Hi Everyone! Welcome to my second instalment of Womxn Brewer Spotlight. I’m your host Erica Campbell—owner/operator at North America’s largest womxn/beer community, The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies. These segments have been a cool way for me to connect (virtually) with super cool womxn around Ontario that are kicking ass in the brewhouse.
It takes a conscious strategy and effort as a brewery to make sure diverse folks are reflected on your team and feel welcome to apply in the first place. It’s gotta be built into your company’s ethos. You can’t just sit back and passively expect your brewery to suddenly become diverse, you have to build it. You have to have those conversations with your team and check in with other breweries to see which of their best practises make sense to adopt. In doing so, a diverse team leads to a more dynamic, creative, interesting company because everyone can bring their unique viewpoints and life experiences to the table.
In the 8+ years I have lived, breathed and worked in the Ontario craft beer space, there has been change. We are seeing more than white straight males at breweries. Some underrepresented groups are more visible (I would argue womxn) than others (I would argue First Nations and BIPOC folks).
I think while it’s easy to harp/dwell on what everyone isn’t doing, it’s also important to not lose sight of what’s been accomplished and to celebrate these wins. And so without further ado, I want to spotlight brewer Robin Weeks of Wellington Brewery in Guelph.
I do have a soft spot for Wellington as I grew up in Waterloo and did my undergrad degree in Waterloo too. Basically, what I am trying to get across is I’ve enjoyed many a pint of Wellington’s Special Pale Ale, Arkell’s Best Bitter, etc., at fine watering holes in Waterloo Region (shout out to Jane Bond, Taco Farm, Ethel’s, KickOff, Bent Elbow and many more I forget now!) Although Wellington is one of the OG classic traditional breweries in Ontario, it’s been really cool to see them evolve into an industry leader of all things anti-racism, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and womxn initiatives. Aside from making unique and delicious brews, it appears to me that they’ve developed a diverse staff that genuinely believes in charity and community.
Here’s Robin! Enjoy her interview:
What got you interested in brewing?
My introduction to brewing was not in my sights at all. 10 years ago I was offered to wash kegs at the brewery part time through the winter and at that time a craft brewery was all very new to me. Wellington was pretty small then and I was able to watch and then learn the process of filtering, cellaring, and packaging the final product pretty quickly. Within two years the brewery volume was increasing and they needed to bring on a new brewer, so I was also trained in the brewing process, and the science behind the magic. I feel very grateful to have been given the opportunity and it has changed the course of my career and passions.
How did you find a (brewing) home at Wellington?
The Welly family is small and when I started there was about 15 people so if you fit and things are going well you become family right away. With the recent expansion of the brewery we have hired a diverse staff of 50 people, and now have separate departments for brewing, cellaring and packaging.
What is your day-to-day like?
We brew 5-6 40hl brews Monday-Thursday, and I am one half of the brew team. Jeff Wilson, the other half, mashes in most of the brews and I arrive for my afternoon shift to lauter, boil, whirlpool, make sure samples are in spec, and transfer the wort to the tank farm. To start an Upside brew, for example, I would load and mill the specialty malt, and then carry bags of oats up to the mashtun, and weigh out lots of hops to go into the whirlpool. The team work really helps balance out that heavy lifting work. The grain out is an interesting process at our brewery: from the lauter tun the grain drops into an auger and is pushed through the brewery and out into a truck that feeds a nearby farm.
Tell me something randomly interesting about you!
Something interesting I have discovered about myself during the 2020 quarantine is the I have become a jigsaw puzzle master. My bubble squad and I have finished a 1000 piece in 2 hours!
For womxn folks looking to get into the brewing side of things, any advice?
Advice I would give to someone interested in brewing, would be join social media groups, I would be remise not to mention follow to @queenofcraftbeer on Instagram, tag along in homebrew gatherings, ask questions to staff at breweries, reading magazines and of course listen to beer podcasts. Last but not least formal education is crucial, Niagara College has a great brewing program to get involved with.
Any personal and/or professional goals for 2021?
Personal goals for 2021 is to hop in my friend’s RV and head east, travel along the Cabot Trail, and eat PEI lobster and check out local breweries along the way. Professional goals will be focused on creating more events with the Queen of Craft team. We only got through half of our sessions in March before the world went on lockdown. QoC is beer education for women by women and has been growing the past 7 years. It started with beer 101 and we’ve since had sesions on yeast strains, hop varieties, history of women in beer, sustainability in breweries, beer games, and even a cask-off. Each year after all of our events a brew team of 5 is chosen to create a beer recipe from scratch and brew it on our pilot system! Also all proceeds go to Guelph Women in Crisis.
On your off days, what style of beer do you typically reach for?
IPAs and hoppy pale ales are always my first choice. Jutsu pale ale from Bellwoods, and Wellys Pleasant Island hazy pale ale were favorites this summer.