Long since the ancient Sumerians worshiped Ninkasi, the Goddess of Brewing, women have been an integral part of the brewing industry. Throughout civilizations like the Babylonians, the Egyptians, even the Vikings, women were responsible for keeping their nations’ homes imbued with the sacred suds. When the need for ale grew, as it so quickly did in Medieval England, the situation changed. Men took control of the new industry because there was money to be made, and that was still “man’s domain.” Guilds were established, foreign hops were introduced, and in another example of puritanical craziness, women who brewed were depicted in popular art as witches. I’ll never look at a picture of a witch stirring a cauldron the same way again.
Back then, it was as if the mash paddles were suddenly being wrested out of the hands of the women, the ones who started it all. The ones who knew the secrets of fermentation science before science existed, and the ones who had, for thousands of years, passed down their brewing knowledge to their daughters, and their daughters’ daughters.
The profession of the brewer and the industry of beer soon became another one controlled and dominated by men, and it would remain so for centuries.
Fortunately, things change.
Now, an industry, long since unavailable to women, has welcomed back the mothers of brewing. Women, though perhaps not equal yet in numbers, are certainly present in positions just as vital to the industry, and they’re just as passionate about craft beer, and bringing great, quality beer to the people as they ever were. With groups like the Pink Boots Society, Barley’s Angels, FemAle in Sweden, and NM’s Babes in Brewland, as well as all-female-owned breweries popping up everywhere, there is clearly a sisterhood gathering and gaining back lost ground in the realm of grain.
This article marks my first entry in the Dark Side Brew Crew’s tribute series: New Mexico Women in Brewing. I was excited to take on this series, and I hope that I do it the justice it deserves. I wanted to honor my mother, a talented, hard-working professional in her field, by honoring the talented, hard-working women in mine. Months ago, I had tossed around the idea of an article on Women in Brewing with Alana Jones, General Manager at Santa Fe Brewing Company, and I thought it only fitting that I begin with her.
DSBC: You began as a bartender here at Santa Fe Brewing Company, correct?
DSBC: What year was that?
Jones: “That was in 2004.”
DSBC: Can you tell us a little about what the brewery was like then, and how you eventually became general manager?
Jones: “Sure. We were in a different location on Dinosaur Trail, back then. It was a tiny place. There were just a couple of dudes brewing. In fact, the bar was only open on Friday evenings at that point. And it was an amazing crowd of regulars that would come in and drink every Friday. And my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, he started brewing there. So we would hang out, and we were in college, and it just became our local hangout. So we suggested to Brian (Lock) that he open the bar for more days a week. And we would work the bar. So, we each opened the bar for another night, and I just fell in love with the kind of people that were drawn to hang out there. I was from New York City, and so it was very foreign to me to be in a bar where the entire bar was hanging out together, and everyone knew each other, and if they didn’t, they all got to know each other very quickly. It was very warm and open and welcoming, and that was kind of my first taste of what craft beer does to people and how it brings people together.”
After that, Jones moved back to New York for a year and a half where she tended bar and worked as a server. But she began to miss Santa Fe, a lot. She soon came back, and the first thing she did was say to Lock, “Okay, when are we opening the new bar? I need a job.” Santa Fe Brewing had just moved to the current building at 35 Fire Place just off Interstate 25, and the bar was in shambles and the brewhouse wasn’t even up and running yet. Lock told her he didn’t know if or when they would get the bar area ready; he had to focus on making beer, first.
Jones said to him, “So, if I make it happen, will I have a job?” To which Lock replied, “Absolutely.” And she did just that. “I went to Home Depot and bought supplies, installed mirrors in the bathrooms and everything we needed to be compliant, and got the bar open, just so I could have a job,” she recalled. That pretty much made her the default bar manager, but in the years since then, she’s always looked for ways to help the business more. “I’d notice that the guys needed help with inventory, so I’d go and help with inventory. Eventually, I got my hands in most aspects of the business, and really became pretty knowledgeable, and I worked really hard at developing my sensory skills, and organizational skills, and business knowledge.”
Jones found herself in more of what we would call a general manager role, but it was one that she basically helped create as the brewery developed. Before that, Jones was earning a BA in Liberal Arts at St. Johns College in Santa Fe. “Definitely prepared us for the brewing industry!” she joked.
DSBC: You’re always busy every time I’m around. What does a typical day look like for you?
Jones: “A typical day for me, I come in and deal with a zillion emails, mostly from people who are trying to connect with us, business-wise, somehow or other. I do all of the Human Resources around here, so that keeps me pretty busy. And then, accounting, basic accounting stuff. We recently switched to new brewery management software and that’s been taking up almost all of my time. And meetings, coaching staff, making plans, big plans!”
DSBC: Disciplinary actions?
Jones: “Disciplinary actions, unfortunately, yep.” (Laughs)
DSBC: I won’t go there. So, as a GM, what’s it like running a brewery in a generally male-dominated industry?
Jones: “As far as industries go, the brewing industry is an amazing and supportive industry, and I thoroughly enjoy being a part of it. But I will say that women in the brewing industry face similar obstacles that women in any career path face, which is that you have to work harder to be taken as seriously as the average guy.”
DSBC: What sorts of obstacles are you talking about, specifically?
Jones: “Not being taken seriously is one of the harder ones. You really have to earn it and go above and beyond, whereas a guy coming in and shaking people’s hands, walks in with a certain level of respect. And for a woman walking into that room, I feel that I’ve always had to go above and beyond to earn that respect from my peers.”
DSBC: You have to demonstrate your knowledge of the business and of your product.
Jones: “Right. One of my industry peers, who shall remain nameless, once said to me, ‘It’s just natural that we have to suss out if you’re a groupie or not.’ ”
Jones: “I was also at the greater disadvantage of being a brewer’s wife. So, that’s I think maybe where the groupie comment comes in. But yeah, I feel like it took several years of being in this industry to be taken seriously by my peers. But I feel absolutely loved and listened to and respected and all that by my peers now. And then, another difficult thing I would say, which stems also from not being taken seriously, but, if I’m with my other male co-workers at a beer function, I do not get addressed directly by people. They always address my male co-worker.”
DSBC: Because they assume …
Jones: “They assume that he would be the one with the buying power or the ability to make the decisions or that he has a better palate to taste their beer. So, it is always the man that I’m with that gets addressed in business situations. But then, you know, you just speak up …”
DSBC: And then they know you know what you’re talking about.
Jones: “Right.” (Laughs)
DSBC: So what aspect of what you do would you say is most important to you? What is one thing you really focus on here at SFBC?
Jones: “For me, at Santa Fe Brewing, it’s building a team, and establishing our company culture and our values, and then really making sure that everyone is living those values, and that they are really guiding our actions in day-to-day operations, not just long-term, large-scale plans. So, teamwork is one of our core values. The other ones are quality and passion, but the teamwork value is something that I really try to encourage and foster here every day. So that’s one of the things that’s most important about working here.”
DSBC: What would you say is the toughest part of your job?
Jones: “The toughest part of my job is probably doing human resources. You know, firing people is hard. Especially because I’ve had to let people go who are wonderful people, that are very talented and skilled. They just weren’t a good fit with the brewery. So, to put your personal feelings aside is really hard.”
DSBC: Because everyone’s family here.
Jones: “Right, and I foster that team spirit so much that we become close. We become friends. And it is really difficult to say, I know we’re friends, but this isn’t working out for the business and I have to look out for the business. So, keeping that separation and making those tough choices is really challenging, but I think that most people understand that separation and why it has to be there. And … some don’t!” (Laughs)
DSBC: Everyone’s level of professionalism is different, right? What’s been the most rewarding thing about working in the brewing industry?
Jones: “I love the camaraderie. I love the education. I love that you never stop learning. And there’s just always something exciting to push yourself towards. There’s no, well, I feel like I know all there is to know about this topic. You just never get there. And that’s wonderful.”
DSBC: If you do, you’re doing something wrong, I think.
Jones: “Yeah, exactly. And I’m a big reader and I love learning. I’m a total nerd. And I just love that it’s just endless amounts of really fascinating information. And then also the management side, too, like pushing yourself to learn about business and to learn about business management and leadership. To be feeling like the sky is the limit is also just a really thrilling experience.”
DSBC: It must be. So, from bartender to general manager of the largest and oldest brewery in New Mexico, what advice would you give to women wanting to get into the brewing industry?
Jones: “I would say keep learning. People will tell you that you’re not qualified to be in the beer industry because you can’t lift a keg. I’ve heard that from almost every woman who’s worked in the beer industry, that at some point we’re told, oh you can’t do this, or you can’t do that, you have physical limitations or whatever. And to not let that discourage you. There’s a niche for everyone. Just keep learning, keep developing your skills, and be professional. Hopefully there’s a place out there that’s a good fit for everyone.”
DSBC: And finally, what is your favorite beer to kick back with after a particularly rough week?
Jones: “I must say, that if I’ve had a really tough week, I will go for a ‘Pale Chick.’ You know what a Pale Chick is right?”
DSBC: That’s Pale Ale and Chicken Killer, right?
Jones: “That’s right, so we do three-quarters of a glass of Pale Ale, which is my favorite of our beers. And then a quarter splash of Chicken Killer Barley Wine. At about 10-percent ABV, that’s exactly the kick that the Pale Ale needs to take the edge off of a long week.”
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“The goddess Ninkasi watched over all brewing activities,” Jones wrote, in her article “Women in Brewing,” published in the Oxford Companion to Beer. Women still oversee the brewing operations as they did thousands of years ago, but today, they are a much bigger part of the picture. They work in all aspects of the craft business, from managing staff, controlling the dining room floor, marketing, lab testing for quality control, being knowledgeable about the subtleties and complexities of the beer they brew, serve, and drink. It’s still a male-dominated industry, but in numbers only. This industry is just as much women’s for the taking. Sometimes it takes more work, sometimes more cleverness, sometimes going above and beyond to earn that respect, but the industry hears your roar load and clear. Ladies, fellow beer-geeks, the Dark Side Brew Crew salutes you and bows to your awesomeness.
For more #CraftBeer and @NMDarkSideBC updates, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro!