21 Apr Young Women Are Taking Up The Indiana Brewers’ Paddle
Whether or not we feel it fully now, things are starting to look up. There are hotspots that are cooling down, the curve is linear rather than exponential, the treatments are promising, and equipment is on the way. While a few more weeks could be a lifetime for some restaurants and breweries, it sure is nice to see people helping out by going to their favorite breweries for carryout or delivery.
A fraction of a brewery’s regular daily revenue might be just enough to keep them afloat, especially with federal aid money coming (at some point). I’m not going to ask a bunch of breweries if they are going to close, so I don’t know definitively, but I am cautiously optimistic that a good percentage of the industry is going to come back. They may be leaner and smaller, but to get back to normal you first have to survive.
To keep this optimism train rolling, I’d like to talk about something I noticed in Indiana craft beer last summer but am just now getting around to writing about. It’s no secret that women make up a small minority of brewers, so I was happy to find a new generation of young women brewing in Indiana. And when I say young, I mean early 20s. Do this indicate a shift in attitudes and the desire of women to become brewers? Does it suggest that the programs and messaging about women getting into brewing are having an effect? Who knows, this isn’t a big enough sample to draw any huge conclusions, but suffice it to say that it is promising.
To learn more about the trend of young women in beer and, hopefully, to spur even more growth in this demographic, I asked three women brewers who are rapidly gaining experience and a following. They are: Alisha Schroeder, age 23, from Junk Ditch Brewing in Fort Wayne (brewing for 1.5 yr. now); Erin Olsen, age 24, from South Bend Brew Werks in South Bend; and Hannah Nisonson, age 22, from Thieme & Wagner Brewing in Lafayette. Here are their responses to a few questions about their work in beer.
Indiana On Tap (IOT): How did you get into craft beer in general?
Alisha: A local brewery offered me a serving job when I was 19 and had mentioned that there was the potential for me to be an assistant brewer when I turned 21. I tried a few beers before I was involved in the industry but I wasn’t as interested in craft beer at the time. I ended up getting the job as an assistant brewer and kept trying different craft beers until I developed a taste for them. Now I try to support all of the local breweries and I try different styles whenever I go out.
Erin: I was working at an RV chassis factory about an hour from my house. I hated almost everything about that job – the drive, the early hours, the being outside in even extreme weather situations. After about six months there, around June 2018, I got a second job as a server at a brewery closer to my house, hoping that I’d eventually be able to leave the factory for good. I worked approximately 70 hrs a week between the two jobs for four months, but I was finally able to work solely at the brewery. I quickly made my way to a bartender and took the first level of Cicerone Certification. I studied incredibly hard for that, but took that information like a sponge. It was easy to study because I wanted to know more.
Hannah: I got into beer in general because it is almost a universal connector amongst people. My senior year of college I would celebrate all my triumphs and failures over a beer with friends. Regardless of the scenario, beer is going to be there for you. As for craft beer more specifically, I love the effort that goes into a pint. Craft beer has that special brewers touch in every glass. While larger beer companies should be commended on creating a great product at mass production, craft beer companies have a unique ability to constantly change their beer flavors and introduce new and exciting recipes. As a newcomer into the industry, I found it to be a great opportunity to share my individual voice and ideas.
IOT: How did you come to be a brewer? What drew you to making beer? Did the opportunity find you or did you seek it out?
Alisha: My dad actually experimented with making his own wine and beer when I was growing up so I had a small familiarity with home brews when I was very young. The opportunity came when the brewery I started at had a job opening for an assistant brewer after I had turned 21, so I applied and they took a chance on me.
Erin: Being a server drew me into wanting to make beer. When a customer would come in asking for a certain type of beer, I started playing a little game and having them try something that wasn’t typically “in their wheel house.” Being able to suggest something new and watch them enjoy it was exciting. There was also a bit of mysticism for me when it came to the brewers and what they did. I never truly understood how beer was made until I became a brewer. I had tried to make the switch from server/bartender to brewer, but it never happened for me there. Eventually I became something of a regular at South Bend Brew Werks, I made friends with the staff, and owner/head brewer Steve Lowe asked me if I had an interest in brewing. I quickly said absolutely, and it ended up being a great fit!
Hannah: My major in college was biological engineering so I was no stranger to the technical side of food and beverage production. Beer and spirits is, to me, more interesting subject matter than chips, say. So while I didn’t seek out a brewing position after college, my friend who worked at the brewery before me got me the interview. She knew I was interested in beer and I was able follow in her footsteps.
IOT: You weren’t legal to drink for very long before you started brewing, so what made this line intriguing to you? Is this a job or a career for you? Are you studying at university or vocational school at the same time?
Alisha: I’ve always loved more of the physical aspects of the jobs I’ve had in the past, so that was a drawing point. I also love how non-traditional it is to be a brewer. I’m not currently not studying anywhere. I feel like this could be either a job for now or a career. I’d love to work in the industry as long as I’m happy and as long as I can keep up with it.
Erin: Honestly, it was my initial job at the first brewery as a server that really intrigued me. I hadn’t been much of a drinker before that, but I loved seeing all the flavors the brewers would come up with in new beers. Once I got some experience and time under my belt, I learned quickly and through the Cicerone Beer Server Certification I learned of countless styles I wanted to try. Whether it’s a job or career has actually recently become a question for me. When I first came into brewing, it was absolutely my career; I was sure I’d be in beer forever. While my passion and eagerness have not dwindled even in the slightest, I’ve recently been coming into an existential crisis of sorts (yes it’s okay to laugh!). While I’m not in school currently, I plan to finish my degree in Biotechnology. After that is completed I hope to gain some clarity on future plans. Whether I will stay in brewing or move toward a different career path is unclear.
Hannah: I am very young which is a really cool thing to be in this industry. But like I said, in the short time since I turned 21, I have come to see how special beer is to everyone. It is ageless (to an extent lol), gender inclusive, and personally diverse. However, I see my current brewer status as a job turned into a hobby. I love beer and I love working in a brewery, but it is very physically taxing. I want to take what I learned in beer and apply it to any other job I have as well as set up home brewing equipment when I can afford a house that doesn’t take a security deposit back. Until then, I am enjoying my current job in my year off college and will be attending graduate school next year!
IOT: Women are underrepresented in craft beer and brewing. Does this affect any of your thinking about being in craft beer? Is it a reason to stay, to get out, or does it not matter to you?
Alisha: It didn’t scare me away because I’ve always loved non-traditional jobs. Seeing women working in traditionally male dominated fields has always made me happy, so it’s definitely a reason to stay.
Erin: The representation of women, or lack of for that matter, doesn’t necessarily contribute to the decisions I’ll have to make. Although, it is a compelling reason so stay, I often get inspired when I see women working in male dominated industries.
Hannah: As a woman in STEM throughout college, and now entering the beer industry, there are definitely glass ceilings to be broken. So many women speak up about how male dominated the beer industry is and I am in support of any woman who would want to join. It is an amazing reason to stay in the industry as adversity strengthens persistence in my opinion. I recently attended the brew-seum conference in Chicago where I was met with very masculine bearded faces. It was so refreshing and motivating to see all the strong females distinguished in this field because you know all the barriers they have had to overcome.
Alisha: Thankfully I have great coworkers, and friends that support me, but there are always a few people that don’t believe I actually brew beer, and that can be frustrating.
Erin: Yes, I have absolutely been supported in this industry, from both people within and without. I have to give a huge thank you to my head brewer for that too. Even when I had no experience, he always let me come up with new recipes and was beyond supportive! But that doesn’t mean everyone is supportive/accepting, or that people don’t subconsciously hold me in a dimmer light than some of my colleagues. Without going into specifics, there have been individuals who undermine what I have accomplished. People often assume I’m a bartender, not a brewer, at beer events. But the positive feedback outweighs the negative experiences ten-fold. Most people in my area think it’s great to have a young female brewer in the heart of downtown South Bend.
Hannah: Support has mostly come from my master-brewer and people in the industry. Just like you, they find it very fascinating a woman wanted to enter brewing at such a young age. However, my family is a little more hesitant and don’t think of my job as a career. That, in a way, has pressured me to leave the industry and pursue other career outlets.
IOT: What do you like most about brewing, what do you dislike the most?
Alisha: I love all aspects of brewing, I love knowing that beer I helped make is on tap and that it tastes amazing. Cleaning can be a little annoying sometimes but knowing that it helps the quality of the beer makes it worth it. The only thing I dislike would be people assuming I’m a server at events and aiming their questions about beer to the guys.
Erin: I love the creativity in brewing. I’m not the typical artistic type; I don’t paint, I don’t draw, or practice photography. But I get to create something technical with beer. It’s a science, and I’m good at science, but I also like to be creative. I just hadn’t had an outlet that works for me before this. What I could probably do without when it comes to brewing is honestly the grain disposal. At South Bend Brew Werks we use a 1bbl system, with an extension that can increase to 2bbl. We also brew in the basement of our restaurant. So when it comes time to clean the mash tun, I climb halfway bent into the mash tun, scooping grain and carrying it up our stairs in two 5 gallon buckets. I repeat that until I’ve finally hauled it all upstairs. I’ve gotten used to it by now and it’s really not so bad, but that took me the longest to get used to.
Hannah: I love creating a product that people love as much as I do. I also like the routine of brewing, or lack there of. It’s unpredictable and that to me makes my job exciting. Keeping me on my toes. My least favorite part is probably the constant cleaning. It’s important, but it’s time consuming.
IOT: Is brewing a science or an art to you? Both? How does that mold how you approach the job?
Alisha: It’s both; it’s a nice way to be creative while still thinking about how everything works together and how that changes how the beer is going to taste when it’s finished.
Erin: Brewing is definitely both a science and an art. I remember the first recipe I came up with, nothing too fancy, just a pale ale. But the idea behind it literally came to me in a dream when I was half asleep. I grew up outside a tiny town on a 110 acre farm where my grandparents had so many friends. Every weekend it seemed there were bonfires, parties, and people sitting around drinking beer. At some point during most of these parties my papa, who looked like a mix of John Wayne and Conway Twitty, would bring out his 12-string guitar and play some old school country. Those bonfires stopped when he passed in 2001, so I was very young and had almost forgotten about them, until it came to me in the dream. That dream helped create my 12 String Pale Ale. Something everyone can drink all day into late night around a fire with your closest friends.
Hannah: Brewing is a mixture of both science and art. It takes a very calculated mind and patience to get a brew just right. However brewing, much like cooking, requires a blend of flavors and aromas that are hard to obtain if you only care about the mechanics of it all. Beer needs experimentation, but more importantly, a joy in the craft that only a brewer can bring. It’s a perfect balance of abstract ideas and tangible products.
IOT: What haven’t I asked you about that you would like people to know about being a young woman brewing beer, about Indiana beer, about anything else?
Alisha: Nope! Thanks!
Erin: I guess the only thing I’d want to tell anyone is to keep an open mind, not just with who is brewing your beer but with the beer you drink as well. I’ve run into a lot of people who call themselves “beer snobs” and they are quick to talk anything they try down. Criticism is good and necessary, but understand that a lot of time and energy was put into that pint. Even when I have a beer I’m REALLY not a fan of, I try to say that I just don’t prefer it. Give constructive criticism; say why you might not prefer that beer over others. But if you can’t be constructive, then you’re not helping that person/brewer.
Hannah: I think beer is different all over the world as tastes and flavors adapt to geographical location. As I grow older and travel more, I hope to have beers from every country. That way I can truly have a worldly palate for the brew. It also gives me an excuse to keep my beer roots in my life forever.
Keep tuned in to here the thoughts of other young women brewing in Indiana, like Megan Hall at Chilly Water Brewing. If you know of a young lady in Indiana beer, let Indiana On Tap and we’ll get her thoughts out to the public.