Among the dozens of craft breweries around Wisconsin, women run the show in only three of them.
Jamie Baertsch has been brewmaster at Wisconsin Dells Brewing since 2005. She discovered her passion while studying biology in college.
“I didn’t drink beer and didn’t know anything about it. But we had bioreactions class, and I don’t know how they wrote up the course syllabus, that the dean didn’t know what we were doing, but all we did was make beer in the class. And I was good at it. I was doing tricks with my yeast, so instead of getting a nut brown that would be like 6 percent, I was turning it into imperial porters with nine percent, and the teachers were like, ‘wow, and you could be a brewer!’ I was like,’that’s a job option?!'” says Baertsch.
Allyson Rolph has three years under her belt as head brewer at the Thirsty Pagan, a brewpub in Superior. She began as a homebrewer.
“I just kind of getting into fermentation in general, and then really got into making beer specifically. I love brewing, the whole process, [and] the whole social aspect of it, just being able to walk out into our pub and talk to the people that are drinking my beers is fantastic,” says Rolph.
Ashley Kinart started at Capital Brewery in 2012. She took over last year as brewmaster at the large Middleton-based operation.
“I really love that beer is both a science and an art,” says Kinart. “The industry itself has so many different areas that you can become a part of. Especially the craft industry right now. There’s just so many things everybody’s focusing on. There’s the quality. Using local ingredients. Using local vendors. Or just coming up with something fun and new.”
Brewing may be fun but it’s also a job, requiring a host of skills and a “can-do” approach. Baertsch describes herself as “a jack of all trades.”
“I get to know enough electrical to be dangerous. I do lab work, chemistry all day long. Math. You get to work with the TTB [the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau], and the state on regulatory issues,” explains Baertsch. “I’m not just stuck behind a desk. You physically get to touch things, move things, there’s engineering involved, you’re always tweaking things, building, creating, so you’re constantly creating, trouble-shooting, solving. Even though we do pretty much test, brew, filter, package, brew, filter, package, every day is different, every day is challenging. So it definitely does not get boring or stale.”
Kinart is currently involved more in the ordering and scheduling rather than making beer. But she began in the brewhouse, lifting grain sacks, hauling 40-to-50 pound boxes of hops, and shoveling grain. It was hard work but she loved it.
“It is a lot of hard work and it is pretty exhausting at certain times of the year when production is up at the highest [level],” says Kinart. “Sometimes we’re pretty close to brewing around the clock.”
But brewing is also very rewarding. Baertsch emphasizes how much one’s personality can affect the beer.
“Brewing is so creative. And it’s really like a great haiku,” explains Baertsch. “It doesn’t change much from recipe. Looking at a blank slate, looking from one recipe on paper to the next. They can look very similar. A bock recipe wrote down can look very much like an Oktoberfest recipe. But it’s the little things that the brewer, the inflections that the brewer puts into it. Maybe it’s the water temp in the mash. It obviously has to do with your water chemistry. It’s the timing of how long you might boil, or when you tend to add in the hops. It’s all these little personal inputs that you put into the beer that’ll make yours so much different from everyone else.”
For Rolph, the brew day itself is a simple pleasure.
“There’s nothing like mashing in super early with that, and sitting down on the brew deck while the mash is running in, and smelling all those flavors, and getting to drink my coffee, and breaking in your day with that, that’s definitely my favorite part is, just being able to sit back and smell those aromas, taste those flavors, and really enjoy what I do,” says Rolph. “I mean we clean a lot, we spray stuff with hoses, we scrub stuff, but really at the end of the day, we’re making beer, and I can’t think of a job that I would rather be doing.”