but I think you'll get a wider audience at probrewer.com. Good luck.
  7. MostlyNorwegian

    MostlyNorwegian Zealot (524) Feb 5, 2013 Illinois

    Gosh. With a 2 bbl system, and what has been mentioned. Burn out from being overworked is about the last thing I would expect. But. I don't know what product turnover is, nor what tank space, nor barrels a year is. But. if there has been an issue with quality of product mentioned on top of a lack of in house brand awareness and focus . I'll guess that it's going to be on the underperforming side.
    I think it's honestly a lack of hours, and lack of input that is the motivator in turnover.
    GormBrewhouse and PapaGoose03 like this.
  8. maximum12

    maximum12 Poo-Bah (4,002) Jan 21, 2008 Minnesota

    Some great ideas, the best of which is "ask the brewer".

    One thing that hasn't been mentioned: who did these brewers who left report to? One thing that I read long ago: "Employees don't leave companies, they leave managers." It might truly be that some combo of the above will get people to stick around, but it also might be that whomever is over the brewers is a turd. I know this mantra has been true in my career, & have heard it over & over from friends. Just a thought.
  9. riptorn

    riptorn Initiate (128) Apr 26, 2018 North Carolina

    ^ ^ ^ profundity for the day.

    I can see it now. @MatthewPlus is pulled in to the head office in front of BigWigs 1, 2 and 3.
    "So Matthew, what'd you learn? How do we hold on to our brewers?"
    "Well sir, (then turning and pointing to BigWig 2)......buddy, you gotta go". :grimacing:
    5thOhio, mikeinportc, Junior and 3 others like this.
  10. GormBrewhouse

    GormBrewhouse Devotee (410) Jun 24, 2015 Vermont

    First see what the ever wants.
    Second, if his work is making big profiets for the buis, talk to the board nd give the Brewer some of it.

    If the Brewer wants more than you and da bosses can give, look for another.
    riptorn and PapaGoose03 like this.
  11. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,858) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    @MatthewPlus, it was mentioned above: "what product turnover is, nor what tank space, nor barrels a year is."

    Can you please answer the questions above? That would provide us a better understanding of the working environment of this 2 barrel brewpub.

  12. dennis3951

    dennis3951 Champion (871) Mar 6, 2008 New Jersey

    Money talks, Find out how much you have to pay him/her to stay. Than convince whoever you have to pay it.
    GormBrewhouse and PatrickCT like this.
  13. MostlyNorwegian

    MostlyNorwegian Zealot (524) Feb 5, 2013 Illinois

    To recap, monitor turnover of product brewed in-house, i.e. check the sales, and actually sit down and have a meeting with your headbrewer to figure out what can be done. So, far it sounds like they are just a body you use to make product. How's their headspace in your company? What say does it have beyond coming up with recipes you seem to find as solid?
    If you are the "beer guy". It's in your best interest, and your companies to regularly talk with and meet with and plan shit out with the pubbrewer. If you are not, and if that's not something that's been broached as a "hey that's a great idea." No wonder they leave.
  14. bubseymour

    bubseymour Poo-Bah (2,367) Oct 30, 2010 Maryland

    Every individual has different things than make them happy in a job/career. It's not always more money/a raise. As others stated you need to find out what makes the brewer happy and ensure that you can deliver the things they claim make them happy to keep them around and provide them something better than their other alternatives elsewhere.
  15. AZBeerDude72

    AZBeerDude72 Meyvn (1,485) Jun 10, 2016 Arizona
    Society Trader

    I would have to start with this: Your tasked with keeping the talent but have no real authority over his compensation etc? I think you need to start with talking to who you report to and tell them if your in charge of keeping the guy who keeps the business going you need to have authority to negotiate his pay/perks. I am not being rude in any way, shape or form but if your looking to keep this guy from leaving but you cannot work directly with him on his perks then why would he care to talk to you??? You can offer him every fun thing on earth but if another brewery is willing to pay him way more and give him greater financial stake in the business that is what he probably will go for? At the end of the day he needs to earn a living, making it fun and giving him cool stuff to work with is great and all but who cares if your underpaid and another company wants to take care of it, that is why most folks leave. Anyway, I am not being mean I am just saying that the powers that be task you with keeping your talent but strip away the most important aspect of your duty and that is contract negotiation with him. Good luck.
    dennis3951, riptorn, beergoot and 2 others like this.
  16. AZBeerDude72

    AZBeerDude72 Meyvn (1,485) Jun 10, 2016 Arizona
    Society Trader

    This comes across as a little weird? Are you implying your trying to make him think he is part of the brand when he is really not, that is how I read this and that is a red flag to me. LOL are you looking to actually make him part of the brand or just use him to make money for the owners, maybe this is why the other folks left? In my eyes if I am the guy creating the beer with my ideas then I am the brand, lol. Just my two cents but if he is the talent he would be part of the brand and should be.
    Oktoberfiesta and Junior like this.
  17. rgordon

    rgordon Champion (893) Apr 26, 2012 North Carolina

    Effective communication is not a last resort.
    nc41, Squire, Junior and 1 other person like this.
  18. NeroFiddled

    NeroFiddled Poo-Bah (10,585) Jul 8, 2002 Pennsylvania
    Society Trader

    Here's my take on this. All of these young guys want to be Sam Caligone or Vinnie Cilurzo or whomever. You can't blame them for that. A 2 bbl brewery is peanuts, and they can see that it's only a stepping stone. You wouldn't blame a hot young guitar player for not wanting to join a cover band that plays every other weekend at a hotel bar, would you? So who does play those gigs? Older guys. Guys who've already proven themselves. They took a chance, didn't make it big, but still love it enough to do it almost as a hobby. That's who you need.
  19. NeroFiddled

    NeroFiddled Poo-Bah (10,585) Jul 8, 2002 Pennsylvania
    Society Trader

    Another note... 6 house beers that are always available is a really outdated idea. 3 sounds more reasonable to me - unless those 6 beers are absolutely stellar and selling like hot cakes.

    The brewer is like the chef in the kitchen. He should be able to create the menu within reason; and he should have access to sales figures that let him see what's actually selling.
  20. Uniobrew31

    Uniobrew31 Zealot (513) Jan 16, 2012 Pennsylvania

    Ask the last two why they left and don’t do those things anymore. If you can’t keep a brewer your business will suffer. The fact that your “allowed” to do most things aside from financial incentive tells me that may be the reason or part of the reason the last two left. If that is in fact the problem and you can’t fix it you should probably consider leaving as well imho.
  21. JrGtr

    JrGtr Disciple (376) Apr 13, 2006 Massachusetts

    Do you have a good relationship with the ex-brewers that left? Can you contact them to talk things over, ask them what would have made them stay / what made them leave?
    It's possible that just the increase in responsibilities to a larger brewer attracted them.
    Also keep the communication (as others have said) open with your new guy; make sure that he is comfortable coming to you with his concerns. You say you don't have control over his compensation. I read that as you don't have the authority to increase pay yourself. I presume that if needed, you can go to the other partners to request an increase for him?
    without knowing the down and dirty details of your operation, there's not much more that we can talk about here.
    AZBeerDude72 likes this.
  22. PatrickCT

    PatrickCT Poo-Bah (1,898) Feb 18, 2015 Connecticut

    One trades their labor and value for money.
    chrismattlin and beergoot like this.
  23. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,319) May 30, 2005 Michigan

    Just thinking of the business here and that you have some consistency in the product that you offer, is there any agreement who owns the recipes when a brewery leaves?
    riptorn likes this.
  24. NeroFiddled

    NeroFiddled Poo-Bah (10,585) Jul 8, 2002 Pennsylvania
    Society Trader

    In general the business owns the recipe, but a qualified brewer coming in should not need recipes unless they're unusual or contain unusual processes or ingredients (flavorings, etc.).

    Another thing is, who's going to have a problem if a brewer leaves and starts brewing a similar beer somewhere else unless it was something really unusual? Although, and I have to laugh, a brewery I worked for once accused another brewery of stealing their recipe for Kolsch!
    #24 NeroFiddled, Feb 14, 2019
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2019
  25. MostlyNorwegian

    MostlyNorwegian Zealot (524) Feb 5, 2013 Illinois

    Meh. You really have to be a special form of petty to actively decide to piss away money to pursue this. Re: Toppling Goliath.
    beertunes and FatBoyGotSwagger like this.
  26. Troutbeerbum

    Troutbeerbum Initiate (162) Dec 5, 2016 Maine

    And.....this is where I stop reading.
  27. honkey

    honkey Zealot (549) Aug 28, 2010 Arizona
    Society Industry

    You’re asking in the wrong place and your naivety in the matter is disturbing... hate to be “that guy” but as a brewer/consultant, you’ll need to face the music eventually.
    nc41, cavedave, beertunes and 2 others like this.
  28. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (2,319) May 30, 2005 Michigan

    Probably true, but having the recipes would at least provide continuity in the beer menu to retain good beers after a brewer turnover, assuming they are notable beers that you want to keep. Otherwise you're risking beer quality of your beer offerings if you have to start over with an unproven new brewer.
  29. BeastOfTheNortheast

    BeastOfTheNortheast Disciple (327) Dec 26, 2009 Pennsylvania

    Money, discounts or free case each pay, make him have bigger role in brewery.
  30. Jaycase

    Jaycase Meyvn (1,260) Jan 13, 2007 Illinois

    The first guy wasn't named Stephen Foster was he?
  31. stevepat

    stevepat Devotee (498) Mar 12, 2013 California

    this was my thought too. Isn't there some forum for brewing professionals where you could get an idea of what kind of compensation/work load is typical industry wide? Also, what other people said, maybe talk to the brewer in question?
  32. bbtkd

    bbtkd Poo-Bah (2,285) Sep 20, 2015 South Dakota
    Society Trader

    They want you to solve the problem, but you have no say on pay? You're not in a good spot yourself. Nothing worse than being tasked to solve a problem but being given no actual authority to do it. I'd consider looking yourself.
    SudzDaddy, Squire, beertunes and 2 others like this.
  33. nc41

    nc41 Poo-Bah (1,708) Sep 25, 2008 North Carolina

    This sounds like a reason where a sincere exit interview would have been of very helpful. If they left for money it’s obvious, but it sounds like your turning creative control over to the brewer. So.... there’s two entities at play here with the art of brewing; Creative control and or money. There’s nothing else here I can see, it’s one or the other.
  34. MostlyNorwegian

    MostlyNorwegian Zealot (524) Feb 5, 2013 Illinois


    While I can speak from experience of what most of what is being brought up here. I definitely also agree with @honkey regarding being a lot better prepared to handle the difference between holding hands, and taking charge of asset management.
  35. stevepat

    stevepat Devotee (498) Mar 12, 2013 California

    Just for context for the rest of us (me), what is compensation normally like for a head brewer at a small brewery? Obviously the work is probably more than full time and largely glorified warehouse and janitorial duties (lugging around heavy crap, cleaning up, etc..) and I assume salary. But how big does a place usually get before the person who is crafting the recipes isn't the person doing that kind of stuff? And if you're the crafter of recipes and the doer of the crap then what's the range of compensation that's normal?
  36. honkey

    honkey Zealot (549) Aug 28, 2010 Arizona
    Society Industry

    Personally, I wouldn’t consider a salary less than $50k for a brewery of any size (yes, even a half barrel system) in any city. So there’s a baseline, but many breweries hire brewers for far less. In my experience between what I’ve seen of friends and classmates in the industry as well as breweries I’ve consulted for; any brewery that hires a head brewer for less should be prepared to lose the brewer if the brewer is worth having on staff. If you think you can’t make the salary work, your business plan sucks.
  37. beertunes

    beertunes Poo-Bah (5,746) Sep 24, 2007 Washington

    Was just going to suggest that posting these questions at probrewer.com would be better than posting here.

    That said, having a 2bbl system (which is 4 kegs) limits what you can do outside your facility. 2 bbl isn't enough beer to even bother with packaging. I don't think any reputable mobile canning company would even look at you. Maybe you could hand bottle 22s, but that format is falling by the wayside.

    Fests. Don't even bother. You'll tie up production space for beer you're going to basically give away. From a brewery standpoint, the reason to go to a fest is drive folks to your beer. Given the current ticker mentality, how many folks are going to get their 4oz pour of your beer, post it on UT (and then they can say they've had it), and then come to your tap room? A brewery near me has a 3bbl system (and put out about 600bbl/year), and they do one fest a year (which is a big fund-raiser for a local charity. If you want to that approach, I think that'd be fine.) but otherwise fests are loser for them. Plus, think about your brewer; you want him to work all week in the brewery, then burn his weekend pouring at a fest? That's a way to burn out folks in hurry.

    Is your business able to hire a part-time cellarman/assistant brewer to help shoulder the load? Quality of life issues are a real thing. Nobody wants to be consumed by their job. I'll second the notion of maybe looking at an older hire. Someone who is maybe tired of being a production brewer, and might be interested in pulling in the reins a bit. If that gal or guy has a partner with good bennies at another job, that makes it an easier target. The younger folks are still clawing their up through these things.

    Good Luck!
    chavinparty likes this.
  38. dennis3951

    dennis3951 Champion (871) Mar 6, 2008 New Jersey

    One cannot copyright a recjpe. Google it
    hopfenunmaltz likes this.
  39. dennis3951

    dennis3951 Champion (871) Mar 6, 2008 New Jersey

    Sorry recipe lol
  40. CB_Michigan

    CB_Michigan Initiate (145) Sep 4, 2014 Illinois

    No, but a restaurant/brewery/etc can (in some instances) can use trade secrets claims and employment agreements to protect themselves.
    beertunes likes this.