Director of Business Development/Founder, Denizens Brewing Co.
Silver Spring, MD
How did you get into beer?
I went through a long period of my life where I didn’t drink at all. When I started law school, I was like, you know what? I need to have a drink every once in a while. I started discovering craft beers and right out the gate I started homebrewing. I’m somewhat nerdy in that when I get into things I really get into them.
Do you remember the first beer you had that got you interested in craft beer?
My father really likes Scottish ales and I grabbed one from his fridge. I’m blanking on the name, but it’s a beer I don’t think is imported into the US anymore. I didn’t like it, but it piqued my curiosity.
What has your experience been like as woman in the beer industry?
I get this question a lot for obvious reasons. I always have a hard time answering it because I don’t know, it’s literally just my life.
I also think that because I’m more masculine presenting I don’t deal with a lot of the bullshit that some of the more feminine presenting females in the industry deal with. I am kinda treated like one of the guys, and I approach situations that way. If I walk into a group of six or seven industry guys from around the area, I feel completely comfortable and at home. I don’t always feel that way when I walk into a group of six or seven females that are more feminine-identified. I sometimes feel like the oddball out.
I can tell you that as an LGBT person, I’m usually one of zero or very, very few in the room. There’s just not a lot of us around, at least that I’m aware of.
How does homophobia show up for you?
I don’t really sense it or feel it. There are a few examples of concrete times when I’ve seen it. Metro Weekly just wrote a piece on (wife and business partner) Emily and me about the fact we’re LGBT business owners, and someone gave us a one star review on Yelp that said, “it’s cool that you’re gay and all that, but you don’t have to tell people.” Update: Yelp has removed the review for hate speech.
I was at the Great American Beer Festival a couple of years ago, and I ran into someone in the industry from around the DC area. In a conversation he used the word faggot to describe someone, and you could literally see him trying to crawl back the word. That was the first, last, and only time I heard him say it, and I think he felt horrible about it. But that’s one of the reasons why I think representation matters. If he hadn't said that to me directly, or if I hadn't been standing there, he probably would've gone about his day and not thought about it again.
When there are big events, I try to show up at them because I think it’s important to represent the company. I can’t tell you how many times people are shocked and say, “oh, you’re the owner?” That’s so cool! I didn’t know you were women-owned or LGBT-owned” or whatever.
I know Denizens has taken a more public stand than a lot of breweries on social justice issues. As a white business owner, how have you challenged white supremacy and racism?
Obviously on social media we are very vocal. When it comes to issues that we think everyone should agree on, we speak out on that that. Recently with the Charlottesville stuff that happened, we used social media to talk about how this is racist and this is not okay. We have Black Lives Matter written on the outside of our building and we’ve had it out there for well over two years. There are times when people have tried to come in and erase it, and we write it right back on in thicker chalk. We also host a lot of fundraisers, donate to a lot of causes, and offer our space for free to nonprofits to raise awareness for issues. The main issues we focus on are equality – for women, LGBT issues, immigration, race – and economic empowerment, and all things Silver Spring.
Internally, we do a pretty good job of having diversity in the front of house and the back of house, and we do that deliberately. But honestly, in terms of our management level structure, we've got a lot of white people – mostly women and not all straight, but very white. It's something we talk about a lot when we are hiring – it’s not okay that we are just getting white candidates, and if that is the case, then guess what: that is our fault. I keep going back to this reality that representation matters. As we add more people to the team, we’re are trying to do a much better job of making sure we’re recruiting folks who are not a bunch of white people.
In some ways it feels like the beer industry is behind. Other industries have been talking about these issues and working them out, but the beer industry, even though the history of beer is that women made the beer and it was a much more agrarian –
It’s not the first time white straight men have taken something that has existed and commercialized it to their advantage and started owning that. Let’s be honest about that, it happens all the time.
A lot more needs to happen industry-wide. But I will say, this past year, the Brewer’s Association, which is the national trade organization for small independent breweries, formed a diversity committee. I am a member of that committee. Starting out we’re aiming to do three things. One, we need to take a hard look at data to learn what our industry actually looks like. Two, once we have that information, we need to come up with ways to improve upon the diversity that we have. And lastly, how are we going to improve the way we market and sell our products to people who are not just straight white men? There is both a moral and economic argument for why this is important. However, the first thing we have to do is collect the data on ourselves.
One thing that I would love for the Brewer’s Association to do is to create an internal training manual that teaches us how to recruit a more diverse team, and how to be more aware of internal biases and prejudices. A next step could be to hire somebody who is a professional at diversity training, and ask them to create a train-the-trainer program for 25-30 ambassadors – perhaps BA members who volunteer for the position – who can go out to the state guilds and train breweries on these topics. I'd love to have resources like this for how we can do better.
What style of beer do you think is most overrated right now?
New England IPA. I only say it’s overrated because I don’t think it’s been done well by enough breweries to have the hype that it does, although everyone and their mother is now marketing their products as if they are the next hot NEIPA, even if it isn't. I have had some that I enjoy and recognize that it is difficult to make well. One of the things I think is really cool about American craft beer is that we are throwing out all the rules. But I will respect a brewery a lot more if they learn to make that style traditionally first and really fucking kill it, and then say, “we’re going to add a twist.” If you just did it that way first, is it because you put a twist on it or because you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing?
What was the last beer you drank?
The most recent one I remember was at Gilly’s, which is a bottle shop in Rockville that just celebrated their 9-year anniversary, which is totally badass, by the way. They had four or five breweries out to pour beer for people and had a big anniversary party. Oliver Brewing was sitting right next me and they brought their Balls to the Wall Pale Ale, so I enjoyed that one.
I know Oliver makes great beer, but that’s one of the beers that I’m like, as a name, I’m just not gonna drink that.
No, the name is horrible. It’s stupid. But it’s a great pale ale – if I’m gonna have a pale ale, it’s everything I want in a pale ale.
What’s in your fridge right now?
I think I have some Sixpoint. I have some Corona, some Atlas 1500 Lager, some Boulevard…I think it’s their DIPA The Calling. I’ve got some DC Brau Pilsner. And, I’ve got Dank-N-Sticky from Black Flag.
You have a lot of beer in your fridge.
With running wholesale, I do a lot of deliveries to different stores, and I always look around. I’m picking up beers all the time and Emily is like, “we don’t have room for this shit! Cold storage matters!”
What are some of your favorite local beers?
I love Port City’s Porter and DC Brau's Porter. Atlas just dropped this Blood Orange Gose which is so fucking good. There is another local brewery that I really like, and I can’t necessarily tell you the one beer that’s my favorite, but I think they are putting out a lot of solid consistent beers, and that’s Caboose in Virginia. I like 3 Stars Citra Lemon Saison. Waredaca, a Montgomery County farm brewery makes a really good stout called Reveille. I think Manor Hill is putting out a lot of really good beers. Sorry, I could keep going. I’m going to stop now.
The apocalypse happens and you can only have one beer. What would it be?
If I’m picking one of my beers I’d say the Southside Rye IPA. If I’m not picking one of my beers I would drink the Grisette by Manor Hill.
You’re at a mainstream grocery store and in a pinch. What beer do you pick up?
Are there other questions that if you were me, you would want to ask?
What keeps you up at night? If you were given unlimited cash to do whatever you wanted what would you do with it? These are two questions that I was asked recently by someone interviewing for a job at Denizens and I thought they were really smart.
What keeps you up at night, and if you were given unlimited cash to do whatever you wanted, what would you do with it?
What keeps me up at night is making sure that we are always doing what we say we are going to do. I get really nervous sometimes that we are overextended and aren't able to give the best customer service possible with such a small team.
If I had unlimited money, I'd pay off all the debt we have and buy out all the investors in our company. Then I would build out a kickass beer garden roof area that can be used year round. I would give everyone on staff a raise. I would somehow increase the square footage in our building so we could add larger tanks and be able to make all the beer we want. I would do all these things simultaneously. I answered the job candidate somewhat differently in the interview, but I have been thinking about my answers since then.