Co-Founder & Sales Rep MD/DC/MA, Graft Cider
How did you get into beer/cider?
I feel like I’ve been exposed to it my whole life. My dad went to UC Davis for winemaking and viticulture in the early 80s and worked in the industry for a while. When I was three or four, he went and got his law degree and ended up working at the patent office in the alcohol and beverage department for 10 years. As I entered into high school, he started getting back to his roots and restoring old buildings. What came along with that was him doing small batch fermentation with apples he was foraging wherever he was traveling. Growing up, we were always allowed to try his beer or my mom’s wine. As we got older, he got a pot still, and my brother and I made absinthe with it in high school.
My brother and my dad started Millstone Cellars in Monkton, MD, and when I got out of college, I started helping on the production end.
Do you remember the first beer/cider you ever had?
In terms of beer, it was probably some German lager my dad was drinking back in the day. I can tell you the first sours I ever had – the one that really stood out in my mind was the Duchesse. And Timmermans had a lemon gose that was like aerated lemon juice.
What has your experience been like as a woman in the beer industry?
It’s a challenge. Like most women in most fields it comes along with certain frustrations, but I’ve never really tried to notice it or take it to heart. I feel like women are given a lot more of a chance and taken a lot more seriously than maybe they were ten years ago.
I know when I started out in Millstone, I think my age was a huge issue. Gender might have come along with that. Being 21 in the industry, I would always get jokes like, “Are you even old enough to drink?” I try not to notice it. Of course there are things that happen that I don’t think men have to deal with. There is definitely a men’s club that still does exist. But as far as me being taken seriously as a business owner in the industry, that hasn’t been in question.
One of the biggest things is not necessarily people in the industry, but with the consumer. At tastings, sometimes men are really taken aback that I know what I’m talking about. We’re all breaking barriers and changing perceptions and coming back to how it was when we were the original alewives.
As a white person, how do you challenge racism and whiteness in the industry?
That’s a really tough question. I do acknowledge that it’s something that happens, but I try not to focus on it. I know that’s easy to say and it might be my white privilege to not focus on it. There are so many people of color in the industry I know I can list off the top of my head who are a huge inspiration, and they need to be named more publicly so other people of color aren’t scared away and realize this is a path they can take in their lives.
Your packaging is really stunning, and it also seems like all of your names are gender and racially nonspecific. Is that an intentional decision?
We definitely want to be female positive. Being a half women-run and women-owned, we want to acknowledge that in our artwork and bring a sense of inclusiveness. In the past, women have been scared away from loving beer and being part of the community. We’re trying to promote that this is a product for everyone. We’re not catering to just one person in the market. We want this to be accessible.
Cider tends to be super feminized in the industry, and it’s something that women are often steered toward as an alternative to beer. How do you toe that line of not playing into stereotypes while also not dismissing women as an important audience?
I’m definitely aware of the stereotypes that have existed in this category in the past. We’re really trying to move away from those negative images you see with a lot of macro cider. There are a whole lot of misconceptions across the board, from fermentation to marketing.
We’re not focusing on what everyone else is doing. We’re focusing on making something we’re all proud of at the end of the day. No matter who is drinking it, we want to reach them.
Is there a misconception about cider you’d like to lay to bed?
I want to lay to bed the fact that cider is sweet and dry and just apples and it’s boring. Whenever we go do tastings, I’m not like, “Hi, would you like to try a cider,” I’m like, Hi, would you like to try a sour?” Unfortunately, going in with, “Hi, would like to try a cider,” people say, “No, I don’t like things that are sweet” or “I don’t like apples.”
In the US, apples have been processed in a similar fashion across the board until the craft cider movement. The macro cider industry had its time and place. I understand historically why it was produced that way, but we are moving away from ciders that are sweet and boring. I see so much of the industry moving in a new direction and I want people to explore that and educate themselves in traditional cider. What happened in craft beer, that’s happening in the cider world.
What style of beer do you think is most overrated right now?
I’m kinda getting a little tired of New England IPAs. Yes, they are juicy, but for someone who likes the nuances and subtleties, they are way too explosive for me to find an appreciation for it. Especially if you look at what hops are used for historically, it’s an easy way to make a beer really quick and cheap and cover up a lot of impurities. I’m excited about the age of sours and lagering. That’s where we are going to see the really good brewers and technical brewing.
What was the last beer you drank?
Union Craft’s Royal.
What’s in your fridge right now?
Right now I have some Oliver, Manor Hill’s Inertia Creeps, I have a bunch of biodynamic wines, I have a ton of Graft. Let’s see, I think I have some of Commonwealth’s Big Papi. I do have one 50/50 Bar, which is the Aslin-Graft collab. And I think that I have Three’s Brewing pilsner, Vliet.
What’s your favorite local beer?
I really loved Union’s Skipjack. I just had Bluejacket’s Blue Highway. I had that for the first time at Denizens and it was phenomenal. They’d been holding on to that product for three years before they brought it to the public. I really like Diamondback’s Omar.
If I wanted to switch pages to the Hudson Valley area, I’d go with anything the Suarez Family and Hudson Valley Brewing makes. Hudson Valley is right across from us in Beacon I don’t get enough of their beers.
You're in a pinch at a 7-11 or chain grocery store. What would you get?
In Maryland, we’re a dry county, so nothing. Up in New York, Captain Lawrence is always a mainstay. Probably down here, I don’t know what gas station I’d be going to, but maybe the Urquell.
The apocalypse happens and you can only have one beer for the rest of your days. What would it be?
I’m honestly obsessed with Graft’s Hop Tropic. That’s a cop out, but I buy four-packs back from accounts. In my opinion, that’s the one that really changes people’s perception, especially men who think they would never drink cider – it just opens up a completely different world.
I’m glad you are selling something you would end your life with.
I love what we produce. Back when we were fermenting, we brought down the acidity, and now we all crush so much more cider. I’m really proud of my team. Everyone puts their heart and soul into what we produce. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t doing this in my life.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I do think how the state approaches the production side of the alcohol industry will be an important topic moving forward. The state really needs to be working with breweries, wineries, and cideries to help them cultivate their business and integrate them into the community. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more brewery-positive laws in Maryland. I want us to move away from these puritanically ideas of the alcohol industry. That will be a crucial next step.