Have you ever met the Mother of Beer? Likely not, since she’s actually a Sumerian goddess.
The first evidence of beer production dates back thousands of years in ancient Mesopotamia, where ceramic vessels from 3400 B.C., still tacky with beer residue, were discovered by archaeologists in recent history. What’s more, a poem from 1800 B.C. harks a “Hymn to Ninkasi,” the Sumerian goddess of beer. The ode recounts the world’s first homebrew recipe, crafted by female priestesses.
Since, the boozy fermented beverage has won the hearts of many across the globe—but the production has long since moved to the hands of men. Still a male-dominated industry, the surge of American craft beer has inspired many women to try their hand at brewing, selling, managing, or otherwise becoming a part of the phenomenon.
Wilmington’s beer scene is no different, and this Mother’s Day we’re taking the time to celebrate the mothers of our local beer—women in Wilmington’s brewing industry. (And congrats to Michelle Savard of Wilmington Brewing Company and Emily Barlas of Flytrap Brewing, who will be actual mothers soon!)
BROOMTAIL CRAFT BREWERY – LISA OWINGS
Although she is not hands on in the brewing process, Lisa Owings is involved in almost every aspect of Broomtail Craft Brewery, including brainstorming new ideas for production which her husband, Barry Owings, owner and brewmaster, will execute. “I pretty much run all the daily operations of Broomtail, which entails quite a bit. However, I don’t brew—I leave that to the professionals!” she quips, noting her favorite brew from Broomtail is Moe-Beer, a brown ale named for their dog, Moses.
“My personal experience as a woman in the industry has been really positive,” Lisa tells. “I think people are very receptive to women in the beer industry. Right here in Wilmington we have some great women making their mark in brewing, [including] Kelsie Cole at Front Street Brewery. There are incredible women in key roles at every brewery in Wilmington. Also, there are very talented women in other areas such as distribution, marketing, promotion, etc.”
Overall, Lisa says she’s really enjoyed being a part of the Wilmington brewing community. “It’s a great network that’s cohesive and willing to help and promote one another,” she shares. “It’s been very rewarding to be able to be involved and help raise money for important causes. I love the people we’ve met and the regulars we have that come into our taproom. We’ve been able to make great friends and have a lot of fun along the way.”
FLYTRAP BREWING – EMILY BARLAS
“When the brewery first opened, I was often asked if I liked beer before meeting my husband,” Emily, co-owner and brewery manager of Flytrap Brewing, tells. Her husband, brewmaster Mike Barlas, began his career as an avid homebrewer. “I haven’t heard that in some time now and I believe that shows how women are becoming more of a presence in the beer industry. Locally, women are working to challenge stereotypes by being involved in all things beer—from brewing to pouring to enjoying. It is great to look out in the taproom and see that about 50 percent of our customers are women.”
“My role is to help the brewery and taproom best represent our vision,” she explains. “I work to ensure things are running smoothly and that our staff has everything they need to provide a welcoming environment to enjoy our brews. Duties constantly vary, from working on day-to-day operations to bigger-picture projects. I especially enjoy planning and executing events, as well as working to support local artists, musicians, and non-profits.”
Emily’s favorite offering from Flytrap is the Saison. “It’s light, crisp and refreshing—perfect for this time of year,” she describes. “I also love our special-release sours, especially after having seen all the time and care put into them.”
Though Emily says the perception of women in the brewing world is changing, she believes there is still room to grow. “I’d love to see more female brewers in breweries—and with that, for it to not be a surprise,” she urges. But she is thankful to call Wilmington home. “The Wilmington brewing community is constantly growing and changing, as we all do. It is such a special and supportive group, and we are lucky to have this collaborative community to be a part of.”
FRONT STREET BREWERY – KELSIE COLE
Perhaps the most pivotal step forward for women in Wilmington’s brewing community was the late 2014 announcement that Kelsie Cole would become North Carolina’s first female head brewer. Cole climbed her way through the ranks at Front Street Brewery, beginning as a hostess during her freshman year at UNC Wilmington. Today, her duties include “yeast whispering, liquid preparation, valve management, beer education, troubleshooting, and overall production management.”
“Being a woman in the beer industry at first felt intimidating,” Kelsie divulges. “I’ve always been a tomboy and had mostly male friends throughout childhood, so naturally I felt as though I’d fit into the craft beer industry. I found although being both young and female, this was not as fitting as I had presumed. I’ve had to program an entire part of my brain that I was not typically used to utilizing: problem solving. Not to say women aren’t natural problem-solvers, but I definitely think men have a more proactive mind to fixing things and troubleshooting, which is about 90 percent of brewing. With a lot of support and willingness to train, however, I’ve found most males in the industry are positive influences.”
A true hop head, Kelsie’s favorite beers at FSB include the Port City IPA, Papa Doble Double IPA, and the Absurdity Belgian IPA. “Because I put my heart into anything I do, I feel as though my influence on Front Street is a quality factor,” she adds. “I’ve put in place a lot of things, as far as quality control and general practices go, that weren’t necessarily intact prior to my head role in production. From wort production, yeast maintenance, and beer education for our front of house staff, I feel as though my attention to detail and overall great care for our beer directly influences the quality.”
If given the chance, Kelsie says she wouldn’t change a thing about the public’s perception of women in the beer industry. “Every brewery or industry-related conference I’ve been to, I’ve met so many people who are nothing but supportive of and encouraging to women in the beer industry,” she reveals. “I’ve received many handshakes, hugs and fist-bumps from both men and women when they find out I’m a 26-year-old head brewer. I think the overall public is just as open-minded and encouraging to women getting involved in our successful and fast-growing industry.”
She notes that Wilmington’s specific beer scene is very young—but adds that the community has deeply seated roots. “Places like Front Street and Cape Fear Wine & Beer have been pioneers in developing a beer culture here and have existed for one to two decades,” Kelsie says. “To see other ‘competitors’ only helps build a beer culture full of supportive beer enthusiasts and brewers themselves. As long as we all devote our time to both producing and selling a quality product, there’s no reason why Wilmington’s beer scene shouldn’t thrive within the next couple years. I’m proud of the fellow brewers in our community that have been so supportive and have helped put Wilmington on the beer map.”
GOOD HOPS BREWING – PATRICIA JONES
Patricia Jones is a mother herself to a brewer, John Garcia of Lookout Brewing in Black Mountain, NC. It is their relationship that was part of the inspiration for Patricia and her husband, Richard, to start Good Hops in Carolina Beach, where Patricia is the business manager. “I oversee operations so that the business of brewing is possible and maintained,” she informs.
“I truly would love to be that person at Good Hops that is a breath of fresh air when I enter the room. However, brewing beer is a business,” Patricia tells of her influence on the brewery. “As a microbrewery we are very task-oriented and labor intensive. I pray I am the assurance that we can get it all done and done extremely well and survive! I do not want to merely exist but to thrive! I am extremely passionate about the craft beer scene and our role in the communities we call home.”
Her favorite Good Hops beer, Donna Golden Ale, seeks to support the brewery’s hometown. “This beer is named posthumously for a beautiful person,” she shares. “It is the very recipe for my 50th birthday beer our son surprised me with and was one of his first beers brewed by both of our breweries. The proceeds from the sales of Donna Golden Ale go to support local community and charitable events. It is well received by our patrons.”
Patricia says she is proud to be a part of Wilmington’s fledgling craft beer industry. “We have the opportunity to be a part in creating a new scene and it is fun to motivate each other with the thought that we are part of history,” she details. “We are the pioneers! But most rewarding is the support we have received from the community. I am honored and humbled!”
While she notes the craft beer industry is very inclusive and collaborative, Patricia says she would love to see more women in the brew house. “I love when I see women in the science of brewing as well.”
WATERLINE BREWING COMPANY – DANI REWITZER
Dani Rewitzer got her start in the brew house, to put it simply, by working her butt off in all aspects of the brewery. “I am a jack of all trades, acting as an assistant brewer, cellar(wo)man and bartender,” she tells. “I love being involved in day-to-day activities, whether it’s brewing, brainstorming, or just opening the taproom. Early on, I was a part-time bartender and I put countless volunteer hours into the brew house before I had any kind of job in the brewery, but I worked hard to create a position for myself. I’d like to think my contributions have created a role that is both essential and necessary to help things run smoothly as Waterline continues to come into its own as a young brewery, and that it makes things a little bit easier on brewmaster and owner Brian Bell and owners Rob and Eve Robinson.”
Dani’s favorite mainstay on the Waterline lineup is the Rye IPA. “It’s our biggest, boldest beer, to me. Sure, the Tripel packs a little more punch (ABV), but the Rye is a fearless take on a classic style, and it pays off. This month we’re featuring a Scottish Wee Heavy, which I happen to be very partial to.”
The assistant brewer is often asked what it’s like being a woman in the brewing world. “My experience in the beer industry is one of hard work, persistence, and dedication,” she says. “If you’re willing to put in the effort and the time and the sweat and the sacrifice, then the reward is immeasurable. I am fortunate enough to be part of a very welcoming community both at Waterline and throughout Wilmington, as a woman and as part of the industry, and I’d prefer to think that my gender or size has nothing to do with how well I accomplish my job.”
For Dani, she wishes she could change the fact that women brewers are “any kind of spectacle.” “I brew and work in the cellar because it’s what I enjoy doing, because beer is important to me, and because I’m better suited to lifting 50 pound bags of grain, working 10 to 15 hour days, and leaving the brewery encrusted with junk that would be unrecognizable by sight or smell to any civilian. I love that, and that’s it. There’s already quite a few women working the industry just in the immediate area, and I feel like it’s pretty well accepted that anyone who is willing to put in the time and the effort is able to make a place for themselves in the brewing community.”
A Wilmington resident for only six months, Dani is a newcomer to the area’s beer scene. “To be honest, the industry and the beer scene are what I consistently describe most when people ask me how I like it here,” she muses. “Everyone is so supportive of each other, there’s a great community between brewers and breweries and bottle shops and all the local businesses, and everyone has been more than enthusiastic and supportive in the process of making it a career. I feel incredibly fortunate to be so involved at Waterline, and I can’t begin to describe the appreciation I have for my friends, my coworkers, my employers, and the unique community that is Wilmington’s beer scene.”
WATERLINE BREWING COMPANY – EVE ROBINSON
“As the Operations Manager of Waterline Brewing Co., I do a little of everything,” Eve Robinson, wife of brewer and owner Rob Robinson, tells. “My primary duty though is overseeing the tap room. I hire and train the ‘taptenders,’ pour beers on weekends and other surge periods, and I act as the brewery hostess and tour guide by ensuring customers are greeted warmly and given a tour of the brewery where I explain the brewing process on our 5-barrel system. If they’re interested, I also can tell the story and history of our building, the 1940’s-era former Jacobi Hardware Warehouse. I’m also in charge of booking food trucks for the weekends, coordinating special events and parties in the taproom, and working outside beer festivals. I’ve even been known to deliver a sixtel keg or two when needed.”
Of Waterline’s offerings, Eve’s favorites change depending on season or Brian’s new releases. “Right now it’s our Waterline Wee Heavy, but I probably drink the Kolsch more often because it’s lighter and low ABV.”
Customers often tell Eve she’s the “heart and soul” of Waterline. “I believe my passion for the building, the community, our customers, and the craft beer industry has a huge impact on the overall feel of the taproom and brewery. When customers comment on how comfortable, relaxing and inviting the taproom feels, I believe this is a direct reflection of myself, my husband Rob and partner Brian.”
In fact, Eve loves that so many of the breweries in Wilmington are owned and operated by husband-and-wife teams and families. “This is probably why we all get along so well. We have developed a close friendship and respect for each other’s businesses. Even though we don’t see each other very often, we promote and support one another, and encourage customers to visit them all. Also, I want to be sure to say thank you to the Wilmington Ale Trail magazine because in it, we are all united in print, too!”
She muses that everything in the craft beer industry right now, and especially in Wilmington, is exciting. “Craft beer manufacturing is one of the fastest growing businesses in America. In 2013, when we picked Wilmington to start Waterline Brewing, there was only one brewery in town; now there are eight with more opening soon,” she reveals. “Being a co-owner of a brewery allows me the opportunity to meet the most wonderful people, to develop friendships with the other brewery owners and our awesome taproom ‘regulars.’”
WILMINGTON BREWING COMPANY – MICHELLE SAVARD
Michelle and John Savard made their mark on the Wilmington brewing community first by opening Wilmington Homebrew Supply, no doubt fueling the many homebrewers who have gone on to open their own production facilities in the area. Since expanding to add Wilmington Brewing Company in 2014, the Savards’ roles have grown as well. “I operate day-to-day brewery and homebrew shop marketing, communications, accounting/bills—basically all the front of the house operations,” Michelle explains. “I love our business. It is happy, it is very challenging, and mostly very rewarding. Our team is family and I love doing what I do.”
“Since we opened the doors to our small homebrew shop in March 2012, the growth of the brewing community in Wilmington has been thrilling to watch,” Michelle adds. “Our personal growth (adding a brewery, taproom and moving to our now very big building) has been both stressful and amazing. We’ve made lifelong friends through the brewing industry, and I am so grateful to be a part of this community and excited to continue to watch it grow!”
For Michelle, being a woman in the beer industry is, in short, fun. “Yes, of course, there are those who have asked me, ‘Do you actually like beer?’” Michelle unveils, to which she replies, “Yes I do, very much! But for 99 percent of the time, every day is a new and fun adventure being a woman in a mostly male-dominated industry. Women are doing all kinds of work in the beer industry: brewing, advocating, marketing, owning, accounting, event-planning, the list goes on and on, and I would encourage any women out there who want to be in this industry to go for it!”