I’ve spent roughly 8 years immersed in the wonderful world of Ontario craft beer. Through working at Black Oak Brewing, Collective Arts Brewing and now Henderson Brewing while simultaneously building The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies, I’ve met so many passionate, hard working womxn* who work at both breweries and companies the industry supports.
Womxn (it appears) are more involved than ever before in ‘front-of-house’ roles aka the marketing, sales, events, partnerships, accounting aspects of brewery life…and that’s great! There are a ton of womxn now in management and co-ownership positions too. But one area where there seems to continually lack progress is with womxn* brewers. I believe there needs to be more womxn representation in the ‘back-of-house’ roles aka the brewing and production areas. Time and time again, I’m left wondering: where are all the womxn brewers at? Are womxn being turned down in interviews when they apply? Are they applying at all? If they’re not applying, why is that? And for those that are working in brewing and production, do they feel valued and fulfilled? How is job retention and job enjoyment for these womxn? Are womxn feeling valued and treated with respect by their colleagues and management?**
Seeing as I operate The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies (aka North America’s largest community for womxn & beer) I feel I have a responsibility to raise this issue and devise ways to move the needle so we begin to see more womxn employed in brewing and production roles.
In my opinion, one way to begin to move the needle is to create space for and give a voice to the talented, passionate womxn rockstars currently working hard in the brewing and production spaces from coast-to-coast. Increasing visibility and highlighting womxn allows other womxn to picture what it would look like and allows them to see themselves reflected in these roles. It is by seeing yourself reflected that you can then visualize yourself also going down that path and making it happen.
So without further ado, I bring to you Taylor Mackenzie. Taylor is a brewer at Avling Brewery in the East End of Toronto. I checked in with Taylor to learn more about her world and her perspective. Check out what she had to say:
*using womxn as an inclusive term to represent folks who self-identify as female or would like to be included in that definition
**for purposes of this article, I am choosing to zoom in on womxn specifically but this disparity and these questions can really extend to BIPOC, LGBTQ+, First Nations folks and various other marginalized groups.
What got you interested in brewing?
After I finished my business degree, I did the classic ‘move to B.C.’ move to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It was there, working at a local craft beer bar in Kelowna that I discovered how interested I was in beer. I started researching brewing schools to go to and found that Niagara College brewing program was the best option. I was already thinking about moving back home at the time, and being from Hamilton, Niagara College was an easy decision. I got into the program on my first application and then started the beginning of my new career.
One fun and interesting thing to note is that when I was working at the craft beer bar in Kelowna (The Curious Café), the B.C. promoter for The Growler came to deliver copies of the new issue to our location. It was the first time I had seen the book, I loved it and I still have it to this day, Volume 2 Issue 1, 2016. In fact, it is sitting beside me as I write this right now. Being featured as a female brewer in Toronto now feels very full circle for me, and I couldn’t be happier.
How did you find a (brewing) home at Avling?
Thankfully I happened to be looking for a job while Avling was looking to hire. We found each other and I am super grateful for it. Avling’s core values are totally in-line with mine in terms of minimizing environmental impact and supporting local as much as possible.
One of my favourite parts of Avling (besides the brewery) is the rooftop garden and how we teach others about sustainability and how to grow your own food.
What is your day-to-day like?
Every day of the week is different, but week to week is relatively the same. We usually have 1-2 brew days a week, 1 canning day, 1 transfer day (from fermenter to brite tank), and one deep clean day. Working with a live product means that plans sometimes change on the fly, and you have to be prepared to have your whole schedule blow up and be completely altered. If your beer is not done fermenting, then you cannot crop yeast for the next brew which means you have to delay the brew, which prolongs your canning date, etc. Everything that happens in the brewery has a downstream effect on production. As of late we have been focusing a lot on our barrel beer production. It has been really fun adding different items such as fruit, wine skins, or for example, marigolds from the roof to the aging totes and seeing what interesting flavours develop.
Tell me something randomly interesting about you!
I really enjoy working with my hands (hence being a brewer) so I have a small side business called Trouble Maker where I make and sell all-natural soaps, lip balms and candles using beeswax sourced locally in Niagara. My mind craves creative outlets, so this and brewing keeps me pretty busy.
What was the process of getting hired as a brewer?
When I applied for the position, I wrote a very true to myself cover letter trying to stand out and stating that I was looking for a mentor. Luckily Brandon was also looking to teach, so we matched well. My first interview was more of a conversation than an interview. Something I’ve learned over the years is that people want to know if they will like working with you. You can teach anyone anything, but you cannot teach someone to have a good attitude. Being in such close quarters brewing just Brandon and I, we had to make sure that we got along and understood each other. During the interview he showed me around the beautiful multi-level space at Avling and I immediately knew I was where I needed to be.
What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?
Experimenting with different beer styles and flavour additions. I love working with fruit and different herbs and/or flowers—which we harvest from the rooftop garden. We only use fruit that can be sourced locally like peaches or we will use second use fruit, like lemon peel, from a local juicer. The space to be creative with these additions is endless.
Any personal and/or professional goals for 2021?
At the moment I am very interested in learning how to distill. My goal for 2021 is to experiment more with it and figure out how I can integrate what I learn from that into my work at Avling. Maybe we will see Avling Spirits in the future, who knows!
For womxn looking to get into the brewing side of things, any advice?
If you are passionate about beer and brewing, then that is all you need. I would be lying if I said it was easy to get to where I am now. Brewing is difficult work, physically and sometimes mentally, but my passion for the craft keeps me going. The feeling of finishing the workday with a beer that you brewed with your own hands (and heart) is so rewarding.
The brewing industry is in dire need of female and BIPOC representation. If any womxn reading this has any interest in entering the brewing industry I strongly urge you to apply to a brewing course. You can get your foot in the door by working at a brewery, but it will be much easier for you, and your mentor with some prior brewing/chemistry/biology education. Plus, brewing school was super fun.
Do not doubt yourself. When I first start talking to people about entering the industry I was met with, “You know its super hard to get into that program, right?” or “You know most of the job is cleaning, right?” Sure, it is, and it does. But you never know until you try. A clean brewery is a happy brewery and as with any culinary position, you have to clean your tools.
I have had many moments in my so-far short career where I doubted myself or felt the classic imposter syndrome, but that is where perseverance really shines through to not give up. Being interviewed for this feature is proof of that. More women need a seat at this table. Please join me.
I hope for you that one day you have as good of a mentor as I do. I think it is important that you seek out a boss you know you can learn from and a brewery that is concurrent with your values. Maybe one day I will be your mentor!
On your off days, what style of beer do you typically reach for?
I love a good dry Irish stout. I will always order the stout on the menu, dead of winter, middle of summer, anytime. The body and roast profile really speak to me. Even better if it is smoked.