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I didn’t intend to work in the beer business. In fact, there was a time when I hated beer, as a “sophisticated” woman, drinking pinot noir like a character in Sideways. I was a dreamer, too: an aspiring musician hoping to make it big in Hollywood. After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Journalism and spending a short stint in Chicago, I drove my Dodge Neon across the country and settled in Santa Monica, California, to start my career as a musician (i.e. a bartender).
The first couple of bars I worked in were your standard fare: nice neighborhood restaurant joints focusing mainly on wine and cocktails. I clocked in and clocked out, rehearsed with my band after hours, and played gigs when I could. I used to describe my sound as a cross between Patty Griffin and Nora Jones – until one day I realized that there was already a Patty Griffin and Nora Jones doing a far better job than I ever could. So what the hell was I doing with my life?
To “find myself,” I took a job as a bar-back in a super busy little hole-in-the-wall craft beer bar in Santa Monica called Father’s Office. The owner was Chef Sang Yoon, whom some might know now from Master Chef. Sang was an old school chef: the kind that wouldn’t think twice about throwing a frying pan at your head. But while he was definitely scary and mean, he was also a genius businessman and a damned good cook.
Father’s Office was one of the first gastropubs in Los Angeles. A mecca for beer lovers, it featured 36 beers on tap and 20 in bottles. In order to work there, an employee had to be able to identify every single one of these products -- blind. The flavor profile, the ABV, the IBUs, the style – a bartender had to know it all. More importantly, he or she had to know how to communicate such attributes to Los Angelenos who were about a decade behind the craft beer curve.
Sang required all members of his team to start at the bottom and pay their dues to make it to the top. On the clock, I was changing kegs, cleaning draught lines, and clearing glasses; in my downtime, I was studying beer. And suddenly, a door opened to a world that I didn’t even know existed. As I learned about the history of styles, ingredients, and economics of the industry, I realized that beer is more than just liquid: its cultural anthropology.
Eventually, I rose to the ranks of General Manager, becoming Sang’s right hand (wo)man and protégée. I took the abuse, answered ‘Yes Chef,’ and threw myself into the beer world. Understanding the empowerment that beer knowledge gave any woman who came into the bar, I started writing a blog called “Beer for Chicks.” It wasn’t some dumbed down interpretation of fizzy yellow stuff – the publication offered great beer knowledge written by women for women (though half of our readership consisted of men!).
Partnering with a co-worker named Hallie Beaune, I became one half of The Beer Chicks. Together, we wondered why most people were so surprised that we women knew so much about beer -- until we realized that there were no other women taking initiative like this in all of Los Angeles. We quit our jobs at the bar, and for the next several years, worked as writers and consultants. Restaurants, hotels, off-premise retailers, and even craft breweries became our clients.
Soon, we were appearing on TV shows such as Hell’s Kitchen (Gordon Ramsey kissed me on the cheek!) and Food(o)graphy. We were featured in newspapers and magazines such as Gourmet. We landed a book deal, and wrote a primer on craft beer called The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer in 2008. And in 2012, we went on to write The Naked Brewer: Fearless Homebrewing Tips, Tricks & Rule-breaking Recipes, all about brewing seasonal and small batch beer at home.
Finally, we made it in the only way one really can in Los Angeles: We sold a television pilot to The Cooking Channel called Eat This, Drink That, about traveling and pairing food and beer. Everything that I had worked for in my life came together: my journalism degree, my beer knowledge, and my experience in website design, event planning, and performance (if you can call it that), all gelled into one career.
After reaching this pinnacle, it seemed that every day, more and more women were flooding into the industry: in sales, retail, marketing, media, and yes, even brewing. I’d like to think that The Beer Chicks had something to do with this influx, but we recognize that we were standing on the shoulders of some other pretty badass women who were true trailblazers in the beer industry.
Hallie got married, and then so did I. We both had babies (really cute ones), and our husbands simultaneously said to us, “get a real job.” I scored a position at Goose Island Beer Company as an educator, and Hallie currently works as a rep in Southern California for Allagash Brewing. After being promoted to Education Development Manager, I now have constant opportunities to educate our wholesalers, retailers, and consumers locally, regionally and nationally -- and I'm honored to work with some pretty amazing women while I do.
Long ago, brewing beer was a household chore for which women were responsible. Centuries later, my literary agent would tell me that we got our book deal because of an article I wrote about this very topic called, "A Woman’s Work is Never Done." Let’s hope -- at least, in the beer world -- it never is.