Whose Brews?   Our Brews!

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

Bobbi Russell

Bobbi Russell

BobbiRussell.jpg

Bobbi Russell
Nonprofit consultant and Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Grad
Washington, DC

How did you get into beer?
I got into beer when I moved to DC, and I had never really had a craft beer before. I went to the Big Hunt in DuPont Circle, and a friend encouraged me to try a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. My life was forever changed. I started going to tastings and events at places like the Brickskeller and meeting brewers.

Do you remember the first beer you ever had?
Probably Stroh’s light because my dad drank that. I probably sipped that at some point and thought, “this is disgusting, I never need to have another beer ever again.” In college I did drink a lot of Michelob Amber Bock.

I understand you went to Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp. What made you decide to apply?
I was thinking about whether to become a brewer or not. I was going to all these events, things like SAVOR and beer pairing dinners and talking to other brewers, and thinking maybe that’d be a shift I’d want to make. At that time, there weren’t  a lot of women brewing, so of course there was a lot activity around getting women more involved. At the Brickskeller, I had met Ken Grossman’s brother Steve, and he encouraged me to apply for Beer Camp. He said not a lot of women apply for it and that I should really think about it.

You were personally recruited for Beer Camp by Steve Grossman?
He encouraged me to think about it. “Personally recruited” is overstating it! But I was thinking about a potential career in it and I thought that would be a good way to figure out it. It was the best experience I ever had, and we learned everything about the brewery top to bottom, and we got to brew our own beer and work with their brewers to come up with our own recipes. And we did a lot of drinking, no surprise.

Brewing was fun, but I realized I liked the food and beer pairing side of things more. Shortly after I got back from Beer Camp I got my Certified Beer Server certification, which is the first level of the Cicerone certification.

What has your experience been like as a woman in the mostly male beer industry?
You know, the Beer Camp that I went to was 24 people and I was the only woman. Everybody was very aware of that. When Sierra Nevada posted a picture of our camp on Facebook and their Twitter page, there were many comments saying, “that’s great there’s a woman there, but what are you doing to be more intentional about getting more women interested?”

The thing I notice on the consumer side of craft beer is that I do feel sometimes men make assumptions that I don’t know anything about beer. I was at an office co-working space where they have beer on tap all day long. Apparently they had just changed out the keg, so when I was pouring myself a beer, it was very foamy. This man approached me and said, “I can help you with that if you want,” and I said, “No thank you, I’m good.” I kinda wanted to whip out my credentials and be like, “I’m fine!” It’s just this assumption that women don’t know anything about beer.

When you were at Beer Camp, did you as a group talk about how you were the only woman, or was it just this unspoken tension?
The first night there was a guy who put his foot in his mouth. He said something like, “So your husband let you come to Beer Camp with all these other dudes?” And I said something like, “there is no ‘let’ in our relationship, but he’s very supportive of my interests in beer.” It’s not like he was intentionally being offensive, but I don’t think he realized how archaic it sounded. Some people talked about the number of applicants that year, and out of probably 200 applicants, maybe 10 women had submitted a video. Part of that is who follows beer and who pays attention, and part of it is maybe marketing. I do not think at all they are a misogynistic company – there are plenty of women who work in high level positions at Sierra Nevada. When you look across the board in beer, even home-brewing, it’s highly male-dominated. About two or three years after I went, there were definitely more women in Beer Camp.

How do you as a white person who has been involved in Beer Camp – or other spaces in this super white industry – counter white privilege and racism in that space?
How do I navigate it?

Yeah, navigate it, challenge it.
I’ll be honest that it’s not something that I have challenged. I'm in a few meet-up groups and I generally find the same thing. There are many more women than there used to be, but there’s not a lot of other diversity. I can’t say that I have taken that on in any way that I could speak articulately about. It’s noticeable, for sure.

Was your Beer Camp all white folks?
Yes.

Did you talk about that?
Nobody talked about that. Beer Camp was honestly a lot about drinking and learning about the business. There were definitely people there who were networking – several people now work at Sierra Nevada in some capacity. There was a lot of networking there, but there wasn’t a lot of social issue conversation, much beyond that first night when we talked about me being the only woman in the camp.

What style of beer do you think is most overrated right now?
Sours. I appreciate the style, but I don’t want to drink them that much. They are the “it” beer. Some people love it; I don’t love it.

Is there a particular beer that was really hyped but when you had it, you felt it was a total letdown?
Stone Ruination. And the Raison D’Etre by Dogfish Head. Oyster stouts as an overall style is something I don’t think needs to exist – I’ve never had an oyster stout that I liked.

What was the last beer you drank?
Stillwater’s This Beer Will Self Destruct in 336h: 33m: 7s.

What are some of your favorite local beers?
Atlas does a rye stout that’s phenomenal. I love The Corruption from DC Brau. I like Port City’s Porter. Lost Rhino out in Ashburn, their Face Plant IPA is excellent. Even though they are technically not local, the DC Chophouse does a cherry blossom beer every March that’s magnificent.

What’s in your fridge right now?
I have a couple of beers from Maui Brewing Company,, including the Lorenzini IPA, which is a blood orange IPA. I’m aging all the SAVOR collaboration beers. Dogfish Head does an amazing imperial IPA called Hellhound on My Ale, and you’re not supposed to age IPAs, but I always get a couple of those each year. There is one left in my fridge from last year. I have a couple of big bottles of things that I picked up when I was out and about.

A beer that I’m not necessarily proud to say that I drink that I have in the fridge for cookouts and things like that is Negra Modelo. And I also like altbiers. I’m from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and each year for Groundhog Day there is a Groundhog beer that’s made. Last year the brewery made an altbier that’s really good.

If you were in a pinch at a mainstream grocery store, would you get Negra Modelo, or is there something else you’d get?
Bell’s Two-Hearted is pretty widely available, and that’s one of my favorite IPAs of all time. It’s in my top 3. If there wasn’t an IPA I knew I enjoyed, or a Czech pilsner I knew I enjoyed, or a stout, then I’d probably get Negra Modelo.

The apocalypse happens and you only get one beer. What would it be?
I’m going to go with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It’s classic, it’s refreshing, it tastes really good. If it’s my last beer ever, though, I’d go with Hellhound on My Ale.

Is there anything else you want to add?
One of the things that I really enjoy about craft beer is that there is community around it. The craft beer industry, from my perspective, is not ultra competitive. There is a lot of sharing, a lot of collaborating, a lot of supporting one another. There is something for everybody. I did a food and beer pairing at my house – just for some friends just for fun – and two women who were like, “we hate beer, but we’re here for you,” ended up walking away with two beers saying, “I would buy that.” When you can share that love with somebody else and see them turn a corner on something, that’s really exciting.

That’s something I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a man say: “I don’t know if there is a beer I could like.” In my experience, it’s pretty common to hear a woman say, “oh, I don’t really like beer,” or “it’s not for me,” and I think if you see something but you are not represented in it, you start to believe it’s not for you.
That’s a good point. Or if you [women] are represented in a way where you have to be wearing a half shirt jersey with your sports bra hanging out, you think that’s what beer is, and it’s definitely not for you.

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Rachel Murray

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