Talking With OC's Woman Brewers: The Grit and the Glamour
Photo by Jessica McNew Anaheim Brewery during International Women's Collaborative Brew Day
A one-ton pallet of grain arrives outside the Tustin Brewing Company. All 40 sacks must be carried one at a time up the long flight of stairs for storage. Any glamour associated with beer brewing quickly drowns in the sweat of the brewer's brow. The work is so grueling and so time consuming that the grain distributors hide candy bars in between the sacks of barley and wheat for whoever must lug the 2,200 pounds of grain from one place to another -- typically the assistant brewer.
But at Tustin Brewing Co., the assistant brewer isn't the typical burly beast of a man that most people imagine when they imagine a brewer; it's 5-foot-tall Tina Thompson.
For the past eight months, Thompson has been the only assistant to head brewer Jerrod Larsen. At Tustin Brewing Co., brew days begin at 5 a.m., and although Thompson despises waking up early for anything, she jumps out of bed to brew.
"It's physical work and it's hard work but I think it's really rewarding," Thompson says. "At the end of the day, you're like 'Wow, I worked my butt off,' but it feels good."
The oldest record of the brewing process dates back to Ancient Egypt, where women--not men--were depicted in hieroglyphics as brewers. This ancient recipe of mixing barley and water in a kettle have nourished the men from the pyramids of Giza to the pastures of the US, and it was all at the hands of women.
Women in America have slowly started inching their way back into the world of beer after getting pushed out during the Industrial Revolution, when men and machines took over. In recent history, everything from female brewing organizations to the variety of beer styles have helped nudge women closer and closer toward craft beer.
There are various clubs where women meet in Southern California, but the most notable all-women organization stretches worldwide: The Pink Boots Society. Originally founded specifically for women working in the beer industry, the Pink Boots Society now also recruits more women into talking about, drinking, and brewing craft beer.
Photo by Cleo Tobbi The Dix's garage brewery, MAD Brewery
Kristie Dix lives in a pleasant housing community that overlooks a serene lake in Mission Viejo. She has a number of hobbies, including cooking, hosting Bible study, and brewing her own beer.
Her skills in the kitchen feed her family heartily and that talent spilled over when the mother of three decided to pick up brewing about two years ago. It all began when Dix's youngest son, Joshua, bought her a simple brewing kit for Christmas from Williams Sonoma.
"[The grain] was expired so we returned it, did a Groupon from Midwest Brewing and they sent us two whole kits on accident," says Dix. "They said to keep it so we laughed and [I] said, 'One for me, one for Martin, my husband.'"
Recipes always help when it comes to brewing, but Dix certainly doesn't need any. She constructs her beer by taste. And if Dix does follow a recipe, like when she did to make Dogfish Head Brewery's Midas Touch, she goes to any length necessary to precisely reconstruct the beer.
For example, Midas Touch calls for honey, saffron, white muscat grape, and barley. Dix picked thyme honey from a local farmer and ordered her saffron direct from Spain. All she knew was that the beer was 60 percent wheat, 20 percent mead, and 20 percent muscat wine. When complete, the only difference between Dix's Midas Touch and Dogfish's was the brew site.
Brewsters who hunt for ingredients like Dix does do not use cheap beginner's brewing kits. The Dixes recently remodeled their home to turn their garage into a microbrewery, complete with name. MAD Brewery, what they hope to name the brewery of their dreams, is titled after her husband Martin's initials.
But despite producing well made beer in a high-tech micro brewery, Dix didn't convince the men in home brew clubs of her ability right away.
"Everyone in [the club] just thought I was the wife that showed up," Dix says. However, once the members learned that she could lead a conversation about brewing, they were more fascinated in the talk than anything else.
While Dix does much of the work beforehand, her husband joins her for each brew day. Her meticulous preparation and heightened palate have won Team Dix best of show and first place at the OC Fair and another first at the OC Fest of Ales.
But although the Dixes enter both of their names into each competition together, only Martin's ever makes it onto the awards.