The world of craft beer opened up for Erica DeAnda four years ago during a tasting class at a high-end brew pub in Oakland, California.
A recent hire, the owners had DeAnda and her coworkers taste a variety of brews so they could more aptly describe them to their customers.
“I knew nothing about beer at that point except for I did not like it at all. You know, it was disgusting. Give me a pink drink, I don’t want beer,” DeAnda recalled. “One of our first training days they had us trying some really fancy bottles. I remember trying a beer and … it had like this oaky, kind of tart — it almost reminded of like chardonnay — and I just was in awe that this was beer. It wasn’t bitter. It wasn’t harsh. It was kind of like sweet and just had all these different characteristics.”
As they sampled beer after beer, DeAnda was amazed by how much the person leading the training knew about beer.
It was then that she decided she needed to learn more. So, for the next four years she immersed herself in the world of brewing.
She started by shadowing the head brewer at the brew pub she was working at, doing anything she could to absorb the lingo and language of brewing.
“He would let me come into the brewery, he would let me sweep the floor. He would let me hang around before my shifts and … I would follow him around like a little puppy,” DeAnda said. “It was just a great way to kind of expose myself to brewery life.”
After that, she worked at a tap room in San Francisco, then took a job on a packaging line at a neighboring brewery kegging beer for eight hours a day. But her foray into brewing really took off when she met a woman named Alisha Blue, brewer memoratus at Freewheel Brewing Company in Redwood City, California.
When DeAnda found out Blue was hiring, she jumped at the opportunity.
“It was one of the best brewery jobs I’ve ever had,” DeAnda said. “It was just me and Alisha in the brewery. We were a small, English cask ale brew house, and her and I just dominated. We just brewed the beer, we packaged it together, we worked really well together.”
After that, DeAnda moved to Minocqua to take a head brewing job at the Minocqua Brewing Company. The move from Oakland to Minocqua proved to be what DeAnda called a “huge culture shock.” So, she and her fiancé ended up moving to Madison instead, where she began brewing for Octopi Brewing in Waunakee.
Now 28, DeAnda is a fulltime brewer and the chapter president of Wisconsin’s Pink Boots Society — an international nonprofit that supports women working in the brewing profession.
DeAnda took over as chair in August 2018 and hopes to grow the society’s membership across the state.
“We had about 36 people when I took over. We’re up to a whopping 44, so you know we’re getting there,” DeAnda said. “The state is very small, and it is spread out … I came from California where … we had a chapter for almost every city — Wisconsin is the whole state, so we’re just trying to grow and get our numbers up and get more people into the society.”
For DeAnda, having a space for women to connect with other women in the industry is a powerful thing.
“It’s been a big inspiration to meet other women who work in this industry, and not only work but are dominating this industry, especially when it’s kind of a boys club so to speak,” said DeAnda. “Just seeing what they were accomplishing and seeing how dedicated they were to their job, it was like ‘I want to do that and I can do that.’”
Beyond creating a platform for women in the beer industry, DeAnda says the Pink Boots Society — and the rise in women brewers — is transforming beer culture.
“With the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment in the brew house is kind of becoming like a big, prominent issue. I’ve been reading a lot of stories about brewers who have harassed bartenders and things like that and I think … women can be a power house to kind of knock some of these things that have been disregarded for so long,” DeAnda said.
But she was quick to point out that the women involved in the Pink Boots Society aren’t trying to shut their male colleagues out.
“There’s a misconception that we’re all these feminists and we don’t want boys in the club and things like that. We do. We want allies. We want people supporting us. We’re not these hardcore feminists who are like, ‘Oh my god, no,’” DeAnda said. “We’re just trying to encourage other people and to push anybody into this beer industry. Just help advance women’s careers as much as we possibly can and I think that that’s an amazing, amazing thing.”
And for the up-and-coming women brewers out there, DeAnda said to never stop trying.
“I always like to say when someone shuts a door in your face, just go through the window. Don’t let anybody tell you, ‘No, you can’t do it.’ Also, don’t stand in your own way either … keep pushing yourself as hard as you can and you can get there. It just takes a lot of hard work,” DeAnda said. “If you really dedicate your time to it, you can be a force to be reckoned with in the beer industry.”
This story was part of WPR’s High Tolerance series, a look at Wisconsin’s relationship with alcohol.
SONG: “Why Can’t Women Have A Good Beer Drinking Song?” by Barbara Perry