20 questions with Jennifer Treu, Rowley Farmhouse Ales’ new head brewer

From left: Roger Pacheco, Jennifer Treu, Mark Dawson, and John Rowley

It’s not an easy thing to turn your passion into a career that spans several states, partially through a pandemic, but Rowley Farmhouse Ales’ new head brewer has done just that.

On a nice, reasonably un-windy Wednesday, I sat down with the entire RFA brew crew, including brewmaster John Rowley, cellarman Roger Pacheco, new to the production team, but veteran to the industry and RFA, Mark Dawson, and, previously of breweries such as Austin Beer Works and Monkish, former California native, newest addition to the Rowley team, head brewer Jennifer Treu.

Over the course of a couple pours and a few questions, I got to know Treu a bit better, finding out more about her brewing philosophies, what personally drives her, and what she brings to the RFA table. Spoiler alert: It’s a lot.

1. DSBC: Full Name?

Treu: Jennifer Treu

2. DSBC: Okay, that was a super easy one. How about a tough question? What’s your opinion? What is your opinion of, say, pastry stouts and milkshake IPAs?

Treu: I’m not a fan of either of those styles. I like beer to taste like beer. And, I think that they’ve just gotten a little bit carried away with the adjuncts that they add to them.

3. DSBC: Where are you from? Originally?

Treu: I was born and raised in Long Beach, California, spent 34 years there.

4. DSBC: And then, you recently came to Santa Fe from Austin. How did you hear about Rowley Farmhouse Ales?

Treu: I saw the post on Brewbound. But, I had been to Santa Fe about three years ago. Two and a half years ago, right when COVID hit. And so, I came here to taste the beer, and it was really, really good.

5. DSBC: What was your sort of gateway to craft beer? You know, what was the beer that made you say, “Yep, this is definitely something I’m interested in doing professionally.”

Treu: It’s probably Monkish’s Dubbel with rose hips called Rosa’s Hips.

6. DSBC: How did you get started brewing?

Treu: Going to Monkish. It was close to eight to 10 years ago, there was no craft beer scene in L.A. So my boyfriend, at the time, and I started to visit local breweries that were popping up like Eagle Rock and Smog City, Monkish (Brewing Co. in Torrance.) I fell in love with Monkish the most, just because they were doing Belgian-inspired beers. And, I was like, this is cool that beer can taste like this. You know, because I just had IPAs, which I like and everything, but it was cool to see that you could add spices to make it more complex. And then, so I started hanging out there a lot. Adriana and Henry (Nguyen) were working in the tasting room, and they asked me to pour on the weekends. So I started doing that part time. And, eventually just moved back into production.

7. DSBC: What got you interested in the production side?

Treu: I was interested because I consider myself somewhat of an artistic person. And, I always wanted to be a photographer, but never went to school with it, because it costs a lot of money. So I was doing a really boring job, and I also like working hard. And, I was like, seeing how beer was made and how people enjoy it. It’s an artistic expression. It can be anyway, and that excited me to create something for somebody to enjoy during times of celebration, hopefully, a way to impact a person’s life without, you know, saving their lives, but it is impactful in a certain degree. Henry was doing everything by himself. And so, I just started washing kegs. And then, yeah, the more he trained me, the more I learned and pretty much apprenticed under him for about four years.

8. DSBC: What was the first beer you brewed?

Treu: I remember the first memorable beer that I made. It’s called The Feminist, The Feminist, a tripel with hibiscus, and it has like a lot of hibiscus flower in it and the whirlpool, and just seeing the super bright red color and tasting it. I also liked serving that beer, because macho guys would never say Feminist. They would always be like, can I get the tripel with hibiscus, and so I would like to make them say it.

9. DSBC: Because you had two tripels on?

Treu: Exactly (laughs)

10. DSBC: Did Monkish mostly focus on Belgians, or was the scope more broad?

Treu: Henry mostly started out doing Belgian-inspired (styles). So we did a Belgian single that was dry hopped, and then a couple lagers. Eventually he transitioned more to IPAs, and hazy IPAs, or balanced, or just all over the board. Yeah, he had a house culture that he propagated up for mixed fermentation. He had a couple foeders at the time before I left, and barrels, and so it was a pretty broad program.

11. DSBC: From Monkish, how did you make it over to Austin?

Treu: After Monkish, I got a job at a brewery called Three Weavers in Inglewood, California. I was working for them for about six months when they got bought out by Canarchy. And, Oskar Blues has a facility in Austin that’s under the Canarchy umbrella. They were short-staffed, and I had lived in L.A. my whole life.

12. DSBC: And so, you wanted a change?

Treu: Yeah.

13. DSBC: Then from Oskar Blues you went to Austin Beer Works?

Treu: Yeah, I was at Oskar Blues for almost three years. And then, I was at ABW for eight months. And now, I’m here.

14. DSBC: During that time period, did you have a brewing philosophy that you lived by?

Treu: Um, it was a little bit hard at that time, because brewing at that level is pretty much like your factory. But, at the same time, I was always a leader, a lead, on the floor, so I just tried when I was training people to instill what I knew, which is take your time — even though this is large production — (and) still care about the process. Pay attention to every step. The attention to detail, I think, is what makes the good beer. So that’s just what I tried to instill when I’m training people, and to remind myself when I’m brewing.

15. DSBC: Good wisdom in any industry. Thank you. Are there any beers that you’re really, really into, or maybe some that you’re not so much into making? Maybe some that drive your passion and some that are just like, well, we got to make it, it’s what the kids want?

Treu: Yeah. I would say that. Living in Austin for the past three-and-a-half years, I really grew to appreciate lagers. And, that’s something that (I would) like brewing here. I’d like to try to brew different styles (of) lagers, just to see how they do. I think that you can make a simple beer taste really good. It’s a testament to your craft. So I don’t necessarily love hazy IPAs, but you know, many people do, and I think that there’s a good way to make them, and a bad way to make them.

16. DSBC: If you could drink one beer style for the rest of your life, your desert island beer, what would it be?

Note: at this point in the interview, the entire table of RFA crew digressed, heavily, discussing everything from John Rowley’s (sarcastic) love for Kinder beers to the merits of adding crunch berries as a dry hop. At no point during this 20-minute period did anyone mention a true “desert island beer,” until Treu brought us back on track.

Treu: I want to say like 5-percent (ABV), or 4.5-percent pale ale, but you know.

17. DSBC: What are your favorite projects, typically, in the brewhouse? Is it barrel aging, mixed fermentation, or just dialing in recipes to nail the consistency?

Treu: In the past, like, four years, I would say it would be pushing the system in order to be most efficient at brewing, just because of the scale of the breweries that I was working for.

18. DSBC: What are you looking forward to most working in a smaller brewery like RFA?

Treu: I’m looking forward to just more creativity, and that small batch level.

19. DSBC: Do you see any places that you’d already like to start improving?

Dawson: I can vouch that that has already begun. And, it has to do with organization, and keeping a clean space.

Rowley: The space has improved dramatically in the last couple of days. I have to say, I’m very impressed.

Treu: It’s just a tight space, and so I just want to be at its most efficient.

Rowley: It started last week with Mark. Mark went through and cleaned a bunch of stuff. And, really made an exclamation point, like, hey, this, this is how it’s going to be.

Treu: I think so right now, I think that me, and Mark, and Roger are kind of on the same page of like, let’s get everything organized so that we all know where everything is. And then, from there, we can start to concentrate on making some good beer.

20. DSBC: As far as beer goes, what are you looking to dive into as soon as you’re established?

Treu: Like I said, I think it’d be cool to bring some lagers here.

Jennifer Treu raises a glass. (Photo courtesy of Mark Dawson)

Bonus Questions:

DSBC: Guys, for you, as a team, what are you most excited for having her here?

Rowley: Well, I’m excited for a clean brewhouse. That’s a good thing. We’ve already moved in that direction, you know, and you’re busy. And, I’m not trying to like discount anyone at all, you know. We get busy. These things kind of slip. And, you know, it is a farmhouse brewery, and we’re working with little space. Cleaning doesn’t always take precedence. So to be a little more clean is good. You know, Jen is definitely moving us in the right direction. They’re awesome. But, I’m more excited to just have a team and brew some good beer. I think we’ve done well. I like to see the continual progression.

Yeah, I feel like we’re always moving in the right direction. Sure, we’ve made mistakes. We’re not perfect. Can carbonation in the past has been an issue. So Mike did a great job of kind of clarifying that process, and you guys will attest to it. I think he’s he really dialed that in. And, he left us with procedures, and those are pretty good. And, I think we can improve a little bit on that. But, it’s kind of the asymptote, right? You don’t really have to do a lot at this point. You just have to keep dialing in until the process it a little tighter. I think we’re real close on that. Besides that, you know, just, you know, new blood? It’s always a good thing. I think it’s going to be a fun transition for us.

DSBC: And what about you Mark, Roger? What is it like having new leadership in the brewhouse?

Dawson: I think it always helps to have a fresh pair of eyes on the space and bring a new perspective. And, we can only benefit from from that, and I think Jen has already established that we’re going to work together as a team. And, a lot of like cross-training, so that we can cover each other and sharing the responsibility and creation of some great beer.

DSBC: Mark, it’s your first time working on the production side, right? You’ve been a server, bartender, and manager for many years. How has the transition been?

Dawson: It’s great, I love it. Yeah, no complaints. I’m not afraid to get dirty and put in some elbow grease, and work hard. And, I find it rewarding, and it’s also fascinating to learn more about the brewing process, from hands-on experience.

DSBC: Roger, what are you looking forward to learning the most from from Jen and from your team?

Pacheco: Just continuing the overall process of brewing and working in the brewery. I’ve been here since August. So been eight months now. So you know, I was kind of late into getting into the game, but I’m enjoying it so far. I have my income job, and then this is my fun job.

DSBC: Your passion job.

Pacheco: Exactly.

Rowley: I know all about that.

DSBC: I hear you.

Treu: And, as a side note to this, working with people and for companies for the last eight years, the most important thing is not the skill level that you come in with. It’s the passion that you have for the beer that you are making. And, these guys are very passionate about Rowley’s beer.

* * * * *

A special thank you to Jennifer Treu and the entire Rowley crew for sitting down and chatting with us. To passion projects and passionate people and more great beer from these fine folks, cheers!

— Luke

For more craftbeer news, follow us on Twitter at @nmdarksidebc and check out my unfiltered Untappd check ins @SantaFeCraftBro.

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