Chances are, if you have been to Ex Novo Brewing in Corrales — and we’re gonna go out on a limb here and guess that almost all of you reading this have — then Ashley Alvarez has probably poured you a pint or two over the last couple years.
On a balmy afternoon, to put it mildly, I avoided the repaving of Corrales Road and made it to the taproom via the back way to sit down with Alvarez for our ongoing series highlighting women working in the New Mexico craft beer industry.
Now a shift team leader with Ex Novo, Alvarez got her start in the craft beer industry on the opposite side of the metro area.
“From the beginning, I worked at Kellys Brew Pub on Central,” she said. “I worked there for about three years. I was offered a job with Premier (Distributing), and I worked there for a couple years. I moved to Corrales and Ex Novo was building. I got my resumé in, I think, four days before they opened. And (now), it’s been two years.”
Going back even further, Alvarez said the specific beer that got her into craft was Longhammer IPA from Red Hook Brewing. Things have come a long way since, both in terms of the beers she likes, and in her own career in the industry.
“The best part of my job is you’re forever learning,” Alvarez said. “Beer is a never-ending story, you learn things daily. It’s forever growing, and that’s pretty cool to me. Here, I love the dogs and kids. They’re probably my favorite thing. I know quite a few kids that they were tiny, months old, and now they’re 2, so that’s pretty cool. They enjoy coming here.”
As if to prove the point, one adorable toddler spent part of the afternoon stealing glances at Alvarez, while wondering who the bearded guy was sitting across from her.
While the kids are certainly cute, not all of the grown-ups were over the last year-plus during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Covid was a huge challenge,” Alvarez said. “People don’t like to be regulated. That was a mental, I can’t say mindfuck, but it was very challenging for me mentally. I (took on) a lot of stress and even depression during Covid. Not when we were selling (just) package, but when you can come back, (telling customers) no standing and drinking, masks had to be worn except when sitting at the table, that was really rough, based on how people reacted to the rules that weren’t necessarily our rules. It’s interesting how people treat other people.”
As things have opened up with the easing of restrictions, life has gotten a little easier on the customer relations front, but there are still hurdles to overcome.
“The challenge now is the boom of our growth, which is a good challenge to have,” she said. “We’re growing pretty quickly. With the beer (garden) expansion, and just keeping up with beers on tap, that’s a challenge for us.”
Alvarez added that keeping people happy, comfortable, and safe during this current heat wave is also a challenge. Our phones both read 104 degrees on Monday afternoon, so we had to drink our beers quickly before they boiled on the patio.
Keeping the staff cool, too, has been a challenge. Ex Novo founder Joel Gregory was busy installing a small AC unit behind the bar on Monday, but the front-of-house staff like Alvarez often have to march across the parking lot to get new kegs or cases of cans to bring back to the taproom. Alvarez said she gets along with the predominantly male staff in the brewery, but she would like to eventually see more women back there. Alvarez added that she believes things are changing for the better in terms of having greater gender equity in breweries.
“Number one is just opportunity, giving the opportunity (to women),” she said. “It seems easier to get hired front of house and work your way to back of house, and I’ve seen a lot of examples of that with other people. I think that’s slowly changing. I think the CNM program has been pretty helpful in educating, and just letting women be seen, that they want to be there. I know more than a handful of women who work in the back of house, and they’re super knowledgable and I admire them. They’re just as hard working, if not more.”
Alvarez added that she prefers something close to a 50-50 mixture of men and women working in the front of house.
“I don’t know if that’s very PC of me to say that, I just like a mix, because you’re getting different outlooks, different views,” she said. “It’s better, in my opinion, to have that then just the same point of view, if you’re going to grow and change.”
Even though Ex Novo might seem a bit geographically isolated from the rest of the local craft beer scene, save for its neighbors at Casa Vieja, Alvarez said the many other women working in the industry have always been willing to reach out to her and the rest of the staff.
“A big reason I love the New Mexico beer scene is because it’s such a great community,” she said. “I’m not name dropping (anyone), but Albuquerque is lucky to have these lovely ladies on their team. Ask a ton of questions, and in order to talk to me you have to be really patient, and I always get answered with enthusiasm and appreciation. The women in the industry seem to want you to grow, and that’s really cool. It’s not a pissing contest. It’s pretty cool how they’re accepting of you, like at Pink Boots. Everyone is happy and asks you questions, where you’re from, and that’s helpful.”
It has still been a tough time of late for women across the industry, as many have revealed the shameful treatment they have received from their co-workers and customers. Alvarez said she counts herself somewhat lucky in that regard.
“I’m grateful to work in a place where I feel safe with my co-workers,” she said. “Sadly, there are times when customers cross the line, and that sucks. We have a pretty good system here if we feel uncomfortable. We tag-team out. That’s super helpful. I can’t speak of anything that’s happened to me, per se. I’d like to think it’s changing as the younger generations are coming up, but I don’t think it will ever go away, unfortunately. But, I do believe it’s changing.”
Ultimately, it will take education, communication, and understanding for things to change for the better, and to stay that way.
“I just think education and if you’re a business owner, holding your employees accountable if there is an issue, staying on top of it, making sure your employees are safe at work,” Alvarez said. “You’re responsible for that safe work environment overall. Outside of work is different, because you can’t control what happens, or how people live their lives.”
We can all only hope that things do indeed change for the better going forward for all the women in craft beer across the country.
A big thanks to Ashley for agreeing to sit down, even on the hottest day of the year, for this interview.
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