Or: Taking the misogyny out of beer through osmosis
I’ve interviewed a lot of homebrewers. Some who have turned pro and others who are content to make what they please when they please. The common thread is the Mr. Beer kit which is something between a joke and a rite of passage for many of those familiar with brewing. Mr. Beer is a self-contained beer-making kit that often can be purchased at grocery stores and other distinctly non-homebrewer places. Sometimes you can find them at yard sales and thrift stores, discarded presents or evidence of an ambitious weekend that never really came together.
Aimee Garlit didn’t start with a Mr. Beer kit. Like many of the people her age (which I make at 20-something), Aimee started brewing in college. It was 2008 and, as a young science major at Michigan State there was a really low bar to entry for her. Once she began brewing, like many homebrewers, she was consumed by the practice.
I’ve written elsewhere about my failed attempt to deal with women brewers as women rather than as brewers. But Aimee isn’t just a brewer, she’s a scientist, like the kind who can snobbishly correct you when you call her Ms. Garlit by saying, “That’s Doctor Garlit, if you please.”
But she would never do that. And that, I think, might be the point.
Aimee just loves beer, as do her colleagues, and that is the beginning and the end of it. She goes to work, does what she loves, and heads back home (occasionally to make her own beer).
I spoke with two microbiologists at Dogfish Head’s main brewery in Milton. Both were women who had similar career tracks. Aimee probably was the more traditional of the two. She did her post-doc work at UPenn and found herself at a kind of crossroads heretofore unheard of in accademia. Getting a teaching gig, like, a permanent one, is really tricky.
There is an entire underclass of itinerant academics taking non-tenure track positions teaching things like microbiology because (frankly) the Baby Boomers are handing on for dear life. Aimee had the creds and the skill to go into pharmaceuticals, but the prospect of being a cubicle drone with a Ph.D. was too much to consider.
Instead she edited textbooks and papers and bided her time brewing. Let’s call these her pajama days.
As a professional writer, I know a little something about pajama days. You gotta be careful of them. It’s not just about losing track of the day of the week (or the day of the week you last showered or dressed), it’s about being part of something outside of your head.
Aimee had, by the time she started at UPenn, become a BJCP trainer, teaching the people who taught the BJCP classes and was (and remains) an active member of the Homebrewer’s Association.
“I was drinking a lot of beer,” she said. “I’m doing ‘science’ during the day, but to me it always was just like cooking.
This is an aside: Aimee is on the committee at the Home Brewer’s Association that endows research that funds people who are developing brewing innovations. Ask her about it sometime (or wait until I cover it in the fall, it’s mind-blowingly awesome).
It was as part of that association that she heard about a master brewer’s meeting in Rehoboth, and through that meeting that she got her job and met her mentor, Rebecca Bells, who at the time worked at Dogfish Head as well.
It was 2014, and brewing was heating up beyond boiling. Aimee actually had interviewed at Bells as well as Dogfish Head, but for an East Coast girl, even one who had gone to school in Michigan, there wasn’t much of a choice.
Working at Dogfish Head comes with beach access as well as pretty serious beer cred. During the few hours I was there, the employees tended to go out of their way not to make me feel jealous about how great their work day was (it didn’t help). It could have been because I only spoke with the relatively young (or because I’m depressingly old) but there was an overriding sense of people waiting to get caught; looking around and saying, “I know that this is a real job, but, Christ! is this a blast.”
They all are doing something productive and something that they care about. As big as Dogfish Head is (13th largest in the country, as of this writing), it is still a small enough company that its business is esoteric. It still attracts people mostly committed to the craft culture, rather than to the beer aspect of it. These are people that have very specific passions and interests, and, as in any culture that deals with a significant amount of esoteria, the standards for respect begin and end at a person’s authenticity, commitment and qualifications. This creates a club of sorts of folks for whom craft is an attitude. There isn’t a ton of room for the disenchanted.
Any maybe (as I’ll explore next time) that has something to do with the continually increasing number of women in brewing. The job is too cool and too important for people to get hung up on gender roles. Hell, it doesn’t make the beer taste any better.