Ali Benetka, who has been an assistant brewer at Renegade Brewing only since January, was promoted to the top job this week, making her just the second female head brewer in Colorado and part of a growing number of women who wear the rubber boots.
A Denver native, Benetka had a year under her belt at Finch's Beer Company in Chicago -- along with a certificate from the Siebel Institute's brewing program -- when she decided to move back to Colorado to take the assistant brewer's job at Renegade.
See also: - All-female collaboration brew under way at the Wynkoop - The newest batch of young guns in Colorado's brewing industry wear pink boots - Golden City's Sarah Henderson may be the only female head brewer in Colorado
"I went away to school because I knew I'd end up moving back to Colorado," says Benetka, 24, who also has a biology degree from Chicago's Loyola University.
Just a few months after she was hired, however, Benetka had to take over temporarily when Renegade's previous head brewer suffered a rugby accident and couldn't work. "I called Ali on a Sunday night and said it was time to step up and take over until our head brewer could get back on his feet," says Renegade co-owner Brian O'Connell. "I showed her the ropes in an extremely fast crash course. She didn't bat an eye. And by end of the two weeks, she was standing completely on her own two feet."
So when the head brewer later quit to pursue another career, it was an easy decision to promote Benetka, O'Connell says: "It is surprising even to me that we have someone so young running the brewery, but she is capable and really showed us she could do it."
Just a year ago, there were no female head brewers in the state and very few women working in brewhouses -- although there are a substantial number of women involved in every other aspect of Colorado's 160-plus craft breweries.
That has begun to change in the past few months, however. Sarah Henderson was promoted to the top job at Golden City Brewery in November 2012, and a few months later, some of the state's female brewers joined forces to cook up two different collaboration beers, one at the Wynkoop and one at Kannah Creek.
"It's long overdue to see women getting into the industry. But it is finally starting to happen more and more," says O'Connell, who points out that 60 percent of Renegade's staffers are women, including his wife and co-owner, Khara O'Connell, and taproom manager and events director Laura Vande Zande.
"I know there are other female brewers in Colorado, but I still haven't met one," Benetka says. But she adds that the issue of gender isn't a big deal: "I got into this because I knew I wanted to brew.... I haven't seen any obstacles."
Benetka recently brewed the first beer of her own design, a hoppy American wheat, which should be on tap next week. She is also working on several smaller-batch beers.
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