A fun part of this job of writing about breweries is often finding out just where everyone in the industry came from before jumping into their brewery jobs. While more and more new employees are coming out of brewing programs, like the one at Central New Mexico Community College, there are still quite a few who come from pretty far afield.
Take Hannah B., who is now an assistant brewer and bar manager at High and Dry Brewing. The lifelong Nevada resident never planned to end up in Albuquerque, working at the small brewery just down the street from where she lives, but that is exactly where she ended up after previously working in a completely unrelated industry.
“I’ve been in the Reno/Tahoe area my whole life, and I wanted something drastically different,” she said. “My brother lives in Denver. He has two kids. I wanted to be closer to them and that family, but I didn’t necessarily want to be in Colorado. I’d taken a road trip through Santa Fe and Taos with him a few years earlier, and just kind of fell in love with the landscape. Honestly, I kind of just picked Albuquerque on a map and showed up with a truck a few months later. It was a total leap of faith.”
While plenty of people, men and women alike, worked as servers at restaurants, bars, or breweries while going to college, Hannah never set foot in the service industry.
“Before I was in Albuquerque, I was an executive director of a nonprofit that I founded for five years,” she said. “My life was very much meetings in front of the city council, (and) trying to convince hospital boards like why our program was important for at-risk and underserved youth. I was writing grants and managing fundraisers, just really being someone in the community. It got pretty exhausting.”
Though she was mindful of the emotional toll that her work placed upon her, Hannah started her job search in Albuquerque in that arena. Ultimately, though, she ended up in a place that was familiar, and yet totally unfamiliar, to anything she had done before.
“When I moved here I was looking for other nonprofit work, but I found myself over here at this bar all the time, having a beer while I was job hunting,” Hannah said. “I finally just asked Andrew (Kalemba) one day, after chatting with him, if he ever took on assistants. He asked me what my experience was in the service industry and it was zero. He said, awesome, come on in, let’s figure this out. That’s been about exactly a year ago this week.”
Being a smaller brewer, High and Dry often calls upon its employees to fill multiple roles, and Hannah said she was happy to start helping out in the front of house, too.
“And then, when an opportunity to serve up front came up, it seemed like a natural fit, because I was here all the time anyway,” she said. “I feel a little bit like this industry picked me. It’s been honestly the healthiest change in my life, because now I’m tired from physical labor, and not mental stress.”
If there is one thing she can take from her previous career, Hannah said, it has been her ability to listen to people when they need someone to lend them an ear.
“I think as a server it’s natural to hear people’s problems, they come in and they want to talk to the bartender,” she said. “But, hearing the problems that are presented to me now are so much more manageable than the kids I was working with, who were going through severe traumas, who were incarcerated, who were homeless. I feel like I can hold space really well in this industry for people who come in and just need a beer at the end of the day.”
As for all that work on the High and Dry brewhouse, there was really no prior experience from which Hannah could draw at any point in her life.
“No, brand new, the only thing that is beneficial is I have pretty good body awareness from years of doing yoga, so it made lifting bags of grain easier,” she said. “But, this has been completely brand-new territory. It’s been incredible to just have an immediate, hands-on experience, because that’s the way I can learn best. I did want to go take the classes at CNM, but financially it wasn’t realistic. Andrew just kept saying like, just keep showing up, keep being here, and it’s been just an incredible education that fits the way that I learn. I throw myself into it.”
Now that she has spent some time in the industry, Hannah has been able to reflect on why the ratio of men to women in the back of house remains heavily tilted in the male direction.
“I can’t speak for anybody else’s experience, but I wonder if it’s a lack of opportunity,” she said. “Andrew just invited me immediately to be a part of this experience. I do have skillsets that are more administrative, and that’s where I’ve been spending most of my time in the last few months, creating some programs with our new software and whatnot. I don’t understand why more women aren’t hands-on in the brewing process. Honestly, I just wonder if it’s a lack of opportunity and invitation. I don’t think it’s an issue of not being strong enough, and it’s definitely not an issue of not being capable. I kind of just wonder how many owners are welcoming women actually into the brewing process. I don’t have a good answer. It’s a mystery to me, too. I think more women should be doing it.”
The nonprofit world, on the other hand, was pretty much the opposite.
“My previous industry that I was in was female dominated, so coming into this has been a little bit of a shock,” Hannah said. “Luckily, we all have a good relationship back there. But, there is a huge energetic difference between working with primarily females and primarily men. I don’t have a preference, both have their good sides and their bad sides. It’s been shocking, honestly, just coming from a world where it was 99-percent female.”
As for the most rewarding and challenging parts of her job, Hannah echoed what many other women, and men, have said in the past.
“Drinking the beer is the most rewarding part, and the most enjoyable part,” she said with a laugh. “Enjoying the product fully and watching other people enjoy it, hands down that’s the most fun.
“I honestly think the most challenging part of it is something that I’ve put on myself, is that I’m worried about making mistakes, or losing a whole batch, or adding the wrong amount of calcium chloride, whatever small thing could absolutely destroy a batch. That pressure has never been, of course Andrew wants me to do it correctly, but he’s never made me worried about that, it’s self-imposed, completely. My grandpa always said that if you don’t have a little bit of fear, then you don’t have any respect for a process. So having a little bit of fear means I care about it a lot. So I try to see that as here’s an opportunity to overcome some of my own anxieties and just dive in. Mistakes are going to happen, but so far, so good.”
That level of care, attention to detail, and general passion for brewing has been a big positive in Hannah’s eyes.
“You really care about what you’re making,” she said. “I think there are a lot of industries where if you make a mistake, aw, fuck it, nobody will know. It seems that this community really, really cares about the quality of the product, and I respect that.”
Welcome to the New Mexico craft brewing industry, Hannah. We are glad to have you, and I appreciate you taking the time to sit down and chat.
Keep supporting local!