Patron queens of suds: Meet the Colorado and New Mexico women making your beers
The Craft Brewing Conference is the only place Jess Griego visits where there isn’t a line for the women’s bathroom. When the co-owner of Bosque Brewing Co. sees the men’s bathroom just across the way, there’s always a long line.
While not having to wait in line to use the bathroom is certainly a victory, the difference in restroom line length is indicative to Griego of how craft brewing is a male dominated industry. It’s also proof that there’s quite a bit more work to do to bring women into the brewing industry.
“Women brewing is a large minority,” she said. “I have seen a lot more women in owner and leadership roles, which has been great, but I think there’s still a lot of work to be done with women working in brewing. ... I think it’s definitely becoming less common (to not see women working in the industry). I hope that more women can see themselves in these roles.”
According to the Brewers Association, more than 30 percent of beer drinkers are women. Data suggests that from 2015 to 2018, craft beer skyrocketed in popularity and added 14.7 million drinkers to the mix – with 6.6 million of those being women. In fact, in some markets, the ratio of women sipping suds is greater than the number of men. In Portland, Oregon, the craft drinker breakdown is 52.7 percent female and 47.3 percent male.
The pseudo scientific expert takeaway here is that women like drinking beer, and they like making it, too. In fact, many of them are going to be serving glasses of their top-shelf beers from Oct. 3 through 5 at the Great American Beer Fest in Denver.
There’s an entire army of women out there making waves in the craft beer industry, and organizations like Pink Boots Society, an international nonprofit supporting women in the beer industry, are there to make sure it happens. Let’s meet a few of the women who are leading the hops charge in Colorado and New Mexico.
Kaylynn McKnightHead brewer at Toltec Brewing – Albuquerque, NMThe brewing bug bit Kaylynn McKnight when she was young and it never let go. Her initial exposure to the craft was when her father started bringing home beer recipes for homebrewing. It was the first time she saw someone drink a beer other than Coors or Miller.
That curiosity followed her into adulthood, leading McKnight to take a job as a hostess and waitress at a restaurant with a brewhouse where she could watch the brewing process from behind a glass window.
“I was freshly twenty one years old and I started bugging the head brewer to let me help. I bugged him so much he let me,” McKnight said.
It was clearly meant to be, as McKnight went on to become the founding brewer of Toltec Brewing in Albuquerque. She’s the only brewer, and as the founder, she built the brewery from the bottom up.
“I run the day to day operations from ordering grain to brewing. Quality control is all on me,” she said.
McKnight is a bit of an anomaly in her field. There are not many women that can say they’re the head brewer of a brewery. But at Toltec, most of the management team is made up of women, including one of the owners, the general manager, and the head chef.
“There are a few of us (women working in the craft beer industry). We’re not completely outnumbered but there are a few. Head brewers not so much. But I’ve been seeing more women in lab programs,” McKnight said.
A self-proclaimed sucker for lagers, McKnight believes you can’t make a good beer unless you pay attention to the little things.
“I don’t think you can make a good beer without attention to detail,” she said. “If you try to rush through anything in the beer industry you’re going to get a bad product. It’s important to really love what you’re doing and love hard work. There’s a lot of trial and error. It’s really a work of art.”
There are certain beers McKnight is most proud of. At the last brewery she worked at, she made a honey chamomile wheat that won gold at World Beer Cup and a silver medal at GABF. At Toltec, people love her wheat beers and the blue agave nectar beer, but her pride and joy are her lagers – specifically her rye lager.
“It’s crisp and doesn’t have that overwhelming rye flavor,” she said.
She’s entered five beers for the GABF competition this year. She didn’t get her own brewery booth, but will have a few of her beers featured at the New Mexico Guild booth.
Amy MeyerhoferBar manager and event coordinator of WildEdge Brewing Collective – Cortez, COWhen Amy Meyerhofer began working in the craft brew scene, it was quite evident to her that she was going to be one of few women working in the southwest Colorado beer industry.
Despite her extensive knowledge and experience, Meyerhofer, the bar manager and event coordinator at WildEdge Brewing Collective in Cortez, has found that at beer-focused social events like festivals she must exert herself more than her male cohorts in order to be taken seriously.
“It felt like we went years back in time. I had to put on a different pair of pants and was like, ‘No, I’m going to own this experience. I had a part in this. I can talk about it,” Meyerhofer said.
To get to where she is now, Meyerhofer studied the craft of brewing relentlessly.
“You want to get the nuances right. You want to get the verbiage right. Especially as a female, there’s less wiggle room on that. You have to be able to drag your point home with the correct language to be heard. So just making sure I was succinct and knowledgeable and then finding the confidence to go out to these festivals or be in the taproom, because we’re doing something that Cortez has never seen. There’s a lot of education that happens with our patrons,” she said.
As far as good beer goes, Meyerhofer said a good beer experience is dependent on how it makes her feel.
“I feel like what makes a good beer is how it reacts in your body,” she said. “That it’s clean. That it’s well brewed. ... Something that excites my palette. Something that is unique.”
She held up a glass of Barrel 17, a WildEdge-brewed red base beer fermented with second-use raspberries in French oak cask for nine months.
“Like this beer that we’re drinking. I feel like as we’re gaining a couple degrees in temperature it’s evolving and exploring that evolution. ... You’re starting to branch into the unique qualities of the beer that are exciting,” she said.
Victoria MartinezDirector of Culinary Arts and Hospitality and Tourism programs at Central New Mexico Community College – Albuquerque, NMVictoria Martinez isn’t a brewer, but she is a visionary who is leading the charge in creating a larger workforce in New Mexico’s craft brewing industry.
As the director of culinary arts and hospitality and tourism at Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque, Martinez played a key role in developing the university’s new Brewing and Beverage Management program.
“It was a conversation we had with New Mexico Brewers Guild,” Martinez said. “We were looking at expanding our programs and we noticed the craft brewing industry in New Mexico was growing. The brewing guild came to us and said, ‘We need a labor force. We need folks with boots on the ground.’”
Martinez worked with the Brewers Guild to develop a program and Brewing and Beverage Management was born in 2016.
The program has since been lauded as one of the best in the country. Not only was CNM named the No. 2 brewing school in North America at the 2018 U.S. Open College Beer Championship, but CNM students were awarded the gold medal in the IPA category and silver in the stout category.
As someone on the education side of the brewing industry, Martinez sees the challenges of bringing women into the industry. Still, she also sees a lot of hope. The brewing education staff at CNM are a 50/50 mix of men and women. Martinez also joined the New Mexico chapter of the Pink Boots Society to get involved with more women in the beer industry.
For her, picking a favorite beer is, well, complicated.
“I think it depends on the season and depends on my mood. I love multi-goodness. I’m not super excited about hops, but I like tasting all kinds of different beers. I enjoy the sours and I enjoy those malty, creamy beers. It’s like picking a favorite child.”
Shelly CoxChief operating officer of Riff Raff Brewing – Pagosa Springs, CORiff Raff Brewing Co. isn’t just renowned for its delicious, green chile beer. When the Pagosa Springs brewery opened six years ago, the owners took the unusual step of using geothermal water from the local hot springs to heat the building and brewhouse. In fact, it’s one of just two breweries in the country that does this.
Shelly Cox and her husband, Jason, run the Pagosa beer staple, and founded the company when they felt it was time for a career change.
“My husband and I had been living in Pagosa for about five years, and he was home brewing and had a software company. He was getting really bored with the software company and I was getting tired of listening to him. I asked him, ‘What are you wanting to do?’ And he said, ‘I think I’m wanting to start a brewery,’” Cox said.
From there, Riff Raff Brewing was born and in 2018, Riff Raff on the Rio, the brewery’s second location.
For Shelly, good beer should be accompanied by a good time in an accepting environment, which is very much the theme of Riff Raff.
“The beer itself and the atmosphere you drink it in – one of our biggest things here is we want to make it “Cheers” for everyone, whether you’re coming in for the first time or you come in every day. I think we brew and produce solid beer, but if you’re drinking it with a friend, maybe a friend you just met five minutes ago, it makes everything taste better,” she said.
Riff Raff will also be in Denver for GABF and will offer a juicy pale ale and black cherry porter.
Jess Griego Co-owner of Bosque Brewing Co. and Pink Boots Society New Mexico Chapter Lead – Rio Rancho, NMGriego never intended to work in the beer industry long term. It was 2012 and she had graduated college intending to go to law school. She worked for an attorney and quickly decided that the profession wasn’t for her.
“I was at a loss. I didn’t want to stay in the position I was in,” she said. “I’d been bartending and I figured I could go back to serving temporarily until I figured out what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be in a bar scene and the craft beer scene was becoming more popular in New Mexico. I decided finding a job in a brewery would be a good fit.”
She asked a friend to get her a job at Bosque Brewery – a career move that was supposed to be temporary. She never left, and eventually became one of the owners.
If you ask Griego what she thinks makes a good beer, she’ll tell you it’s all about the experience.
“I think a good beer is the experience beyond the beverage. You can have a world-class beer in front of you, but if it’s served in a dirty glass or the server takes a long time to get to you, it can impact your experience. There’s so much work brewers do to create a great beer, but it has to be held up by a great experience surrounding it. All those little things add up,” Griego said.
Some of her favorite beers have been during “shifties,” aka crazy day beers.
“My favorite beers are always the beers we have together after opening tap rooms – after we’ve been in the trenches with staff and co-owners,” she said.
When she does have a bad beer experience (yes, there is such a thing), she takes what she learned and brings it back to Bosque.
“It’s bad for me as a customer and it’s bad for the brewers who worked super hard, only to have it served in a dirty glass. Or the flavors are bad. The craft beer community is becoming aware of these issues and making good decisions on where they want to spend their money,” Griego said.
This year, Bosque will be bringing five beers to Denver for the GABF competition: their Bosque lager, which won a GABF silver medal in 2017; their Acequia Wet Hop IPA, which has won three medals at GABF; their Resto hazy pale ale, which was named after Bosque’s pizza shop sister business; their blond ale, Pistol Pete’s 1888, that won bronze at GABF; and their German lager.
Corrin Oxnam General manager of Chainless Brewing – Durango, CODurango’s newest brew house, Chainless Brewing, might have just opened in June of this year but it’s rolling full steam ahead. The four-month-old brewery is even submitting several of its beers to GABF to see how they fare.
“We sent our Broken Link lager to GABF as well as our pale ale,” said Corrin Oxnam, general manager. “Our pale ale is more true to style than any of our other pales. But we’re really proud of our sour, our Broken Link lager, and our Brutal IPA. Those were experiments that turned out to be the best. The brute was definitely one of the first ones we brewed and it’s brutal. It’s got a high alcohol content and I named that one. We were here painting and then (the brew) was done so we decided to try it. I had two full pints and said, ‘Whew, that’s a brutal IPA!’”
If you swing by Chainless, located just off Main Avenue in Durango, you can often see Oxnam running around helping out staff or shooting the breeze with customers. In many ways, she’s the face of the brewery and you can see the passion she has for the business she started with her husband, Lucas Ratcliff, the head brewer, and Jason Hughes, the executive chef.
“My husband really wanted to be brewer,” she said. “In passing, Jason said, ‘I’m looking to open up my own restaurant.’ And Lucas said, ‘Well I’m looking to open my own brewery. Why don’t we do it together?’ Then, while we were waiting to hear back from some investors, Jason went to the casino and won nearly sixty thousand dollars. The rest is history.”
The brewery is complete with a healthy amount of IPAs, pale ales, a newly released sour, and a summer drinks menu that includes a BeerMosa (their Pumptrack pale ale mixed with orange juice) and Trojan Horse (a mix of their Chin Split porter topped with Coca-Cola).
For her, a good beer is a beverage that takes you somewhere.
“For me, a good beer is something that takes you away from where you’re at right in that moment,” she said. “You can sip on our Broken Link lager right here at the bar and think, ‘Man, I could be at the beach right now.’ For me, a good beer is something that takes you away to another place. The other thing I really love about beer is the passion behind the brewers. You can tell when someone is really proud of their finished product. That’s something that I know we have here.”