When Santa Fe’s Mondragon wears her pink boots, no off-flavors are safe.

Posted: May 7, 2015 by Luke in NM Women in Brewing
Tags:
MonicaMondragonWiB1

Monica, right, with intern Alexandria in Santa Fe Brewing’s laboratory. When asked how it was working for Monica, the young intern said, “It’s totally awesome!” Could we expect any less from Ms. Mondragon? We think not.

The Dark Side Brew Crew’s NM Women in Brewing series has introduced you to some of the hardest working women in the industry — women managers, women brewers, women behind the bar. I’m sad to say this is my fifth and final story of the series, but I wanted to end with as much momentum as I began. For this article, I sat down and had a beer with Monica Mondragon, another woman with a true passion for the industry, for craft culture, for zymurgy, and of course, for the beer itself.

Already a good friend of the Crew, I thought I should get to know her better, as she’s working in my town, just down the road. As the Lab Manager at Santa Fe Brewing Company, she has an impressive list of responsibilities in the brewery, ensuring that the quality of the beer is always as consistent as it can be.

As a consumer, she has quite an impressive list of distinct beers and badges on Untappd that rivals anyone’s. As a woman, she’s doing her part to work on another important list, that is, the growing number of women joining the Pink Boots Society. With the support of some solid mentors, and a little help from her friends, she’s helped to start the first chapter here in New Mexico.

NMDSBC: What is your official job title at Santa Fe Brewing Company?

Mondragon: I’m the Lab Manager, Quality Assurance Manager

NMDSBC: What does your position entail?

Mondragon: Oh so much! (Laughs) I’m pretty much directly involved with everything in production, packaging, brewing, cellar. I have little bits of controls that I have to check in (with) each department, from when it’s brewed all the way to when it’s packaged, and even after it’s packaged, sometimes.

NMDSBC: What does a typical day look like for you?

Mondragon: They’re usually pretty crazy. It’s definitely a job where you need to be a multitasker, for sure. You have to have good organizational skills …

NMDSBC: You probably have to have a little ADD, too, right?

Mondragon: Yeah, definitely. You have to be kind of a little bit of a control freak, too, just to try to … I like to equate it to plate-spinning, so you’re constantly trying to keep the plates from falling. (Laughs) And staying one step ahead.

NMDSBC: When you’re checking levels in various departments, what kinds of levels are you checking?

Mondragon: So for brewing, I mainly keep track of the gravities and yeast counts. So from there it goes to cellar. I help the cellar keep track of the fermentation temperatures, then doing the gravities. I take dissolved oxygen levels on the bright tanks after filtration. I also conduct sensory, during fermentation, before filtration, after filtration, after packaging. Then, on the packaging line, I’m mainly testing carbon dioxide levels and dissolved oxygen levels.

NMDSBC: How did you get into chemistry and science of brewing?

Mondragon: Well, it’s kind of interesting. My background is very different from how I got here.

NMDSBC: It always is!

Mondragon: (Laughs) I have a Master’s in Anthropology. So, I started off doing archeology. Worked at the medical examiner’s office, did a lot of forensic anthropology.

NMDSBC: Archeologists are quite the beer drinkers, am I right?

Mondragon: Well, you know, archeologists are the drinkers of the anthropological community. Then, at the OMI, at the medical examiner, I worked in the tox-lab there, and histology lab.

NMDSBC: And from there, how did you end up in the beer industry?

Mondragon: I just kind of loved craft beer culture. I knew lots of people who worked as distributors in breweries, always had a great time, but really took a lot of pride in what they were doing. So, I thought, I’ll try to make the switch. Took several years, but I finally got in, and this job’s awesome!

NMDSBC: What’s your favorite part of your job?

Mondragon: Ugh, all the dorky stuff that nobody cares about! I love doing yeast counts. We just finished doing some cultures on some samples of our batches.

NMDSBC: You’re responsible for so many lives!

Mondragon: (Laughs) Yeah. It’s kinda true! And also trying to stay ahead of what might possibly happen is also another aspect of my job.

NMDSBC: So a little playing god, too?

Mondragon: Yeah, like, ‘I think this will probably not be good,’ and trying to keep that from happening next time.

NMDSBC: What’s the worst part of the job?

Mondragon: Hmm. What’s the worst part of the job? That’s a great question. It’s not always conventional working hours, or work days. I think in the summer, in our busy season, you’re working a lot of hours, sometimes 12 hours a day. That’s probably it.

NMDSBC: How about the toughest part of the job? Or most stressful?

Mondragon: Yeah, another great question. Before I got my autoclave, it was trying to autoclave and then the pressure cooker.

NMDSBC: So you didn’t have the proper equipment at first and …

Mondragon: Yeah, because there’s no temperature control on it, and then going off a propane burner … is kind of a crapshoot, if stuff is sterilized or not. And that was super stressful for me, because then I’m doing cultures and if stuff comes back positive, I don’t know if it’s because they didn’t sterilize it, and then is it a beer spoiler? I don’t know! But now that I have the autoclave, it’s so much easier. It’s got a pressure gauge and a temperature gauge, and it’s amazing.

NMDSBC: Who says diamonds are a girl’s best friend?

Mondragon: (Laughs)

NMDSBC: So, as a woman, have you ever run into any obstacles in the industry, whether it’s lack of male respect or boys-club mentality? Or perhaps the sheer number of men?

Mondragon: I would have to say, working in the industry, not so much. Being a consumer on the other side, definitely.

NMDSBC: Let’s talk about that.

Mondragon: There’s definitely a bias on the consumer end. Can’t tell you how many times I go out to drink with my husband and they automatically make assumptions. I’ll order an IPA and they’ll say, ‘You know that’s hoppy, right?’ It’s real condescending, sort of, more as a consumer.

NMDSBC: And it’s more their ignorance. They’re still behind the times.

Mondragon: Yep. Well especially with the Brewer’s Association statistic. In 2013, more than 30 percent of beer drinkers are women in the craft beer scene, so, there’s a lot of that. But actually, once I got into the industry, it’s like being in any other job, really.

NMDSBC: Whenever my ex and I would go out, we’d order beers. She loved stouts and would order one whenever she could. I’d order something new, change it up, but if I ever ordered a Pilsner, they would always give her the Pilsner. They’d just assume.

Mondragon: That it was hers! Yep. Been there. Especially because my husband’s kind of a big guy, who looks like a big beer drinker. And he’s always like, ‘No actually, that’s my wife’s (beer). Mine is the root beer; hers is the Double IPA.’ (Laughs)

NMDSBC: That’s great! What special skills do women bring to the industry that men may not possess?

Mondragon: I think we all pretty much possess the same. It’s very different on the production side than on the business side. Working on the production side, you definitely have to get used to lifting heavy things across the brewery. You definitely have to have more strength.

NMDSBC: On the business side, it’s dealing with other men and their biases?

Mondragon: Yeah, exactly. I would say that oftentimes, if you ask a woman’s opinion, it’s gonna come from a different place … How do I say this without sounding weird? Maybe what I’ve noticed is that there’s a little more accountability with females, you know, women are like, ‘Oh, that was messed up. It was my fault. I’ll take care of it. Let’s learn from the situation.’ Sometimes guys are like, ‘Well it wasn’t my fault! It was your fault. You made me work eight hours yesterday!’ So, I think that’s probably it.

NMDSBC: Do you feel that women are on more equal footing in this industry than many other industries? Or at least, are we headed that way?

Mondragon: I think it’s probably the same. My background comes also from two very male-dominated industries. And I think it’s pretty much equal to what I’ve experienced before, except that in the craft beer industry, people tend to take women’s opinions a little more seriously in the workplace, as opposed to in forensics or anthropology.

NMDSBC: What do you think makes this industry unique in terms of women working, belonging, thriving?

Mondragon: Actually I think it’s a lot more supportive than other backgrounds that I’ve been in. Girls are pretty sharp. If you know your chops and you know your beer, they’re fairly supportive. I’ve had nothing but great experiences here. There are times when I’ve had to tell the guys, ‘It’s OK. I can carry a five gallon bucket. Don’t worry.’ Because my job is not to have them stop what they’re doing to help me.

NMDSBC: You work around them, as they’re going about their business.

Mondragon: Right. So that’s something I try to avoid a lot, here. But if I need help from a guy, I will ask.

NMDSBC: And that’s different. I’m sure a dude would ask another dude, ‘Hey man, can you help me pull this fork lift off my buddy?’

Mondragon: Right. Help me out, man! (Laughs)

NMDSBC: How are women helping each other to succeed in this still male-dominated industry? Are they?

Mondragon: So far, what I’ve tended to notice is there’s just all this stereotype — in some industries, it’s kind of true — with women not supporting each other, tearing each other down. But what I’ve found in the industry, even before I worked in it and was around it a lot, was that a lot of the drama doesn’t come from the females that work in the brewery. A lot of it comes from the testosterone factor. And my other lady friends who work in the industry will say the same thing, ‘Man all the drama comes from the guys, like, we all like each other! We get along! We help each other out.’

PinkBootslogo1NMDSBC: Speaking of women helping each other out, let’s talk about Pink Boots. You founded the first chapter of Pink Boots Society in New Mexico, correct?

Mondragon: Yeah, we started this here.

NMDSBC: Tell us about Pink Boots. And, for those who don’t know, what is it?

Mondragon: So Pink Boots Society was started by Teri Fahrendorf in 2008. It’s actually a really interesting story. She quit her job as a brewmaster and decided that she was going to take a trip across the country in her little trailer, and she called herself a “Road Brewer,” and she would do a different collaboration brew with a different brewery everywhere that she went. And what she started to notice is she would go to the brewery and if they happened to have a female brewer, they’d put her with her for the day. And so they would get to talking, and the other brewer would say, ‘I thought I was the only one. I thought I was the only one working in the industry!’ And she kept hearing it and hearing it. And finally she put a list together. And women would hear from down the grapevine, and they would call her up and say, ‘Hey, I want to be put on this list! I’m in the industry.’ So actually she likes to say, well she’s the founder, but it’s really kind of taken on a life of its own.

Right now we have about 1,900 members in 12 different countries. We’ve gone totally international. What’s amazing about it is that you don’t actually have to be a brewer. As long as the majority of your income comes from selling, making, you can be a distributor, you could own a distributorship, be a marketer, as long as you work in the industry.

NMDSBC: What’s the mission of Pink Boots Society?

Mondragon: The mission is primarily empowering women in the beer industry through education and mentorship. So, that’s the biggest part. I was surprised we didn’t have a chapter already. I was mentored by several amazing women, primarily Marne Gaston and Skye Owe, and then later Storey Byars, who used to be with Santa Fe Brewing Company. And then after I got the job, Alana (Jones has) been amazing with mentorship, as well. And I just kinda felt like we need a chapter and to start helping each other out. What’s amazing about Pink Boots is this year they’re gonna have a scholarship every month, available. And anyone can apply for them, as long as you’re a member. Membership is free! You don’t have to pay dues or anything like that. So some of (the scholarships) are web-based courses. Some of them are resident courses. Some are only a weekend. Some are like a three-month course at (Oregon State) in fermentation science.

There’s one really great story. This woman, she couldn’t break into the industry. She tried really hard. She worked at one craft brewery. She couldn’t get into brewing. They just kept her pulling taps. She went to another place and was pulling taps and finally she won a scholarship, a residency, some place in Oregon, and did three months of intensive internship training on the brewhouse. Now she’s a head brewer in another state.

NMDSBC: And all with a little help from the Pink Boots Society.

Mondragon: Yeah. And now she has to come back give a presentation on what she learned and mentor another female who may be looking for the same thing.

NMDSBC: Not too long ago, you had the first meeting, correct? How did that go?

Mondragon: Well, it was mostly the women of Tractor. They’re a really female-driven brewery. I’m mainly working with them right now. I know there are some other ladies in town who are members. It’s really hard, because ours is statewide, to try to get everyone in once place.

NMDSBC: How many members do you have so far?

Mondragon: Right now, we have seven, I think.

NMDSBC: But there are definitely more women that work in the craft beer industry in New Mexico, and hopefully more are going to hear about it after this. It’s still early.

Mondragon: Exactly. So we’re hoping to have another meeting here, pretty soon, working with Tractor, on getting the space for that. I noticed that the women that are the most excited about it are a lot of the servers and bar managers, so it’s really … my struggle right now is trying to find time, because they all work at night, usually.

NMDSBC: It’s almost like you’d have to go up to them, at their job with a clipboard and sign-up sheet.

Mondragon: Exactly.

NMDSBC: So, how can our female readers get involved and/or join Pink Boots Society?

Mondragon: Pink Boots is free. And you can join on pinkbootssociety.org. It takes two or three days for the membership committee just to verify that you work in the industry. We have two big national meetings a year, one at GABF (Great American Beer Festival) and one at CBC (Craft Brewers Conference). I went to CBC this year. Hopefully I’ll be at GABF this year as well. And it’s all amazing networking.

NMDSBC: For my final questions, let’s just talk about beer.

Mondragon: Sure! It’s my favorite topic.

NMDSBC: Now, you’re always drinking something interesting, and you have the badges to prove it. I’ve seen your Untappd blow up on a good night. Where did your official love for beer come from?

Mondragon: Well, I will have to say, and it’s self-incrimination, when I first started drinking beer, I was definitely not of drinking age, and I didn’t care for it, actually. I actually didn’t drink beer for a while. Then, someone handed me a Pete’s Wicked Ale. They don’t make it anymore. That was back when it was their own company, before they got bought out. It was super hoppy. I loved it. And yeah, that’s the one that got me. I’ve been drinking craft beer ever since. It’s just got so much variety. I’m not a huge wine drinker. It’s just, the innovative things that they’re doing here in America with beer. I love bold flavorful beers of all different styles. I would have to say there are very few styles, there are maybe two styles I don’t particularly care for, but if they’re made well, I’ll still drink them. It’s great, and it’s kind of an insight that I bring to this company a little bit, which is that I drink a lot of different beers. I try a lot of different beers and so I kind of know if this is going to work, or if this is not going to work. Are people going to buy it? Especially running the beer group for so long, Albuquerque Craft Beer Drinkers, I’ve gotten really attuned to what people want to drink, and what they’re willing to pay for. Oh and they give me opinions all the time.

NMDSBC: What’s the best beer you’ve had in a long while? What really, well, and normally I would only say this to a guy, but this is all about equality right? So what blew your skirt up, recently?

Mondragon: Well, it’s the same concept, actually. (Laughs) Hmm, what was the last one that I had that was amazing? I tend to have my favorite breweries … right now, I’m just like the rest of the country; I’m really into sours. I think it was in Portland. Cascade is doing some amazing stuff. Blackcap Raspberry was really delicious. I did have a good … it was the “Matt” from Hair of the Dog. It was a 2011, and it was amazing.

NMDSBC: How about the worst beer and you don’t have to name names? Maybe the style and geo location.

Mondragon: I probably shouldn’t even say the location without incriminating myself.

NMDSBC: OK, what was the style? And what was wrong with it?

Mondragon: Um, I had an Irish Red, recently, that I wasn’t very happy with.

NMDSBC: What was wrong with it?

Mondragon: Just a lot of off flavors, and it’s taken me a while to pick them out. But because I have to for my job, now they kind of just blare at me, to a point where it’s just, diacetyl is the worst. It actually upsets my stomach. I think it’s just psychosomatic, but I’m like, ‘Oh, my god, my stomach hurts!’

NMDSBC: Real or not, it’s gotta be good for the job.

Mondragon: Right.

NMDSBC: OK. Final question: what’s your go to beer after a particularly rough day or week?

Mondragon: Whatever’s cold in my fridge. (Laughs) Half of the time it’s Santa Fe, half of the time it’s something else. I’ve got a pretty wide variety in there, but yep, whatever’s cold.

If anyone would like to contact Monica directly about Pink Boots Society, she can be reached at Monica@santafebrewing.com

* * * * *

This series has been an absolute pleasure to write, but a tough one. When Rod Tweet of Second Street had heard that I had just broken up with my girlfriend and that I’d almost immediately lined up five interviews with women, he joked that he had liked me before, but after that shrewd move, he really respected my instincts. Well, I’d like to pretend that there was something to that, but it was more about me throwing myself into my writing. I took on one of the most challenging assignments that I’ve ever written, including all the papers in college. I’d noticed that many Women in Brewing articles out there (and I read a ton in preparation) are penned by women writers – and for good reason. As women, they probably understand women better from a more local perspective, but also because they don’t have to translate or interpret them. How are we, as men, supposed to interpret women? I wondered at first. How do we present their points of view, while being respectful? And then I realized, it’s not about me or my interpretation. I realized that I’m just a microphone. They’re the voices. It’s not my story, it’s theirs. And then it became simple, well, simpler. All I needed were a few good questions, and they would tell us what it’s like to be women in the industry. And so they have. Read them all and you’ve just met some incredible women who have paid their dues, who “don’t take any shit,” to quote Colleen, and who love beer just as much as the next guy, if not more. For all of this and so much more, Alana Jones, Colleen Sager, Jordy Dralle, Annie Siegel, and Monica Mondragon, the Dark Side Brew Crew salutes you! That’s it for my part in the series this year, but stay tuned as our NM Women in Brewing series continues with articles from the rest of the Crew. No fancy final wisdom from me. Respect women. Love your mom. Drink craft beer.

Cheers!

— Luke

 

 

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For more #CraftBeer news and @nmdarksidebc info, follow me on Twitter @SantaFeCraftBro.

For story ideas or questions, you can email me at SantaFeLuke@gmail.com.

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