(Editor’s note: This is the second in a a two-part series on women brewers in Asheville).
Women are, indeed, leaders in the Asheville brewing industry. The second of the Biltmore Beacon’s two-part look at women in leadership roles in the Asheville brewing industry focuses on brewery ownership, industry executive leadership, running a brewing operation and an industry group of women sharing their experience in brewing. All the women featured in the series have worked hard, studied the brewing business from inside and out and met many challenges facing women in this male-dominated industry.
Jess ReiserCo-founder, CEO, Burial Beer Company
Jess and Doug Reiser and friend, Tim Gormley, discovered their mutual passion for craft beer in Seattle, Washington, and began planning to get into the industry. With the goal of opening a brewery in a city with a strong sense of community, they scouted out Asheville, and moved here in 2012. By June 2013, the three opened Burial Beer Company on Asheville’s South Slope.
Jess directs operations, which includes the popular Asheville tap room, Forestry Camp Bar and Restaurant (on the edge of Biltmore Village) and The Exhibit Space in Raleigh.
She’s is a full-time working mother of two and has “done everything” at the brewery, except for brewing.
Jess used her background in arts administration and nonprofit development to input the name, brand identity, complex brew names and packaging, drawing inspiration from the New Orleans mind-set, which, she said, “celebrates life, not death.”
While she acknowledges that brewing is a predominately male industry, Jess said she has not felt difficulties being a woman at the colleague level.
“There are societal pressures, though, where people may be skeptical of a woman being in brewery ownership,” she said. “There are people who react, ‘your husband must own the brewery.’”
Jess would like to see more women in business leadership, noting the relationship-building and culture keeping skills women bring to business.
Burial Beer supports women in beer production, too. Alia Midoun is head of Burial’s production facility, located at Forestry Camp.
“Alia is amazing, passionate and hard-working,” Jess said.
Leah RainisExecutive Director Asheville Brewers Alliance
Leah Rainis thought her career path would be in the corporate world. With a marketing degree, she spent a decade in financial services in Boston.
A cross-country road trip changed her mind, during which she fell in love with the brewing industry. Settling in Asheville in 2016, she immersed herself in the industry by working as a bartender, volunteering at the Asheville Beer Expo and studying brewing fermentation at A-B Tech, where her internship placed her in Catawba Brewing’s production facility in Morganton. Rainis delved into brewhouse data analysis and management of raw material inventory.
Her goal was operations management, but in 2019, she joined the administrative staff of the Asheville Brewers Alliance, becoming executive director in January 2020. She found her place in the brewing industry “through perseverance.”
Then the pandemic hit.
“It was not the first year I expected to have,” Rainis said.
Instead of member socials, which were prevalent before, Rainis started Zoom calls for members to share information on Covid procedures, relief available to businesses and practical tips, such as how to urge customers to wear masks.
Her leadership of the Asheville Brewers Alliance is appreciated.
“Leah Rainis is smart, organized and thoughtful,” said Brandi Hillman, president of the Asheville Brewers Alliance. “She pulled the board back into shape. Leah has a wealth of knowledge and the ABA is lucky to have her.”
For those interested in the business, Rainis urges people to volunteer at industry events, spend time at local breweries and get to know suppliers.
Erin JordanHead Brewer, Archetype Brewing
Erin Jordan is the only female head brewer at an Asheville brewery. She managed restaurants, taught yoga and had other non-brewery jobs before landing at Archetype Brewing in West Asheville.
“I never gave up on my dream,” Jordan said. “I worked my way up through the ranks of brewing. I have an education in science, but didn’t go to brew school. When I started at Archetype, it was a dirt floor — the buildout was just beginning at that point. My first jobs were running wire and cleaning kegs and scrubbing floors. Through drive and perseverance I learned, and I grew and went from a scrub to head brewer for a brewery I love.”
Jordan’s love of fermentation science is what led her into brewing.
“Brewing is the perfect marriage between science and art, my two passions,” Jordan said. “I became interested in brewing, not only because I love beer, but also, because I became interested in fermentation as a whole.”
The challenges of rising through the ranks in brewery production are not lost on Jordan.
“Being a woman in this industry definitely isn’t easy,” Jordan said. “You’re in a man’s world, both physically and on an ego level. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a room full of peers and been overlooked because people think the man standing next to me is the one in charge.”
Jordan, promoted to head brewer in 2020, receives accolades from Archetype’s ownership.
“Erin earned the promotion, and was a force to be reckoned with, well before she got the title,” said Corina Casanova, Archetype Brewing co-owner.
Pink Boots SocietyThe women in these stories are inspiring, for their hard work, use of their business skill sets and determination to make an impact in the brewing industry.
One way to get to know women in brewing is to join the Pink Boots Society (PBS) WNC chapter, led by Katie Hoffman, New Belgium Brewing quality assurance assistant.
Members of the society are “female movers and shakers in the fermented/alcoholic beverage industry.” The group supports women beer professionals to “advance their careers through education.”
Pre-pandemic, the PBS hosted an annual Bière de Femme Festival, celebration female-driven beer collaborations, raising funds for seminar programs and scholarships.
This year, the festival is virtual, with passports for participating breweries throughout March. For participating breweries, visit https://www.bieredefemme.com/.
• Hillman Beer brewed Honig Göttin (“honey goddess”) for the festival. Made with local wildflower honey, molasses and pomegranate, the beer is 5.8 percent ABV. For every 16 oz. draft of the brew sold in March, $1 will go to support women in the beer industry.
• New Belgium is celebrating Women’s History Month with a small-batch Mai Thai-inspired ale made by New Belgium pilot brewer Kelly McKnight. Brewed with the official Pink Boots hop blend, as well as pineapple, lulo, hibiscus, calamansi, it’s matured on rum oak chips for a 7.4% ABV and available in 32 oz. crowlers in Asheville.
Hoffman has been with New Belgium for five years and has worked in the craft beer industry for 11 years, getting her start working in the tasting room of Southern Sun, Boulder, Colorado.
“It wasn’t until I got to New Belgium that I started to picture myself being involved in the beer making process,” Hoffman said. “I had not met many women brewers, but New Belgium’s cofounder, Kim Jordan, and other strong women leading the way gave me inspiration to step up to the challenge.”
“My hope is that more people will learn about the Pink Boots Society and get involved,” Hoffman said.