Women in Beer | Bailey Spaulding & Lisa Peterson of Jackalope Brewing
When they opened their doors, Jackalope Brewing Co. were the hip, new brand taking up space in a modest sized brewpub. Fast forward a decade and Jackalope Brewing have become respected pioneers and leaders of Nashville beer. They now operate out of a towering production facility in a rapidly growing city that seemingly sprouts one brewery for every new high-rise residential building.
It was 2011, a monumental year not only for beer in Nashville, but for craft beer in general. That year was the first time the overall volume of beer production owned by craft climbed above five percent. There were 250 breweries opening nationally, and the overall craft brewery count was at 1,989, up 11 percent from the year before. It was a promising time and the future was bright for craft beer life. It was also the year Bailey Spaulding, Steve Wright and Robyn Virball launched Jackalope Brewing.
The idea of Jackalope Brewing, the brainchild of Spaulding and Virball — whose friendship was born during a study abroad session in a tiny Scottish town — began to take shape in 2009 (Wright would join them in 2010). The frustrating reality was that in 2011, beer was still in a narrow-minded boy’s club stage. Those same boys in that club might have condescendingly seen two women opening a brewery as an unrealistic challenge, and at the very least a novel idea, but the two founders didn’t even flinch. “There were a much, much smaller number of female brewers,” said Spaulding. “It was not anything we considered, rather, it was other people brought it to our attention. There was never a conversation of, ‘well, we’re gonna be the girl brewers.’ That was never the pitch to investors.”
The ball got rolling and Spaulding was at the helm. If she felt folks weren’t approaching her correctly, she simply didn’t work with them. It was her call to make. She recalls a time when a vendor made an insinuation that something inappropriate was going on after seeing her in a walk-in cooler with someone from their distributor. She simply made the choice not to work with him. “Those aren’t the people that matter to me,” said Spaulding. “I’m just not going to work with you and I’ll work with somebody else because there’s a lot of great people out there who have an understanding that you may have a different perspective but it’s not your label. Woman brewer is not your label.”
For the last 10 years, Jackalope Brewing has been an evolving work in progress and became a brewery that is in a comfortable place; a place that thinks a lot about the balance of their beers while providing something people can know and trust. They have certainly come a long way. “In the beginning, we were super scrappy. It was about just getting to the point to be able to sell draught beer to people in Nashville,” remembers Spaulding. “I was 29 when we opened, having the fucking time of my life and going to beer festivals. I was at a point in my life where nothing else mattered. I’m married and have a kid now; over the years, figuring out how to grow your business and grow your life is certainly a challenge that everybody faces. You always get to where you’re aiming for then you aim for something else.”
So much seems to have changed from the beginning of this brewing force and a lot for the better. Spaulding points out that since Jackalope Brewing opened, a lot of women have gotten into the brewing side of things, which she thinks is impressive. She brought up how Pink Boots went from being a small group to a worldwide organization. “From that perspective, it’s really great,” said Spaulding. “Everything is very equitable. It makes it a little bit more interesting and accessible to women, as drinkers in craft beer can be an intimidating group. We have really noticed it more from the female drinkers that are really interested in the story, really interested in getting to know craft beer.”
Somewhere in the growth of Jackalope Brewing, there was another change; they went from being the new kids on the block, to being the elder stateswomen. More importantly, they became pillars of their community. “What your brewery means to your community also changes,” says Spaulding. “We matter to other people which is wild. It’s an interesting and humbling experience to go through.”
Being a pioneer bears great responsibility. You can no longer hide in modest anonymity or be a wallflower of a brewery. No matter what size operation you are, the fact that your existence began when your industry peers were in the single digits naturally bestows a wisdom upon you that makes you a beacon of knowledge that the new generation looks to for guidance. This is something Spaulding is fully aware of and does not shy away from. There’s also a realization that the niche breweries that are coming out now, many of which Spaulding loves, couldn’t have done that when Jackalope was coming up.
Spaulding recalls how folks from Yazoo Brewing, Blackstone Brewing Company and Bosco’s Brewing Company really helped out Jackalope when they were getting started. They’ve since adopted a pay it forward mentality of doing whatever they can to help the smaller folks that are coming up behind them. “You’re helping in ways you don’t even realize from things that you’ve learned, which can be valuable to someone else,” said Spaulding.
The New Norm
For many, the COVID questions have been exhausted, but that doesn’t render them useless. They’re a window into the brain of founders and operators of businesses that are acting as captains of ships, slogging through the murkiest of waters while hitting overwhelming waves all while chasing a horizon for land that doesn’t seem close enough. “The things that we normally do were already taken; we are a brewery that does 65 percent draught,“ reflected Spaulding. “We really excel in weird, fun events and those went away overnight. We were immediately dead in the water, being allowed to be open for to-go only.”
It doesn’t take a lot to be able to talk about the crippling effect a global pandemic took on one’s respective business, but it certainly takes a lot to see through all of that and realize what good has come from something so bad. Spaulding and Jackalope’s marketing manager, Lisa Peterson, were excited to share what they learned throughout the challenges that they faced in 2020; it was a refreshing defiance to what could have and did cripple so many others in the last year. Whether it was being in the female minority in their early years or facing the COVID crisis, Jackalope Brewing doesn’t seem to skip a beat.
Something that they always wanted to do but never had the time for was start a small batch program. Between March and December of 2021, the brewery had 26 different, limited can releases. Prior to this, they had only done five limited release cans. “We always wanted to do it but we were always running at full speed and hadn’t been able to figure out how to slow down enough to do it right,” says Spaulding. “That was huge because it was a way for Jackalope to entertain. We see ourselves as entertainers, and people are going through some real shit right now. How do we make them feel a little bit better and give them something to look forward to in a different way than we normally do since we can’t do our normal, onsite stuff. Our brewers are equally freaking out right now. How can we give our brewers a little bit of fun, too?”
Peterson added that they wanted to make people feel excitement in a very unexciting time. But it wasn’t all for entertainment value. Peterson also shared that they had taken all of that experience and built it into a program called the Shapeshifter series where they create variants of all of their most popular beer. “It’s been fun to see the crazy, hectic, ‘whatever we want to do at the moment,’ to taking what really worked from that and building out a program.”
Where We Go From Here
As for what the future holds, both Spaulding and Peterson are looking forward to the small changes that will help the brewing industry in the long run, such as delivery and curbside sales becoming a permanent thing. Outside of the Jackalope world, Spaulding is also very excited about the state of Tennessee beer, especially with the Tennessee State Brewing Guild finally hiring an executive director. In Nashville, Spaulding gave a shout out to fellow breweries Living Waters Brewing who are doing some really cool things and shared her excitement of the re-opening of Crazy Gnome Brewery, which was dealt a one-two punch in the way of a devastating tornado and a pandemic.
No matter what has come their way, Jackalope Brewing seems to have mastered the art of turning lemons into lemonade and we should all be drinking it up. They look forward to telling their story through fun videos and experimental content while keeping people engaged and coming back for whatever is next. Spaulding belted out a hearty laugh while reminding me, “We’re all fun people. We like to entertain people. We’re codependent. We want people’s approval!” Keep a lookout for Jackalope Brewing’s exciting Shapeshifter series, along with taproom only releases and upcoming collaborations that they have so patiently been waiting to get back into.
Featured image by Andrea Behrends