Brewer, Marketing & Sales, River Watch Brewery
How did you get into beer?
My mom is the head brewer at River Watch Brewery. As far as we know, we’re the only mother-daughter brewery operation. She’s a retired army Colonel who home-brewed when I was growing up. After she retired, she wanted to open up a brewery. It going to be her and my dad, but unfortunately my dad passed away. She asked my brother and me, “Do you still want me to do this?” knowing one of us would have to step in. We said we still wanted her to go with it, because it’s a dream she’s had and we wanted to make it happen.
I always say I kinda fell into beer. I studied marine biology in college. I’ve done political economic work with the state department and I taught English in Japan. But when my mom wanted to open the brewery, I started doing my research. I found some sommeliers in the area, and we study together. I’m now a certified Cicerone and I teach my own Cicerone classes.
What was the first beer you ever had?
The one I most vividly remember was when my mom came back from a trip to Australia for work. It was a Victoria Bitter, a nice lager. I didn’t really like beer until I was probably 24. I pride myself on never having had a Bud Light. I smelled one recently and I nearly gagged.
What was the first beer that turned you on to craft beer?
I’m pretty sure it was as an IPA. I’ve always enjoyed more bitter-style drinks.
How did you get into brewing?
I wasn’t going to be brewing originally at River Watch. My brother was going to help my mom with the brewing and I was going to do sales and run the tasting room, but my brother went off to Arizona and she needed someone to step in. I started brewing with her about a year ago. Beer industry people like my mom homebrewed for a while and then moved to professional brewing, but the smallest system I’ve ever brewed is our brewery’s.
How did learning to brew go?
I knew the theory from Cicerone, so it was applying the theory. What was shocking was the sheer amount of manual labor and the cleaning. I also had to learn to adjust to a lack of a sleep schedule. My mom taught me a lot – she went to Siebel Institute and did the International Brewers diploma.
Is River Watch really the first brewery in Augusta since Prohibition?
It is! When my parents first came to Augusta, it wasn’t a craft beer town. In the time since they got the brewery going, Georgia was starting to grow as a craft beer state. People definitely wanted it in the area. I have to say, not having any competition really helps! Augusta has really embraced us. We are on tap at every bar and restaurant in town, and the chain restaurants are starting to pick us up too.
What’s your favorite River Watch brew?
We do some small batch stuff at the brewery that is only released at the brewery. My favorite is Hippies Use the Side Door, which is a lavender honey pale ale. This came from our bartender, Nicky. I wanted all of my staff from brewers to bartenders to pick a style and make it, and then we brewed it together. Nicky came up with this and people loved it.
What has your experience been like as a woman in the beer industry?
I’m in Georgia, where they’re already pretty misogynistic. There are a couple of places in town where a woman coming in and knowing more makes them uncomfortable. They see a woman and they don’t think you know anything. They are constantly talking over me. Or I’ll be at a bar in town and they won’t know I’m a brewer, and they’ll ask me what I’m drinking. I say I’m drinking an IPA, and they say, “oh, you like IPAs?”
When people see me, they see a blonde and they see makeup. I’m blonde and I like to wear makeup, but I’ll turn around and go home and put my brewers’ clothes on. My mom, as a Colonel, gets a little more respect.
Most of the beer industry is pretty chill. You get some raised eyebrows when you say you are a brewer, but they don’t make you defend yourself. I just came back from the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC), and one thing I was mad about was the ladies’ fitted work shirt was $46 and the regular men’s shirt was $28. I did not buy the shirt.
How did you get your logo?
When we were meeting with our graphic group, we wanted to emphasize that there is a feminine aspect to it our business because we are a woman-operated brewery. They did a good job of incorporating what we wanted with the dragonfly, which they call our “bat sign.” We had this logo before that was significantly more feminine. It had a kinda calligraphy loopy font. But women aren’t just flimsy girls. I wanted a logo that could stand up to the other breweries.
The Cicerone program, as I understand, is also mostly men. What has that experience been like?
I find I get way less issues with the Cicerone guys than the beer industry people because they see your pin and they know what’s on that test. I don’t have to prove it to them. I already proved it when I passed that test. More women are part of the classes now. Most of my classes are 50/50 split between men and women. As far as I know, women have the better palate. You’d think they’re going to perform better because of genetics.
What style of beer do you think is most overrated right now?
I’m tired of people making up styles, and I’m tired of people saying beers are one thing and you drink it and it ends up not being that. Otherwise, everybody makes their IPAs, but I’d like to see some focus on styles that show more brewing technicalities, like German lagers. IPAS are great, but you can hide a lot of faults behind a lot of hops.
Is there a particular beer you think is overhyped?
I’m not personally a fan of Creature Comforts’ Tropicália. In Georgia, this is THE beer to have. It’s got a piney quality at the end of it, and I’m pretty sure they are overdoing a resiny hop.
What was the last beer you drank?
After CBC I went to Fairwinds and I had their Siren’s Lure. I love dry-hopped saisons, and that was phenomenal.
What’s in your fridge right now?
I’ve got a Dortmunder from Germany. I’ve got some Saranac that was a gift. I’ve got a citra IPA that a guest of our brewery brought me because we have a citra IPA and he thought I should compare them, because he thought ours was just as good. Most of the stuff in my fridge is for my class, so I have a lot of random stuff.
What’s it like to teach classes about beer?
My favorite part of teaching of beer class is when someone tries a style they are sure they won’t like or have never heard of, and they end up liking it. But getting my students to be confident is the hardest part. When they taste something, what they think it is first is probably going to be it, but I have to work to build up their confidence to be able to point to an answer. They really don’t want to say what it is.
The apocalypse happens and you only get one beer for the rest of your life. What is it?
Pliney the Elder. Or Unibroue la Fin du Monde, which would be fitting.
You’re in a pinch at a grocery store or a 7-11. What do you pick up?
Either a Dogfish, like their 60 minute, or a Lagunitas, anything but their pils. I’m not a pils fan. Or I’d get something from Stone. Any of the big crafts still because I know they are going to be something that I want. If I had a little more selection, I would go with a slightly smaller brewery like Brooklyn.
What’s your favorite local beer?
For the longest time it was Three Taverns’ a Night on Ponce, which is a great IPA. But I think recently for the Georgia breweries, I like Reformation. They do a rye IPA and I was quite impressed with that one. In Atlanta recently I had a basil gose from Wrecking Bar, and it was awesome. I would drink that all day.
Are there other questions you think I ought to be asking?
It might be nice to have more questions about specific things, like "have you dealt with this kind of thing," so you can see more of a comparison across people. I’m in a smaller town, so if I were in a bigger city, I might not experience some of the things I deal with.