Jamie Baertsch brews beer and she would say, “It’s a lot better than sitting at a desk all day.” If you ask Jamie how she became a brewmaster she will say “dumb luck.” All that’s missing is the wink and nod. A little luck perhaps along with her family heritage would be the longer answer. Baertsch credits her German roots, “I’m German and from Wisconsin, so I guess it’s kind of hard not to become a brewmaster.”
The truth be told it took a lot of hard work and one major milestone because beer had been taboo for women for so long. Baertsch said, when she got started she didn’t know anything about beer. She attended Madison Area Technical College and studied biotech. It was in a bio-reaction class that Baertsch discovered brewing, “All we did in the whole class was make beer. My teachers were all home brewers and were like, you’re really good at this, you should be a brewer. I was just like, “Whaaaat? This is a job?” Baertsch is quick to point out that her high school guidance counselors never told her she could go to school and major in beer. Working with yeast, hops and different grains sounded way better to her than being a genetic scientist and going into the bio-tech field.
The decision to become a brewer was easy, getting a job was much harder. Jamie says she applied to every brewery in Wisconsin and was rejected from every one. So she decide to try again at the Wisconsin Dells Brewing Company where she volunteered to work for free. Jamie remembers that experience fondly, “I think they just thought I’d leave some day because all I did was scrub floors, polish tanks, carry heavy things.”
Three years later in 2005 she marked a milestone and with her trademark humor (insert tongue into cheek) she calls it the luckiest break in the world. Jamie Baertsch was hired as the first female brewmaster in Wisconsin. Baertsch said, “I was the last person that was willing to work this hard for that little of money and free beer.”
It’s a small time craft beer operation where Baertsch runs her own canning and bottling machines in the tourist driven Wisconsin Dells. “I think Miller spills more beer on the floor during a shift than I make in a year. I’m pretty sure of that.” Come summer time Wisconsin Dells is a party everyday – but Jamie say the biggest misconception about beer brewing is that the job is a party every day. Baertsch is quick to point out the hazards. Baertsch said, “It’s really dangerous work. I work with chemicals, high pressurized tanks, things where you can lose a finger on the canning line.” She operates a canning machine affectionately known as “Jack the Ripper” because of the can carnage it can inflict at a moment’s notice. Baertsch said, “You’re off just a hair, it makes you pay the price. All this equipment will kill you. It’s not a party, you need a level of professionalism.”
Baertsch’s duties also include all the book keeping from taxes to keeping records of everything that happens to every batch of beer from recipe to the date it was made and how it was made. And for the record, as a female brewer in a big boy industry, Baertsch is making quite an impression and for good reason. She won a silver medal for my Rustic Red at the Great American Beer Festival and was chosen to speak at the 2008 Craft Brewers Conference.
Baertsch will be the first to tell you that without the men in this business she wouldn’t be where she is today. Baertsch said, I’m literally here because I’m standing on the shoulders of all the guys in Wisconsin that helped push me up. The guys have always been so supportive every single one of them encouraged me, helped me and that’s really nice.
In addition to her bio-tech degree from MATC Baertsch graduated from a Master Brewing and Malting Program. She said, “It is hard because women aren’t normally pushed towards the sciences and math, and that’s what I use every day here.”
Baertsch says look at the history of brewing and you’ll see it was always the woman’s job in Europe’s golden age to make the daily ale. Just like they made the daily bread. Women continued the role of being the brewer really until the middle ages until the industrial revolution. Baertsch said, “It really wasn’t until monks took and turned it into an industry and made those darn barrels so heavy that none of us could lift them anymore, that then-it stepped away from being woman’s work.”
Despite that history, Baertsch was Wisconsin’s lone female brewmaster until 2012 and for a long time was the only female brewmaster in the Midwest. Baertsch said, “I was pretty lonely. It was me and all the boys at the meetings.” Not anymore Baertsch not only was the first female brewmaster she’s leading the way for other women in brewing. Baertsch is a founding member of the Pink Boots Society which supports women in the brewing industry. She no longer stands alone. Other Wisconsin women are following her lead.
One event that brings women together is the recent tapping of a new beer called “Common Thread”. It’s a celebration centered around a batch of brew that a group of Wisconsin female brewers made together. Baertsch said it’s a whole new game, “Now, you’re seeing women being brewers, assistant brewers, running packaging lines, these are things. You didn’t see ten years ago.”
Wisconsin first female brewmaster has an optimistic and positive outlook, where the “glass is always half full” and she can’t imagine brewing anywhere else but Wisconsin because it’s a family thing. Baertsch said, “When the Germans immigrated here they put barley in the fields right away, they put hops in the fields. It is something about culture and family and beer brewing that ties us all together here in Wisconsin.” And as a German-American Baertsch embraces the tradition. She said, “Like who doesn’t want to be a brew master?”