Interview by Julia Thiel
Photos by Lucy Hewett
I moved to Chicago because I wanted something different. I studied sturgeon as a marine biologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for, like, five years after school, but I had never lived outside of the south and I really just wanted a change.
I did not actually have a job when I moved here. I volunteered at the Shedd Aquarium, contacted the Sierra Club and all the environmental programs in hopes of getting a job in marine biology. To make ends meet, I got a job at Goose Island as a receptionist.
I sat at that desk and got to know a lot of the people in operations. I felt like I’d just come into a family, and they came to trust me as well. I’d answer e-mails, when questions came around I’d go to John J. Hall, who was the head brewer at the time, and I’d really listen to his answers because I needed to reply to these e-mails. We had a taste panel every week, and they’d ask me to come in just because I was there, but also because they wanted a female palate in there, because it is a little bit different than male.
I’ll be in the room and taste something completely different from a man. There’s diacetyl off flavor, which smells like buttery popcorn. I can smell it from a glass that’s three feet away from me—my sense of smell is a little more keen. In a taste panel, it is nice to have someone who can really keenly taste or smell that flavor that’s just a little bit there, but you’re not really sure. A woman would come in there and be like, “Yeah, it’s definitely there.”
When they found out I was a biologist, they were interested. I’d been reading brewing books about the brewing process, and I started helping out in the barrel warehouse. John Hall asked me, “What do you want to do here? Marketing? Accounting?” I said, “I think I want to be a brewer.” They loved the idea of having a woman there, and the fact that I knew the process.
Marine biology, a lot of people look at it as so different, but it is still a science. When I started learning about brewing from the Goose Island brewers, my education tied in. I took four years of organic chemistry, physics, molecular biology, and all the classes that actually do tie into brewing.
“They wanted a female palate in there, because it is a little bit different than male.”
You’d go to Siebel Institute of Technology for a 12-week or yearlong brewing program, but I was learning that through a different field. You do end up using a lot of science in brewing. I’m in the lab counting yeast cells, and I wouldn’t have known how to do that if I hadn’t had to do it for marine biology. I worked out in the field, had boat issues and pump issues. Coming into the brewery, we use pumps, we use motors, and I knew how to look at the mechanics.
In 2013 I was approached by Josh, the owner at Temperance. He said, “What are your plans?” A lot of people had moved on from Goose Island. There was an entirely new brewing staff. I saw Temperance as a great opportunity to branch out. I loved that it was a smaller system, I loved the fact that it was in Evanston. I saw it as an opportunity for me to take what I learned at Goose Island and show everyone that Goose Island really is a teaching brewery.
I think Josh asked me to be the brewer because he saw that I knew what I was doing. It doesn’t hurt that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union is the basis behind the concept of Temperance, so I think he loved the idea of bringing in a woman.
Coming from Goose Island, I didn’t want to brew the same beers. But then, that’s the beer that I knew how to brew. We brew English-style beer [ESB] because I know the yeast really well; I worked with it a lot at Goose Island. Josh came to me with his home-brew recipes. I tried them, looked at the recipes, ended up changing them to the point that we could work with them on a commercial scale. We do a pineapple blond ale here, and that was Josh’s idea. We do a cherry ESB.
Working with someone who is a home brewer—it’s good because they do know the process, and they know the quality aspect of it. But it’s hard for them to see it on a larger scale, using a pound and a half of hops as opposed to three ounces. It’s very different, technically.
My approach to brewing has changed since coming to Temperance. Being in charge is definitely different. Before I was told what to do, when to do it. We had a lab to do all the samples and testing, we had a packaging team. Now I’m the head brewer, the packaging manager, the shipping manager, the lab technician. I wear a lot more hats. I definitely have more of an appreciation for every aspect. At Goose Island I would start a batch there and maybe not finish it, someone else would finish it. Seeing each batch through, I have a lot more respect for the beer, definitely more compassion for everyone in every part of the brewery.
Since I started reading up on brewing and getting into brewing, I’ve gotten just as nerdy with it as I was with marine biology. I can look at a molecular diagram and understand what’s there, because I’ve seen it before. With physics, a lot of it is geared toward learning about how a gas goes into a liquid, or transferring a liquid from one tank to another.
I’ve actually met the executive director of the Sierra Club; he came up to Temperance with a group that was doing a tour. I was like, “I e-mailed you like 20,000 times when I first moved here!” He was like, “If you want a job, that’s cool.” But—no. Marine biology was fun, but in brewing I really have found my passion. v