Whose Brews?   Our Brews!

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

 Nicole Bachant

Nicole Bachant

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Nicole Bachant
Sales Representative, Old Bust Head Brewing Company
Vint Hill Farms, VA

How did you get into beer?
I grew up and went to school in Alabama. I worked in a mom and pop pizza shop throughout college, and we constantly had a rotating draft selection. We might have been tiny, but we had some bombass beers in there.

After I graduated in 2014, I was all about the craft brewery scene. We had a local brewpub, and I just walked in one day and found the brewmaster and said, “Can I come intern with you for free?” I mean, completely on a whim – I’ve never done anything like that before. So I worked with him from January of 2015 until June of 2015, and then I moved here. My sister lives in NoVa, and she said, “The craft brewery scene is booming compared to Alabama, so come live with us for a bit.” I worked at a restaurant the first two months I was here, and then I got the job with Old Bust Head that August and the rest is history.

I think my parents were a little taken aback when I said I was going to go into this industry because I have a bachelors in biology. I’m a total nerd when it comes to this field, but my parents thought I was more on the track for med school. Once I explained how it made me happy, they said, “Well, that makes us happy, too.” They support me 100%.

Do you remember the first beer you ever had?
I want to say it was one of my dad’s Red Dogs. If it wasn’t Red Dog, it was Miller Lite. I’ve got him drinking better beer now.

What was the first beer that turned you on to craft beer?
It was from a brewery in Birmingham, Alabama called Avondale. It was their Spring Street Saison. I could not get enough of it. It was an hour and a half drive and me and my friends would go up every other weekend just to go drink their beer.

Going from production to sales seems like a 180. How do they compare?
Production is pretty strenuous, and I don’t miss the 14-hour kegging days, but most of the time I could start work at 7:30 a.m. and be done by 4 p.m. Sales is a completely different animal. I have to be out when the bars are open, so my day might start at 11 a.m. and not end until 11 p.m. I love the people aspect of it, though, because when I was brewing, we would brew with the same three people Monday through Friday - thankfully, I adore those three people and we helped each other get through some long, grueling days. Now I get to meet new people all the time and talk to people about the beer I used to make.

Having brewed before has been really helpful in my job now. Some buyers are really interested in the process for brewing the beer and others just want what’s hot, which is fine. But I’ll say, “If you have any questions about the beer, I used to brew for them, so I can tell you more about it.” And I’ll get the dog head tilt, like, “What, you used to brew for them?” People sometimes think brewers are anti-social and don’t want to talk.

And that they are enormous.
Yeah, I’m like, sorry I don’t have a beard and tattoos. It’s fun to surprise people.

How else has your experience as a young woman in a very male industry taken shape?
I have noticed that some people don’t take a woman’s opinion on a beer as highly as they would a man’s. I wish that would change.

When I first started getting into this industry, because I knew it was predominantly male, I wanted to make sure people knew me by my personality and my work ethic. That’s what I wanted to shine the brightest. I think some people took me as, “Oh, you just want to stir the pot.” At least, back in Alabama, that’s what I got a lot.

Just your presence? Just by showing up you are read as instigating something?
Yeah. I was flagged for it. There was a lot of talking with people back home about why I chose to do this. I’ve gotten really lucky with everyone I’ve worked with, though, because they haven’t taken any pity on me. They’ve encouraged me to be on the same level as them, so I haven’t really had a lot of controversy within the industry, which is really refreshing, because on the outside it’s the opposite.

My sales manager, anytime we are in meetings together with a distributor or a new account, he makes sure my voice is heard just as much as anyone. That means so much to me. A lot of times, if I’m with a male counterpart, the person across the table directs all their questions to my colleague. That sucks, because I’m right here!

But it's like you are invisible.
Yeah. I’ve been very fortunate. I think having had brewing experience gives me a little bit more credibility, but it shouldn’t have to be that way.

What do you think would make the industry more inclusive?
I’m hoping that it’s starting to turn a little more. Women are making their presence known, and Pink Boots Society just created a DMV chapter. The Pink Boots Society have a brew every March for International Women’s Day that’s getting more awareness. So change is happening, but I hope it goes a little faster!

What is your experience as white person in a very white industry, and how do you try to counter racism?
I do wish that we had more races represented in this industry. There are more African American breweries coming up, and every time I’m, like, “Yes, I love it.” Any industry should be diverse. It shouldn’t be just a white people thing. We could do a better job of reaching out than we do. I don’t know if you’ve heard of what happened to Black Star Line?

I did, it’s heartbreaking.
It is. I follow them on Instagram and the forums I follow on Facebook were posting about what was happening, and it’s terrible. One, what do people care that much? I mean, you are going out of your way to hurt somebody. And two, they are human beings, and they are just trying to make beer!

I’m from North Carolina, and I felt like, damn, these are my people who are doing this.
Think about how I feel, being from Alabama. Oh my God! Sometimes I just whisper to people where I’m from because of all the political controversy.

Do you have Alabama pride, though?
When it comes to sweet tea and fried chicken, hell yeah I do. There are beautiful parts of Alabama. The hospitality and the food and the beaches. There’s good there. Unfortunately, when you are not living there, only the bad is portrayed.

What style of beer do you think is most overrated right now?
Last year was the year of the New England IPAs, and the double triple dry hopped and all that. I love them, but I want something I can have two or three of.

What’s in your fridge right now?
I’ve got some Epic’s sour IPA, some Ommegang, some Oskar Blues, the Death by Coconut, of course. A bunch of Old Bust Head beer, got to have that in my fridge. I just recently got the Big Bad Baptista from Epic, too. And some Vanish, they are in Lucketts, Virginia. They make amazing IPAs and they just made their first bourbon barrel aged stout called River Run.

The apocalypse happens and you can only have one kind of beer. What would it be?
Can I have two? Definitely Avery’s Liliko'i Kepolo – it’s so good, really tart, right up my ally, and Founders Breakfast Stout. So I’ve got a light and a dark.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Everybody love everybody and drink good beer. It’s not hard to be nice to people, and it’s definitely not hard to have a beer with someone.

BRB!

Bryan Van Den Oever

Bryan Van Den Oever