Women in Brewing | Julia Herz – Brewers Association
As we approach Julia Herz at the CraftBeer.com booth at the Vail Big Beers fest, she’s standing with Executive Chef Adam Dulye, purveying toffee and craft beer samples. Enthusiastically, she encourages us to give the pairing a try and we do so willingly. The confection is a 70% dark chocolate with almonds, toffee and a sweetness level calculated to complement the malt bill of the beer, Baere Brewing Company’s Big Hoppy Brown. It’s a pairing tastier than we even imagined — the delicious hop character of the brown ale comes forward as the rich, malty, nutty sweetness takes a backseat. As we wash down the last of the toffee, we chat with Julia on her long history in the brewing community.
Julia’s contributions to the craft beer industry are innumerable. While her official title is Craft Beer Program Director at the Brewers Association (publisher of CraftBeer.com), she wears many hats and has become one of the most influential advocates and thought leaders in the craft beer industry.
Sometimes her role calls for her to serve as outspoken marketing director. In January 2016, for example, she was responsible for the letter and care package of craft beer sent to Peyton Manning after his Super Bowl comments about drinking Bud Light. Other days she’s an advocate, spearheading grassroots outreach, speaking on behalf of the industry, and writing about and researching small and independent breweries. To top the list, her name is attached to various online publications, including Craftbeer.com’s Beer & Food Course, as well as a new book released December 1, 2015: “Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros.” Julia’s also on a mission to see greater equality when it comes to pairing beer in the culinary world. Wine pairing classes, for example, have been a standard in culinary curriculum for years, but beer pairing skills have been optional, if required at all. Given the great diversity of beer styles, this is a paradigm in need of a shift. Julia and Chef Adam’s efforts on the CraftBeer.com Beer & Food Course are helping to provide the resources for this change to occur. This is a professional course and exam meant for teachers and students alike, and since its 2014 launch, the course has been downloaded more than 4,000 times by notorious culinary institutes and organizations everywhere.
Taking into account all of Julia’s accomplishments during years of service with the Brewers Association, it’s admittedly a bit exciting to be eating chocolates, drinking beer and just taking in the sights and sounds of Big Beers on a Sunday in Vail. But isn’t this the kind of experience that draws us into the industry in the first place?
Fittingly, Julia’s initial exposure to craft beer actually came from a complete respect for the beverage as a sensory experience. That journey began decades ago as a steady progression through various flavors and aromas set afoot by her own parents, who were open-minded culinary and beer enthusiasts. She likens her experience to the European style of exposure where alcohol is generally less taboo and often regarded as a sensory-indulging art form from a relatively young age. Then in her early 20s, Julia spent time in D.C., frequenting a bar with more than 500 beers on the menu. This introductory period was instrumental to forming the foundation of her taste and flavor development skills. She “saw a world outside of lager” and, inspired by the variety, began homebrewing at age 21. Exploring career paths, she submitted job applications to two breweries, but didn’t receive a lucky break. Instead, she happened on an opportunity at the Brewers Association via Paul Gatza, current Brewers Association director and owner of the homebrew shop she frequented. And, as she says with a smile, “Fate had its way from there.”
What are your thoughts on the saturation of craft breweries, particularly in Denver — do too many of them exist?
Julia Herz: No way! In 2014, there were 8,000 wineries in the U.S. compared to 4,100 craft breweries. It was only recently that we reached the number of breweries existing in the 1880s. Considering the huge rise in population since that time, proportionally speaking, our country could support more than 30,000 breweries today. In 2014, craft sales claimed around 11% of the market. It’s completely reasonable to shoot for having small and independent craft brewers owning 20% of the market share by volume by 2020 considering they make up 99% of today’s 4,100 breweries.
With such an extensive tenure in the industry, how have you seen sexism pervade and also change over time?
I don’t think beer in particular has a sexism problem so much as Planet Earth does… (side note: in her 20s when she was interviewing for brewing positions, she noticed some discrimination in the brewery hiring process, perhaps influenced by a common misconception around women being too small and weak to do jobs perceived as too difficult. The reality, she muses, is that women are capable of even the most physical positions, and jobs perceived as “dangerous” to one sex should perhaps be re-evaluated. For example, it’s not that we should question a woman’s ability to repetitively lift extraneous amounts of weight, we should question if that weight is safe for any person to lift at all.)
What would you bring to a desert island if you could only choose one beer?
A cask ESB — it’s sessional, creamy, flavorful, has healthful properties from the yeast and is killer with fish and chips. Enough said.
What are your favorite beer moments of the past year?
The ones that stick the most are when people take the time to share how they have bettered the beverage of beer while beer bettered them (in their careers, business, life experiences, etc.).
What does the near future of the industry look like to you? How about the craft beer scene 10 years from now?
2016 will be a fascinating year where we continue to advocate for fair access to market for all sizes of brewers, advocate for access to raw materials (hops, malt, etc.), and further advance brewery quality and safety along with retailers’ relationships with beer. I don’t think most can know what things will be like in 10 years, but in a dream world small and independent craft brewers have as much market share as the large global brewery, and I still get to be a voice for this amazing community!
If you’re interested in further reading on beer pairings, check out Julia’s new book or the Beer & Food course from CraftBeer.com.