There are few areas of American society left where a woman doing something that men do all the time is a big deal.
The beer industry, and the actual act of brewing in particular, is one of those domains.
There are about 2 million U.S. jobs devoted to making, delivering and selling beer, according to the Beer Institute trade group. The Pink Boots Society, a network of women in all corners of the industry, has just more than 1,130 members.
While brewing isn’t quite as exclusive to women as those numbers suggest, it remains a boys club to a far greater extent than you see in nearly any workplace these days.
So it’s noteworthy that the first of several Capital Brewery beers designed and brewed by Capital employees over the next year or so comes from the hand of a woman, Ashley Kinart.
“We saw this as a great opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of women to the craft beer movement,” said brewmaster Brian Destree.
Kinart, who has worked as a brewer at Capital for about a year and a half, not only drew up the recipe for the imperial schwarzbier Fishin’ in the Dark, but also named it, guided the label design and, most notably, actually brewed it.
It’s the physicality of that process — hoisting 50-pound sacks of grain and buckets of other ingredients into kettles, shoveling out spent grain, lugging around hoses — that deters many women from either seeking or being allowed the opportunity to brew, she said.
The 30-year-old, 5-foot-3-inch Kinart — like the rest of Capital’s brewing staff — regularly puts in 12-hour workdays in which she brews two batches of beer. I know I’d be a pile of putty by the end of a brew day, but she said doesn’t get sore anymore.
It’s been a winding road to brewer for Kinart, a Brookfield native who came to Madison to attend UW and ended up staying.
Her Spanish and biology major had a pre-med emphasis, but she drifted away from that track and ended up embracing her job at one of Madison’s great beer emporiums, The Old Fashioned.
Kinart said she quickly became enamored with beer, becoming general manager Jennifer DeBolt’s “right-hand beer woman,” maintaining, organizing and curating the bar’s beer offerings. Whenever she found a beer question she couldn’t answer, she dove headlong into it, researching until she found answers. She began homebrewing.
“The more i learned about beer, the more i realized how awesome it was,” she said, adding that her science background — biochemistry, bacteriology, and especially physics — was a huge help in understanding beer and brewing.
Eventually, Kinart recalled, DeBolt gave her the nudge toward a new career: not just serving beer but making it. “She was the first one to say to me, ‘Is that what you want to do? Do you want to be a brewer when you grow up?’”
It was a true aha moment. Even though she’d never before considered it, her answer was a clear, immediate yes. “This is not something I grew up wanting to do, but when it was presented to me as a real-life option, it seemed really awesome,” Kinart said.
In early 2011 Kinart enrolled in the World Brewing Academy, in which she studied at the Siebel Institute in Chicago for seven weeks and Doemens Academy near Munich, Germany, for five weeks, earning an international brewing diploma.
She started at Capital at a time of considerable change. The Middleton brewery had just hired Destree, its first new beer architect in 24 years following the departure of brewmaster Kirby Nelson. Destree’s charge was a new direction for Capital’s portfolio of mostly German-style lagers.
“Part of my interest in this job was the pivotal point in the company itself,” Kinart said. “Obviously some big changes were going to be happening and I was very interested in that and wanted to be a part of it.”
Kinart’s foot in the door was a fall 2012 tasting panel of various India pale ales that was critical to the development of Mutiny, Capital’s first attempt at the most popular craft beer style. She met Destree, who came away impressed with her beer chops. She started as a “volunteer,” Destree said, then was hired part time in December. Amid the rapid gear-changing at Capital, her gig grew quickly to full time.
“Ashley isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and keeps her cool when you-know-what hits the fan,” Destree said, “both of which are prerequisites for working at this old brewery.”
With Fishin’ in the Dark, for now at least, she finds herself among just a handful of brewers — all men — who have authored a Capital beer. Kinart wrote the recipe and tested it on Capital’s pilot system. She leaned on Destree’s knowledge of suppliers to guide ingredient choices that fit her vision — primarily a heavy emphasis on Wisconsin-sourced ingredients — and his understanding of how to scale up a pilot brew to Capital’s production system.
Fishin’ in the Dark, which debuts at next weekend’s Burgers and Brew event at Capital, will hit shelves statewide next month in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles. The only other beers Capital currently releases in that format are two of the state’s most venerable: Blonde Doppelbock and Autumnal Fire.
The heady company her beer is joining is not lost on Kinart. “If you’ve been around anywhere ever and you’ve seen a Capital four-pack, you know that’s some serious stuff,” she said. “It’s really scary.”
Kinart likes dark beer. Her homebrews tended toward big stouts and porters, and she said the most exciting beer she’d brewed at Capital was the latest Eternal Flame, an imperial stout made with habanero peppers. So her choice for her own beer initially veered that direction, but the summer release made her look deeper.
She was drawn to the schwarzbier, particularly its description as a “black pilsner.” The Germanic style has the dark, imposing malts of a stout but a lighter body, Kinart said, and because it’s a lager it’s crisp and refreshing.
“It’s dark and it looks a little scary but you drink it and it’s actually pretty light and approachable and really delicious,” she said.
That duality inspired the beer’s name and label design: a couple shoulder to shoulder at the end of a moonlit pier, the man fishing and the woman drinking a beer. It’s exactly the feeling she was seeking with Fishin’ in the Dark. “It’s nighttime, it’s warm outside, you want to be outside, you want to be drinking beer,” she said. “’Cause if you’re not drinking beer when you’re fishing, you shouldn’t be fishing in the first place.”
I was only able to sample a glass from the pilot batch of Fishin’ in the Dark, but even on a chilly May evening in the Capital beer garden I could see the beer working well in exactly that idyllic scenario.
Kinart didn’t spend too much time tailoring the beer to women, because from her years pouring all kinds of beers to both women and men at The Old Fashioned, she knows it can’t be done. Nor did she worry too much about inspiring more women to get into brewing.
“At the end of the day, I just want to brew a good beer and have some fun with it,” she said. “I’m not here to be a girl and shout it out. I’m just here because this is what I want to do. Celebrating my girlness isn’t...” she pauses. “I’m just doing this because I really love beer.”