What’s your current role in the industry?
I work for a company in Portland that has several brewers who focus on mead, cider, kombucha, jun, and beer. Even in the brewing industry, our company isn’t looked at as a typical brewery. Our beer program focuses on a style called gruit, which is a traditional style of beer that uses herbs like mugwort and yarrow, or whatever you find in your backyard (no hops or very little hops added), and can be made into lagers, stouts, wild ales, etc. Someone will drink a gruit and say, “oh this is really sweet,” but that’s because hops can mask sweetness. We've found that some of the gruits we offer have less sugar than some IPAs out there yet are seen as very sweet in comparison to them.
How did you get into beer?
I got into beer when I was living in DC and I brewed my first beer out of boredom and anxiety. It came out…okay.
My exposure to different breweries happened when I was living in the Catskills, where there are a ton of breweries. I’m constantly around beer now so I don’t feel the need to brew so much anymore. I tried to do a pumpkin ale with my boyfriend a year ago. It was under-attenuated, so I got discouraged. I've done other ferments like kefir, kombucha, metheglin mead, kavass, and makgeolli. When I start beekeeping this year, I'll probably start making mead again.
Do you remember the first beer you ever had?
It was probably a Budweiser when I was in high school.
What was the first beer that turned you on to craft beer?
My senior year of college, I was exposed to brown ales and that really opened my mind.
What has your experience been like as a woman and a person of color (POC) in the beer industry?
I’ve often observed that I do work within this white hetero machismo environment. Moving to Maine has put me into this position. I grew up in LA and lived in cities most of my life, and I’ve never been in the position where I’ve only been surrounded by white people until recently. That plus the industry I work in is something I’m still processing. I definitely wonder where all the other people of color are!
How has misogyny and racism shown up for you in your work in the beer industry?
It’s definitely there, but it’s on the periphery. More recently, a co-worker joked making fun of some general Asian accent and then quickly gave a half-assed apology. In upstate New York, a delivery driver who was like, oh, “You look EXACTLY like another Asian girl I’ve seen. You guys are like twins!” I’ve been singled out as an Asian person when I was a patron at a brewery where they were trying to figure out “what I was” and then finished the awkward conversation with "but you're really pretty." I wasn't asking for validation. Another guy asked for my name thinking he's met me before, but he was mistaking me for this one other Japanese woman he's met while in Hawai'i, 'cause y'know, we're rare.
The misogyny, it’s more passive in my personal experience in the brewing industry. In some small companies where I’ve been, there are only one or two women in management and the rest of the executives are men, and a lot of the busy work happens to fall on the women’s shoulders. I’ve also heard a lot of men talking to other men using language like "don't be a pussy," or calling each other "bitches" and constantly making dick or sex jokes. It can quickly become a fratty environment. But it hasn’t been directed at me. What I’ve been exposed to so far hasn’t been as harsh as working in the kitchen with cooks, who can be very misogynistic, depending on the culture of whatever kitchen you’re at.
What would it take to achieve a more inclusive craft beer industry?
Getting more female brewers and having diverse management! Kombucha is a whole other industry, because there are companies out there with female brewers, but I don’t see that so much in beer. I am aware of female managers and co-owners, but they are not brewers. I've never seen or met a POC in the beer industry, but then again, I am newer to the industry.
I'm aware of some brewing classes and perhaps if they advertised to different folks and made it less white/hetero - just look at those ads! - it might be effective. In general, though, it’s hard to find other people of color in brewing. I’m still just trying to find POCs socially in Maine right now.
What breweries are doing this right?
I wish I knew…when I talk to brewers, we don’t have a social discussion about the beer industry. It’s so hyper-focused in terms of the types of hops that went it into it, why does it taste like this, you know....it’s very much this analysis of flavors.
I'm aware of female management in Dirigo Brewing and Deciduous. Otherwise, if there's any craft beer model we could look up to, they would more likely be in big cities, but cities usually don't provide the flexibility nor local grain sources for breweries.
What keeps you in the beer industry?
I guess I like consumption! I love food and I love drinks and I love flavors. So far the folks in Maine have been very welcoming. But maybe I’m in a bubble. I got this job through personal connections, and I don’t know what it would be like if I were to start doing cold calls and trying to apply to a brewery with an Asian women’s face and name.
What do you think is the most overrated beer style?
Oh my gosh, yes, hoppy beers! I really enjoy well-balanced IPAs, ones with some hops but they won’t completely mess up your palate.
What do you think is the most overhyped beer?
Heady Topper. It didn’t blow my mind. It didn’t open up portals to other worlds. Maybe it’s because I’m on this weird break and I’m enjoying lighter or weirder beers. I know I’m going to upset a lot of people by saying that. However, I did just learn that the can I had was old, which is not recommended.
What was the last beer you drank?
Shipyard Blood Orange. It was awful. I spat it out. My neighbors pawned it off to me and my boyfriend because they didn’t like it, and we’re like, “oh, sure, we’ll drink it.” But it’s like someone sprayed Lysol into your mouth!
What’s in your fridge right now?
I don’t have any beer in my fridge right now - I drank them all. I have some ciders from work. I do have some bottles aging in my "beer cellar" - my kitchen pantry - and those are stouts that we picked up from Barreled Souls in Scarborough, ME, and Gneiss brewing.
What's your favorite local beer?
This one keeps on changing, but I really like the beers that come out of Barreled Souls and Gneiss Brewing in Maine, and Earth Eagle Brewing in NH--that's local right? Within 150 miles?
In a pinch, what beer would you buy at a mainstream grocery store?
Probably a Lagunitas IPA or a Sierra Nevada. I kinda have a weak spot for cheap beers that you can knock back. I’ll totally go for a Coors Banquet.
What are your favorite breweries out there right now?
Barreled Souls is my personal favorite. They do IPAs really well among other styles. Allagash is a pretty big one, and I really enjoy their sours. Oxbow has some really good stuff. Liquid Riot in Portland Maine has a great brown sour. And Ommegang. The tasting room is out in the middle of nowhere. It took me an hour and half to get there, but it was amazing!