Whose Brews?   Our Brews!

A place for musings, sharing stories, trying new things, and exploring the intersections of beer, social justice, and privilege.

Melissa Rogers

Melissa Rogers

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Melissa Rogers
Director of Production at Stone Soup Films
Creative Director at Grail Point Beer Co
Takoma Park, MD

What’s it like starting a "beer co?"
It’s been close to three years now of us going through ideas and brewing and licensing. One of the easier things for us was the recipes. Our brewer just makes good beer. Working on finding space to brew, navigating self-distribution in Maryland - especially Montgomery County - and DC, and all the things that go with that has taken much more energy.

Do you remember the first beer you ever had?
It was probably a warm Bud Light from the back of my friend’s closet because she was trying to hide it from her parents.

What was the first beer that turned you on to craft beer?
My favorite bar in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, which is where I went to college, is The Mecklenburg Inn. I remember one evening I had the Rogue Dead Guy Ale on tap, and I literally lost a whole evening because I was so focused on the beer. A few days later I just picked a beer randomly, Xingu, which is a black dark beer. I remember being amazed that beer could have that range from a lighter beer to a darker beer, and that I could be super into both of them.

How has misogyny shown up for you in your experience with the beer industry?
I’ve definitely faced some challenges, even internally as part of the Grail Point, who are all my friends. Externally, I remember at the Craft Brewers’ Conference in Baltimore a couple of years ago, Lauren (my Grail Point colleague) and I were pouring for Grail Point and we were one of the only tents with women pouring. There was just a lot of general questioning from the men in line that assumed we didn’t know anything about beer. Like, I don’t need you to tell me the difference between a pale ale and an IPA. It was just a lot of men wanting to explain things to me. Since it was our beer, I knew a lot about it and could answer all the questions, but it made us realize the importance of everyone touching the beer and representing the brand being able to discuss it fluently!

What style of beer do you think is most overrated right now?
I think IPAs are getting pretty ridiculous. We had four core beers we were pretty proud of, and we had steered clear of an IPA because the hops market is really unpredictable. But there is still a gold rush mentality that everyone has to have one, and distributors kept asking us, “what’s your IPA like?” And I get it, IPAs are delicious. I’m part of the problem, I drink them all the time. But it’s getting to the point that from year to year companies can’t make the same beer because the market is so hot. That’s not sustainable, and it’s really counterproductive for younger startup breweries, because they are already being priced out of their ability to contribute. We need to think outside the hop.

Is there a particular beer you think is overhyped?
Anything by Ballast Point I’m a little squishy about right now because it’s way overpriced. Bless 'em for being able to rock that price point, but it’s not like you’re paying for quality at that point. They make delicious beers but Lagunitas is able to do the same thing and keep it really cost effective for the people who drink it. Hype is costliness in my head.

What was the last beer you drank?
I saw Wonder Woman last night and the theater had a Long Trail Double Bag on tap. I’ve had the Triple Bag before at their Vermont brewery...the triple is ridiculous, it’s pretty much a barley wine. 

What’s in your fridge right now?
Since we’re selling Grail Point, there are a whole bunch of samples of our Penitent Pale Ale. I recently bought a four pack of Sixpoint Resin - it’s my go-to favorite beer. And last weekend I brought a kitten back from the Rhone County Animal Shelter for my friend, so I handed him a kitten and he handed us the new Game of Thrones beer, Bend the Knee. I’m always down for kitten-for-beer transactions.

What’s your favorite local beer?
I’m the person who likes albums over individual songs, so I like breweries who have repertoires that I really enjoy rather than one-off beers. I really appreciate everything 3 Stars is doing right now. They are able to do everything and do everything really well. One of my favorite beers is their Two-Headed Unicorn. It’s pretty close to the holy grail of beers, in my book at least. As far as place I like to go and drink, I really like Denizens. They have the biggest outdoor space that is dog-friendly, so even though I don’t have a dog, I go there and crush on dogs. Also, of course I have to say DC Brau, because they are a classic.

The apocalypse happens and you can only have one beer – what would it be?
I’m torn between the Two-Headed Unicorn and this beer that doesn’t exist anymore, but this is all hypothetical anyway. It’s Pretty Things’ Baby Tree. The label was a tree filled with babies. It was a Belgian quad that was so good and you could buy a bomber for $8 at the time.

You’re at a 711 or a mainstream grocery store. In a pinch, what do you buy?
If I want to drink cheap, I just Natty Boh or PBR-it. I am not ashamed to drink the champagne of beers from time to time.

Is there anything else you want to add?
Every sector has a lot of discussion about how to best address inclusion. I do think there is some work in store for the craft beer industry in reaching out to the non-white male population of the world.

Perfect example of this: one time I was going to DC Brau’s birthday party, and there was a moment when I realized we were on the only white people on the bus. Everyone else just looked really tired because they were going home at the end of their day, and we were going out to party at the only place in DC where you can afford to have a production brewery. The guy next to me looked at me and said, “Oh, are you going to the place where white people drink?” And that was such a humbling moment for me. I was like, “Yeah! Sir, you have me pegged appropriately.” He just 100% called me out. Any business owes it to their community to do what they can to assimilate into it. It’s not an easy thing to do, but you have to start somewhere.

As a white-led brewing startup, how do you think through how not to reenact white supremacy in your own business model?
That’s a really great question. At this point we are thinking, “how can we become a viable business?” We’re really focusing on that. Once we’re in a position of hiring, we’ll be able to impact that more effectively. We’re a brewery without a physical location right now, and it’s hard to have visions of what you want your ultimate brewery to be if you don’t have a place. Once we have a location, it’ll be easier to reach out and be representative of the community we do end up in. We’re all volunteering right now and there are no profits yet, so the spoils to divvy up are minimal at this point. But I know we’re all dedicated to being inclusive.

Stillwater's Cellar Door

Stillwater's Cellar Door

Leigh Pajor and Ray Florant

Leigh Pajor and Ray Florant