How did you get into beer?
I should take this story back five years ago. I was dating this guy from northern California. His family lived in wine country and I tried so hard to get into wine. I took wine classes, I read books, I was like, “Wine is going to be my thing.” But I wasn’t genuinely into it. Slowly that exposed me to cool different bars where I had cool craft beers. I remember I had a Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout and I was like, “this is amazing! This is beer?” I had thought beer was Bud Lite. Ever since then, I started drinking more beer and I picked up a weird affinity for different breweries and styles. Two years ago, my buddy Matt texted me about a homebrew club meeting in Arlington. I went on a whim, and the rest is history.
How did your foray into homebrewing go?
My first meeting with the homebrewing club, I was totally out of my element. I guess I still kinda am. Everyone was a middle aged white man. It was like Arlington Dads Unite, and then…Maya. That being said, everyone was super nice. I could see they were really passionate about this hobby. Despite the fact that I didn’t look like anyone in terms of color, gender, and age, I felt very embraced by them.
What was the first beer you ever had?
Probably a Natty Boh in high school.
First beer that turned you onto craft beer?
Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout. I was shocked that beer could taste like that. I love chocolate ice cream, and I was like, “wow, this is chocolaty and creamy and sweet and has a great body, and it’s nothing like what is marketed to me on TV.”
What has your experience been like as a woman of color in the beer industry?
It’s been tough. That’s the first word that comes to mind. All the women I’ve met in the beer world, we kinda give each other the nod. We all deal with this shittiness, but we keep on doing it because we love beer. There are a good number of Asian people I’ve found in the beer world who have the same issues I’ve experienced, who are like, “oh, I went to school for my master’s in engineering and my parents hate that I do this.” So we’ll commiserate over things like that. But generally seeing someone Asian in the beer industry is totally random. People are really surprised. I just have to be self-confident. It motivates me to really know my shit.
Your parents weren’t originally on board?
When they learned that I was really into beer and going to homebrew meetings, they laughed at me and said, “Maya, you shouldn’t be wasting your time. Focus on your career and school.” They thought I just wanted people to drink with. It wasn’t until about eight months ago when one day they popped into The Brew Shop one Sunday when I was working, and I think seeing me in my happy element, ever since that day, they’ve been so supportive. They come to breweries with me all the time now.
How have racism and misogyny shown up for you in your work?
People have been much more misogynistic than racist. A good example of this is last year when I went to the national homebrew conference in Baltimore. I walked into the convention center and there was a gentleman who I’m assuming worked for the convention center, and he goes, “Oh, sweetie, this is a beer conference, I think you’re in the wrong place.” I remember I snort-laughed and said, “No, I’m in the right place. Tell me where I need to go.” He didn’t even pause to think about what he was about to say. That’s exhibit 90,000 of little things I have to deal with.
Working at a beer store, men with homebrew questions come in all the time really skeptical and uneasy to even ask me. Or if there is a guy working with me, their attention will turn to the guy. The same happens for beer recommendations. When I finally do give them a great recommendation, I can see the look on their face like, “wow, you really do know what you are talking about!” But why do I have to prove myself?
I’m constantly having to prove that I know what I’m talking about. I went to Whole Foods a few weeks ago during a tap takeover, and I was talking with a sales rep about Pale Fire’s Salad Days and Great Divide’s Colette and some other beers, and he said, “Wow, you really know your beer!” He was so shocked! In my mind I was like, “You would have never said this to a guy.” Later on he said, “It’s really cool to talk to a girl who really knows her shit about beer.” In my mind I was like, “You’re welcome that I was your token cool experience for the evening.”
On the race side, I think people are more wary of being prejudiced, especially around DC. It’s pretty diverse here. When I went to Seattle last December, I have a lot of friends who work out in Yakima Valley, which is the largest hop-growing region in the country. It’s in central Washington and it’s all white. I remember there I got a lot of uneasiness and a lot of stares. People definitely had a look of “you don’t belong here.”
What would it take to achieve a more inclusive industry?
I feel really personally passionate about education and showing people that there is a beer for everyone. Once everyone finds their new favorite brew, they are more comfortable and more willing to come into the store and try things beyond what they’d normally go for.
What is the most overrated style right now?
I think people who always go for pilsners and kolschs just haven’t discovered better beer yet. People will say IPAs are overrated but as a hophead, I’m going to defend them and say they’re not.
What’s a specific beer you think is way overhyped?
I’m going to get shafted for saying this…Heady Topper. Heady Topper has made a name for itself being this big, unfiltered, New England style IPA dating back years ago. They have the can and the image. I had it, and it was fine, but there is so much great beer out there. I had it next to King Julius from Tree House, which is a big, orangey, citrusy IPA, and I kinda liked the King Julius more.
Where do you see yourself growing in the industry?
Brewing got me into beer, but now I’m fascinated at the way the craft industry presents itself to consumers and making sure bars and restaurants have the right beer for their clientele. What that looks like in a job title, I have no idea.
What’s the last beer you drank?
I had Racer X from Bear Republic on my birthday a few days ago. It’s a big, rip-your-face-off beer with all the hops. It was excellent.
What beer is in your fridge right now?
I have two bottles of homebrew that I should probably throw away. I have a can of 1500 South Cap helles lager from Atlas that I got for my boyfriend, who has terrible taste in beer. He’s learning. And I just went out to Jester King. They are a brewery in Austin that’s really made a name for themselves for their wild fermentation and their souring. I took a whole other suitcase with me to Austin and I brought back eight bombers, so those are all in my fridge.
What are you favorite local beers?
On the Wings of Armageddon from DC Brau is one of my favorites, and Pounding Trees from 3 Stars. Union Craft’s Double Duckpin is quite excellent. Those are all big double IPAs. I think Port City’s Optimal Wit is a solid go-to. Right Proper is doing really exciting things. They don’t distribute as much, and I wish I could drink more of their beer!
The apocalypse happens and you can only have one beer for the rest of your life. What is it?
Bear Republic Racer 5. It’s a nice malty double IPA that tastes like happiness to me.
You’re in a mainstream grocery store. In a pinch, what do you buy?
If there is nothing local, probably a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
What do you think are the best breweries out there right now?
I’m really impressed by Crooked Run, Three Notch’d, and Pale Fire out of Virginia. I love The Bruery out of southern California, Burial out of Asheville, and Other Half out of Brooklyn. I can barely get my hands on their beer. Their marketing combines my love for beer and hip hop.