Women in Beer | Bri Burrows & The Big Rip
In an industry where women are still fighting for space, Bri Burrows of The Big Rip Brewing Co. is a humble trailblazer. In just shy of five years, she catapulted herself from weekend bartender, to head brewer and co-owner — a combination that is a first for a woman in the Kansas City, Missouri, brewery scene.
A Natural Talent
Bri showed a knack for beer brewing long before she made it her career. While working an office payroll job, she learned to home-brew from her father and brother. “The first beer I ever made at home was a strawberry Saison that I served at Nanonfest,” she says, “and it kicked before any of my brother or my dad’s beers, and they were really mad!” She laughs, but it was an important moment. After her success at Nanofest, a small-batch homebrew competition festival, her father bought her a mash tun and kettle of her own.
After finding success in homebrewing, Bri decided to explore a beer career. At International Tap House, she learned the basics of bartending and studied beer. Then, she began bartending at The Big Rip Brewing Co. in North Kansas City, Missouri. Founded in 2013, the brewery is named for the theory of The Big Rip. The theory, now-debunked, suggests that all matter could one day be torn apart by the expansion of the universe, resulting in ultimate destruction. The brewery mixes science-fiction and horror classics into its unique aesthetic that Burrows affectionately says, “attracts the weirdos.” The brewery fully embraces its theme in its décor and branding. Even the beer names are all named for a character from a movie. Hefe the Killer, Pennywise Sweet Tater Ale and Umbrella Kolsch, to name a few.
Brewing for Good
Unsurprisingly, Bri flourished at her new job. She even began training with the brewers in addition to bartending a few days a week. She was quickly promoted when the assistant brewer position became available. From there, it was only a short time before she became the first female head-brewer in the Kansas City area. Bri then began to use her beer-brewing to support local and worldwide communities. The brewery participates in numerous collaborations and fundraisers, including a yearly brew for The Pink Boots Society of Kansas City. The Big Rip also houses year-round donation bins, where patrons can donate essential hygiene products to Kansas City youth. Bri is proudest of collaborating with Lily Waithe of Queer Brewing Project. Together, they made a Boysenberry IPA called “Try and Tear Me Down,” which benefited the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. “We made a beer, and it was awesome,” Bri says, in her humble fashion, when asked about the experience.
2020: Co-Ownership & COVID-19
In July of 2019, the Big Rip’s owners sold their shares of the company, in January of 2020, the current owners approached Bri with an offer to take part. She says that co-ownership “kinda made me feel a little more confident, like with the employees and decisions”. Being part-owner and head-brewer has given Bri a deeper sense of ownership over what she does, and her passion shows. Whether she is bartending, brewing, or organizing an event, Bri lives and breathes The Big Rip brand.
Despite 2020 being possibly the worst year to become part-owner of a brewery, The Big Rip has flourished under Bri’s leadership. In 2020, the brewery has remodeled a new event space and sent cans to the distribution market for the first time ever. Zelda’s Vanilla Cream Ale, named for a character in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, is a popular offering from the brewery. This classic cream ale with a twist boasts balanced vanilla sweetness with a silky smooth mouthfeel. In addition to year-round staples, there are always new seasonal or special releases in the works. Next up, she is working on a beer made in collaboration with a local paranormal podcast. The beer will be a “sort-of West Coast IPA” brewed with El Yucateco hot sauce!
Despite challenges, the Big Rip is shaking up the beer industry and its paradigms under Bri’s leadership. While also producing great beer, the company is a model of inclusivity, innovation and the power to facilitate change. Follow the brewery on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on fundraisers, community events, and new beers!
Feature image by The Big Rip Brewing Co.