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The newest batch of young guns in Colorado's brewing industry wear pink boots

Natalie Lesko.
Natalie Lesko.

It's not easy to get a boot in the door of the craft-brewing industry. It's even more difficult for women since breweries, with a few notable exceptions, are boys' clubs. But despite the stereotypes, there are plenty of ladies who love suds just as much as guys do, and they've made some serious strides -- as owners or managers or accountants -- in sales and marketing and quality control. Today the national Pink Boots Society, which advocates for women in the industry, has a couple hundred members.

The last frontier is the brewhouse floor. Over the past two years, however, a handful of women have pushed their way in, and there are now at least ten women in Colorado who brew beer as a significant part of their job descriptions. To find out what that's like, we profiled six of them. You can ready their stories on the next few pages.

See also: - Golden City's Sarah Henderson may be the only female head brewer in Colorado - Wynkoop Brewing hires Bess Dougherty as its first female brewer in 24 years - The Pink Boots Society: Women with a passion for beer

Ashleigh Carter with Prost head brewer Bill Eye.
Ashleigh Carter with Prost head brewer Bill Eye.
Prost Brewing Facebook page

Ashleigh Carter Prost Brewing Denver Age: 27

Westword: What is your brewing experience?

Ashleigh Carter: More than a year at Dry Dock Brewing in Aurora; the past four months at Prost.

What is your brewing education and regular education?

BA in Pure Mathematics. No formal brewery training, but mentored on the job by Bill Eye (formally of Dry Dock, now head brewer at Prost).

What do you like about brewing?

I would have to say it is the physicality of the job mixed with the need to always be constantly using your brain to problem-solve. I love the technical aspects of brewing. Specifically, I am brewing on a fifty-year-old copper brewhouse from Germany. I love being able to use techniques such as decoction on every beer, and brewing traditional lagers the way that it is done Germany.

Whats the most challenging/rewarding parts of being a woman in the brewhouse?

The most challenging part is probably when people come and visit your brewery or you are out at industry functions and they introduce themselves to all the dudes around you and literally just ignore me. Bill and I are the only brewers at Prost and we joke about it a lot because someone will come up and talk to Bill about our brewery and look at me like I'm his secretary (even Bill started to notice it). The most rewarding, though, is being able to pave the way for other females in the industry though talks, Pink Boots Society and just meeting as many people as I can. I love beer and brewing and being to share that passion is an awesome experience.

Favorite beer styles to drink and brew?

Not only because of where I work, I love making German beer, specifically lager. There's nothing like getting up in the morning and rolling into work, being the only one in the building a knocking out a double decocted Dunkel on an all copper seventy-hl, fifty-year-old brewhouse; doesn't get much cooler than that. With that being said, I obviously drink and love German beer. But to be honest, I like everything and am glad that brewers are making sours, Belgians, IPAs, barley wines and all different types of beer.

What is your ultimate goal in the industry?

My ultimate goal is to make perfect beer. Sure, I'd like to win a few medals, become a brewmaster, and influence the beer community with lager beer. But in the end it's about the beer; that's all that matters and I want the beer that I brew to be perfect.

 

Natalie Lesko
Natalie Lesko

Natalie Lesko Funkwerks Fort Collins Age: 23

Westword: What is your brewing experience?

Natalie Lesko: Homebrewer since June 2010. Hired into production at Funkwerks in March 2012 and began brewing in August. In addition to brewing, I have the privilege of developing cellaring and quality-control processes. I really look forward to contributing and growing more with the company and am ecstatic that we were named the Best Small Brewing Company and Best Small Brewing Company Team this year at the GABF.

What is your brewing education and regular education?

Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, Colorado State University. During my undergraduate career, I was able to enroll in the Brewing Science and Technology class taught by Dr. Jack Avens. His course opened so many doors for me and I gained a true appreciation of the brewing industry through shadowing several brewers in Fort Collins and Boulder. I made it my mission to be hired into the brewhouse at a brewery, because I knew that it was what I was meant to do. After graduating, I worked in a lab in the biochemistry department at CSU with Saccharomyces cerevisiae (commonly known as brewer's yeast) until I was offered a job at Funkwerks.

What do you like about brewing?

I am a scientist and engineer at heart, so I absolutely love being able to apply that to my work every day. I also thrive where there is an opportunity for growth and challenge. I am the type of person that loves to be challenged by work and very rarely say "I can't do that" or let someone tell me that I can't do something. One of the things I love most about brewing, though, is the sense of camaraderie in the industry. There is always an opportunity to learn and collaborate with others, and I find comfort in knowing that it will probably always be that way.

What's the most challenging/rewarding parts of being a woman in the brewhouse?

It is extremely rewarding to be able to contribute to such a small brewery. We only have eleven employees at Funkwerks, four in the brewhouse. I get to have my hands on every portion of the brewing process -- from milling and brewing all the way through cellaring and packaging. I really care about every beer that is produced here and it is incredible how much every member of the Funkwerks family devotes to the process.

The only challenge I have seen so far is in dealing with individuals outside of Funkwerks who are still under the impression that women are not knowledgeable on the subject of beer and can't brew. However, I have always been the type of person to take something like that as a challenge, and I cannot emphasize enough how lucky I am that my bosses and coworkers have so much faith and trust in me. They have never questioned my physical or mental capabilities in the brewhouse and I will always be grateful for that. I am 5' 1" and 115 pounds and am honored to be part of the Best Small Brewing Company Team of the year. I don't have a problem lifting 55 pound bags of grain. If something needs to be done, I will find a way to do it. Women can and will continue to brew, that's the way it is.

Favorite beer styles to drink and brew?

Belgian beers have won my heart all around. I will always enjoy both drinking and brewing saisons, but am excited about how awesome and funky some of our other yeast strains are. I really love a lot of the esters and phenolics they produce, making a lot of beers very complex.

What is your ultimate goal in the industry?

Ultimately, I want to make sure that I am continually challenged, learning and growing. Right now, I see myself continuing to grow and contribute to Funkwerks. It is the best job I have ever had and can honestly say that I put my heart and soul into every aspect of the brewery that I am a part of. I see a lot of opportunity for myself there in the future, especially since it is still a young brewery.

 

Bess Dougherty
Bess Dougherty

Bess Dougherty Wynkoop Brewing Denver Age: 27

Westword: What is your brewing experience (in years and places)?

Bess Dougherty: Honestly, I am kind of a newb as far as brewing goes. I have been at Wynkoop for about six months now. Before Wynkoop, I had just been homebrewing for about four years.

What is your brewing education and regular education?

I completed the Concise Course in Brewing Technology from the Siebel Institute this past spring. I also have an associate of the arts from Front Range and am planning on heading back to school next fall for a degree in philosophy from UCD because I am a nerd. A nerd who likes to make beer and happens to be a girl.

What do you like about brewing?

I love the combination of science and creativity. There are certain rules that a brewers must follow, but when it comes to recipes and ingredient usage the sky is the limit. I also like the physicality of the work and the gratification of consuming the labors of your love.

What's the most challenging/rewarding parts of being a woman in the brewhouse?

For me, the biggest challenge is being taken seriously as a brewer. The people I work with are great; it is the consumers who I feel I have to justify myself to them. Part of my normal work week includes guiding tours on Saturdays. In this interaction, people constantly ask where the brewer who is supposed to give the tour is. When I tell them that I am the brewer, I get mixed reactions of excitement and disappointment.

The most rewarding part of being in the brew house would also have to be the consumer interaction. I have had many customers, male and female, tell me how inspiring it is seeing a lady push her way into a career in what is generally considered a boys' club. My favorite is getting e-mails from these folks weeks or even months later, telling me of the changes they have made in their lives to follow their dreams. Nothing beats the feeling of knowing that you helped inspire someone to make a life change.

Favorite beer styles to drink and brew?

I love brewing anything new. I love our normal recipes, but getting the chance to make the small batch 'fun' stuff is really swell. Honestly, brew days are my favorite days no matter what I'm brewing.

As far as drinking goes, I love saisons, sours and super-thick and boozy stouts. Every so often I need a good IPA to get my hop fix.

What is your ultimate goal in the industry?

As of right now my goal in the industry is to make beers that can be someone's go-to beer. I also hope to focus on consumer education; I would love to educate people and reach out to people new to the craft-beer scene. I think that fostering a sense of community between producers and consumers of craft beer is key to continued growth.

 

Sydney Skilken
Sydney Skilken

Sydney Skilken TRVE Brewing Denver Age: 25

Westword: What is your brewing experience?

Sydney Skilken: TRVE is my first job in the brewing industry. [TRVE owner] Nick Nunns was crazy and generous enough to take a chance on me based on my enthusiasm and not my brewing experience (or lack thereof). I've homebrewed for a couple years and spent time studying and drinking and reading on my own.

What is your brewing education and regular education?

BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Tufts University. I have no formal brewing education. Again, reading, homebrewing and drinking as many different beers as I could.

What do you like about brewing?

The intricacies and the possibilities. Learning the ins and outs of the processes and all of the ways that slight changes interact and alter the final outcome is really fun. Also, the physicality of the process. I've found few things as satisfying recently as when I sit down after a day of brewing or kegging and can have a beer that I've helped make. I always feel exhausted, but it tastes so good.

What's the most challenging/rewarding parts of being a woman in the brewhouse?

I'm fortunate to work in a place where being a woman doesn't really affect how I'm treated. I've occasionally encountered a few individuals who have scoffed or seemed skeptical of my position in the industry, but it is extremely rare. What's rewarding is doing something I really enjoy and hopefully helping other women to get into beer if they feel so inclined, but maybe had felt intimidated or excluded. The support I've experienced from women I don't know coming into the brewery far outweighs anyone who has had any skepticism or criticism.

Favorite beer styles to drink and brew?

To drink? Right now, session beers. Historically they are 4.5 percent ABV or lower (this number is debated), and there is a resurgence in craft breweries across the country in the popularity of low alcohol and full flavored and interesting beers. I love the idea of it. It focuses on community and interaction and enjoying delicious beer. To brew? I guess it changes. It's always fun to brew something I've never brewed before, so when we have a new beer scheduled I'm always looking forward to that.

What is your ultimate goal in the industry?

Right now, I'm really enjoying just learning and being a part of this industry. It's all very new to me, so I'm having an awesome time with what I've got on my plate. Down the road, we'll see. I'd like to keep making beer and drinking beer too, and hanging out with some really great people in the process.

 

Sarah Henderson
Sarah Henderson

Sarah Henderson Golden City Brewing Golden 25

Westword: What is your brewing experience?

Sarah Henderson: Nearly three years as the assistant brewer at Golden City Brewing before becoming head brewer last fall; six-week internship at Avery Brewing in Boulder; four years of homebrewing.

What is your brewing education and regular education?

American Brewers Guild in 2010; graduated Colorado School of Mines with a degree in engineering, mechanical specialty.

What do you like about brewing?

I love brewing because I get to produce a great product that everyone enjoys. It's like being a chef, but I'm making great beers. I love cooking and food and beers that go along with the food as well. It's so much fun to have total control over making exactly the beer that I want and then sharing it with everyone.

Whats the most challenging/rewarding parts of being a woman in the brewhouse?

The most rewarding part of being a woman in the brewhouse is producing something everyone loves that they haven't tried before. The hardest part is being short, haha. The brewhouse was built for someone over six feet, and I am not that tall!

Favorite beer styles to drink and brew?

I love to mix unique spices and ingredients into the beers. I'm looking forward to getting more into sours and barrel-aged beers as well.

What is your ultimate goal in the industry?

I think my ultimate goal would be to implement my major into my career by consulting breweries on design and efficiency.

 

Reva Golden
Reva Golden

Reva Golden Twisted Pine Brewing Boulder 27

Westword: What is your brewing experience?

Reva Golden: I've been in the industry since 2007. I have degrees in biology and chemistry and I did quality control work at Coors. But I was a homebrewer at the time and I wanted to learn how to do the beer-making part of it, so I enrolled in the American Brewers Guild and apprenticed at Oskar Blues. Two years ago, I started brewing fulltime at Newport Storm in Rhode Island. I've been at Twisted Pine since May.

What is your brewing and regular education?

Biology and chemistry degrees from Metro State in Denver; American Brewers Guild science and engineering program. The program gives you all the science and chemistry and gets you linked in with the industry, so you can network.

What do you like about brewing?

I really like the smell of warm wort in the morning. The aromas of brewing are one of the coolest things. But I also like the amount of activity that you can do in a day. I like the physical nature of it, getting to run around. I prefer the heavy lifting and getting all sweaty and dirty. Since I have a quality-control background, I like making sure I am hitting target gravity ranges, practicing proper technique, and achieving the personal and quality goals for the brew day. Over brewing, I love filtering.

What's the most challenging/rewarding parts of being a woman in the brewhouse?

The most challenging part is waking up at 5:30 in the morning, but that is true whether you are a dude or a chick. I think it is cool that you can start at a new brewery and people look at you a little crooked, but when you show your stuff, you get respect. At Twisted Pine, there are a lot of cool women here who give you support.

What are your favorite beer styles to drink and brew?

I really like drinking darker beers such as our Northstar Imperial Porter and anything that isn't necessarily given to a certain style. Newport Storm brewed a Mayan-themed beer with chiles and chocolate. I like it how we have Ghost Face Killah, because it doesn't really have a specific genre. As for brewing, I feel like, for the most part, since I have a lot of experience in production brewing, I like the the ones you can get done in the day. I just like getting to brew.

What is your ultimate goal in the industry?

For me right now, it would be to continue to brewing at the level where I am still up with all the new technology and methodology and technique and practice. I'd also like to get a more specific quality program going. I brew four days a week here...but this is something I would do on my rest day.

The newest batch of young guns in Colorado's brewing industry wear pink boots

Follow Westword 's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan and on Facebook at Colo BeerMan


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