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Monday, September 03, 2012

Spare a Toast for the Keg-Haulers

Credit: Virtual Tourist
Today we celebrate that most-beleaguered figure in the American economy, the worker.  Labor Day emerged in the 1880s out of the conflict of the gilded age, that 40-year period following the Civil War marked by massive wealth inequality and the growing concept of economic justice.  Labor Day was originally an overtly political concept, where newly empowered workers asserted their political muscle.  

It was an ugly time.  The police often acted as troops for the robber barons and industrialists, beating, imprisoning, and blacklisting striking workers.  This was the era of the infamous Haymarket Square riot.  Ultimately, the industrialists would win, and labor would have to wait decades to amass power anew. One of the workers' small victories was Labor Day.  Oregon was the first state to make it official in 1887, and Congress made it a national holiday in 1894.

Craft brewing isn't a major engine of employment in the US, but it's a valuable one.  According to stats collected by the Brewers Association, the industry directly employs over 100,000 workers (5650 of them work in Oregon). The Brewers Almanac, which calculates jobs a little differently--and includes large brewery and craft brewery jobs--puts the overall figure for brewery employment at a million.  And then you have subsidiary jobs like distributors, retailers, and hangers on like me, all of who indirectly make a living off suds.

Not all of those jobs are lucrative, and a lot of them involve very hard work.  Even brewers, who occupy the most glamorous roles, have spent thousands of hours scrubbing and toting steel, usually beginning at indecent hours and sometimes in rainforest-like heat and humidity.  I'm not sure how the economists and bureaucrats categorize brewing, but it is essentially industrial manufacturing, and the men and women who work for breweries have those coveted jobs in an ever-declining segment.  The money they earn is taxed in America, spent in America, and supports further economic activity in America--all very good things. 

Labor Day gives us an opportunity to look beyond the IBUs and see the hard, sweaty work that keeps the taps flowing.  People like me tend to talk a lot more about the creative process behind beer and the aesthetics of the final project, but every time I visit a brewery, my actual experience is how hard the work is and how energetic and lively the people doing it are.  So pints up to the brewery workers of America--you work very hard, and I can't thank you enough for it.


  1. Thank you for the reference to 'industrial labor'. I work at a brewery in NC and coworkers and I agree that when you peel away the glamorous nature of working at a brewery we are just manual laborers. Albeit in a pretty awesome setting.

  2. Hi Jeff. I totally agree with you, and I really appreciate your concept that you had made an article on the labors who did a lot of hard work.