Women in Brewing | Ali Benetka – Ratio Beerworks
Brewing has been a part of the world since the dawn of civilization; some have even claimed that beer has helped influence the evolution of our species. In many eras, brewing was largely a woman’s job. Men began to dominate the field starting in the Renaissance period and even more so during The Industrial Revolution as brewing operations scaled to mass production. Today Colorado is one of the biggest beer states in the country with cities such as Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver offering some of the best beer available. However, men still notoriously hold the title “brewmaster” more often than women. As females in the industry, we felt compelled to highlight some of the talented women who currently make Colorado beer, the paths they took to their currently role in the industry, and the awesome work they are doing on a daily basis.
Ali Benetka is a relatively young brewer who already holds an impressive resume. She started home brewing in college (Loyola University in Chicago, where she obtained a degree in Biology) and got her first job out of school at Finch’s Brewery in Chicago, opting for a brewery job over a more traditional lab job. After getting her foot in the door in Chicago, she moved back to her hometown of Denver, taking a packaging job at Left Hand Brewing Company. After a stint at Left Hand driving 60 miles from Denver each day, Ali switched gears and joined Renegade Brewing in downtown Denver as assistant brewer. Only 4 months later she accepted the head brewer position at Renegade.
Just recently in October of 2015, Ali took an assistant brewer position at one of Denver’s fastest rising breweries – Ratio Beerworks. Her personal brewing philosophy is to continue to learn great brewing practices, focusing on brewing consistent, clean beer. She thinks a lot of breweries could focus on this more to some degree and always strives for higher standards and more advanced skills in her own brewing techniques. Ali agrees that lots of women and men think that brewing is harder for women. But for her it’s just another job that any woman can accomplish with dedication and proper training – “You just get wet, and you have to move things around, and that’s really a lot of what it comes down to.”
To what degree do you attribute your science background to your success as a brewer in the industry?
To an extent – I was a bio major, but I didn’t take bio in a way that applied to brewing. For me it’s more about taking my education and applying it to brewing. But I think it’s made me ultra-paranoid about microbes and contamination, because I understand how powerful those little guys are.
Can you pinpoint your transition into true craft beer appreciation? It’s different for everyone…
Cantillon beer is the reason I got into craft beer. When I was 20 and studying abroad in Italy, I found a craft beer bar there called Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà – this beer bar is literally the reason I am a brewer. It’s probably been open for about 20 years, and they always have Cantillon on tap.
That’s pretty awesome. I’m not sure I would have had the appreciation at 20 years old to try a Cantillon beer and say “Wow, this is delicious!!” Do you remember what Cantillon beer it was?
A lot of the Cantillon Kriek, Fou Foune… but they had everything. When my friends and I first discovered it, we ordered normal craft beers like Goose Island and Great Lakes, but then as we came back the guide was like “Oh, you guys should try these other kinds” and it just kind of clicked. It was like, “Wow, this can be beer.”
What are some of your current favorite styles?
Porters and Brown Ales. Those are my fall/beginning of winter beers! I mean, I love this beer [gestures to the beer she ordered, Lowdown’s “Selfish”, an American Pale Ale]. Gilpin Black Gold Porter, by Hogshead is great. That and Edmund Fitzgerald Porter by Great Lakes Brewing Company – I love them.
What’s your brewing music of choice?
When it’s really early, it’s usually old school hip hop or pop music… there’s really no in-between. You need something outside of what you normally listen to because it just wakes you up and gets you going.
Who is one of your brewing heros from your past experiences?
Matt Brynildson [brewmaster at Firestone Walker] was in on one of my lectures (I took a Siebel Institute’s concise course), and his talk was on waste water treatment, and it was one of the most exciting talks! I was like “you are my hero, you’re just talking about waste water treatment and I’m so intrigued.”
So you’ve held several kinds of brewing jobs; how do you see the state of women in the industry and how do you think that could improve?
I think it’s important that women are in the industry, but at the same time I don’t think we need to make a huge deal out of it. It’s like, this is just another type of job. I haven’t encountered any situation on the job where it’s like “I can’t do this because I’m a woman.” Maybe they make equipment that’s like 6 inches too short, but there are guys that are my height too, so it’s not exclusive to women! I just use the stool, it’s not that hard!