In Male-Dominated Industry, Three Wisconsin Women Earn Brew Master Title

By Kathy Flanigan
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


Jamie Baertsch went back to work four days after giving birth to her second child. There were fermenters to check and bottling to do.

Beer in Wisconsin doesn’t take a break, even a maternity break. Not for Baertsch, who is one of the state’s three female craft beer brew masters.

Baertsch, 34, worked as an unpaid intern for five months scrubbing and sanitizing tanks to get a paying position at Moosejaw Pizza and Dells Brewing. Two years later she was named head brewer. She was 26 years old.

“It’s hard to become a brew master,” Baertsch said, her hand wrapped around a fresh pint of her Stand Rock Bock. “You’ve got a better chance of becoming a neurosurgeon than a brew master.”

The national Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as small (6 million barrels or less), independent and traditional. Wisconsin craft breweries boast 101 head brewers, according to figures from the Wisconsin Brewers Guild.

Commercial brewing is a physically demanding job. Kegs weigh 25 pounds when empty and up to 150 when they’re full. Brewers often climb ladders holding heavy cleaning hoses or 50-pound sacks of grain.

“It’s a big deal that these women are head brewers,” said Erin Anderson, a marketing consultant, home-brewer and one of the founders of Barley’s Angels, a beer club for women in Milwaukee.

“The actual act of brewing in a fully operational brewery is more labor-intensive and tends to be one of those things stereotypically looked at as ‘Oh, a woman couldn’t do that job.'”

They could, and they did. Women were the early brewers, making beer in the home before refrigeration allowed the brew to become industrialized. For decades after that, men became both the chief brewers and chief consumers of beer.

“Look at the culture,” said Robyn Klinge, founder of the Madison-based FEM, Females Enjoying Microbrews. “Beer is marketed to men. Men drinking beer. Women serving men beer. I can’t think of a single beer ad targeted to women.”

In October, when Wisconsin’s Central Waters Brewing Co. was looking for a brewer, the job requirement included someone skilled enough to work all aspects of wort production (mashing of grains before yeast is added for fermentation) on a 30-barrel system; clean and sanitize tall fermentation vessels; clean and sanitize the brewhouse and monitor the fermentation cellar.

Anello Mollica, co-owner of Central Waters Brewing Co., was poised to hire a female brewer until she accepted a different job. She was the first woman to apply among the 200 resumes he’s received in his tenure.

“It’s still a male-dominated career,” said Robert Morton, head brewer for Milwaukee Brewing Co.

Baertsch recalled writing a letter to Teri Fahrendorf, a Wisconsin native and founder of the Pink Boots Society for women in brewing. She begged Fahrendorf to make Moosejaw a stop during Fahrendorf’s five-month road tour in 2007. Baertsch had never met another female brewer until Fahrendorf showed up.

Ashley Kinart, the newly minted brew master at Capital Brewery, spent two years in the brewhouse performing duties such as switching controls on tanks at the right time, moving liquids from one tank to another, lifting 50-pound bags of grain up and down stairs, weighing out boxes of hops, then cleaning out the spent grain when the brewing is done.

“It’s time management and it’s cleaning,” said Kinart, whose start at Capital has a familiar ring.

“Two years ago I started here literally for free,” Kinart said. In October, she was named to succeed Brian Destree, who was will be in charge of operations as Capital begins new brewery construction.

Kinart had just earned a degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison when she took a job bartending at the Old Fashioned bar and restaurant in Madison.

“I didn’t know enough about what I was pouring,” she said. To learn more, Kinart began home-brewing.

Jennifer DeBolt, owner of the Old Fashioned, took Kinart along on tours to far-flung smaller brewers so she could test her skills. Kinart studied at the Siebel Institute of Technology, a Chicago-based brewing school, and spent five weeks in Germany before volunteering to work at Capital.

This summer Kinart, 30, introduced Fishin’ in the Dark, a Schwarzbier-style brew based on her recipe. But she admits she’s doing less brewing and more scheduling as brew master.

Her responsibilities include estimating how much beer to brew, the necessary packaging and the kegs and bottles to order based on projections. Capital produced more than 30,000 barrels of beer in 2014.

Kinart is at the head of the largest of the three breweries. Baertsch is on track to produce 1,400 barrels for the year. Allyson Rolph, the head brewer at the Thirsty Pagan for the last two years, said it will release 700 barrels this year.

Rolph, 37, interned at the Thirsty Pagan before becoming its brew master, or head brewer, as she prefers, two years ago.

Rolph has a degree in art and had been working in a gallery before she enlisted at the Thirsty Pagan. She has since studied at Siebel, thanks to a scholarship from the Beer Barons of Milwaukee, a home-brewing club. She supervises three brewers and is in charge of the brewery’s sour program and barrel-aging.

“Internships work out in this industry because it really is manufacturing,” Rolph said. “It’s one of the last careers where it’s really how you learn.”

Rochelle Francois, 29, a brewer at Wisconsin Brewing Co., never expected to be a brewer. It wasn’t the manual labor that turned her off; Francois grew up on a farm. She had never tried beer until she got an office job at a brewery.

“I actually wanted to work in the wine industry,” said Francois.

Brewing remains a tough job to snag for both genders, Milwaukee Brewing’s Morton said. Demand is growing in the $14.3 million craft beer market, but jobs remain competitive and “really hard to find,” Morton said. And growth in sales of craft beer doesn’t always translate to more employees.

“When brewers get bigger, they don’t necessarily do it with manpower,” he said. “They do it with technology.”

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