Tuesday, 10 April 2012 12:28

Teri Fahrendorf - Road Brewer

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I’d venture to say there are few women in the world that can claim they’ve been brewing beer professionally for nearly a quarter of a century. Before brewing was all the rage, Teri was a grain handling, wort boiling, carboy carrying, yeast pitching, beer fermenting, woman, in a male-dominated industry.

The craft brewing industry’s second female brewmaster and founder of Pink Boots Society started out as a computer geek, having gotten her degree in Management Information Systems.

Perhaps she subconsciously knew that there would be some beery research proving in some physiological capacity that women have more refined tasting abilities than men. Whatever her reason, I’m glad that she decided to pursue a career in beer.

Fahrendorf attended brewing school in 1988, where she obtained her diploma at the Siebel Institute of Brewing Technology in Chicago, where she was voted Class President; the first woman class president in Siebel's history. After she graduated, she broke into the brewing industry the old fashioned way. She drove and walked into brew shops and breweries and dropped off her resume. Teri drove between San Francisco and Portland, talking to everyone who would give her the time.

Her first paid brewing job landed her in Berkley at Golden Gate Brewing Company, in 1989. It was a 7 barrel brewery. Two months into the job, Teri was seriously burned from a brewing accident. She was not properly trained and given bad/incorrect advice from the tank manufacturer.

Lesson painfully learned. Her focus however, was in no way, diminished.

She did occasionally find some resistance in a male dominated industry. When she was first looking for a job, she was asked questions like, “can you lift a 50 lb. sack over your head?” Most *people* can’t lift a 50 lb. sack over their head, and I’d certainly never advise it, unless your training for the strong man competition. Alternatively, Teri would use cinder block steps, make a couple trips and figure out a way to do it where no one would get injured. Back injuries – not burns - are the #1 injury in brewing, after all.

She was also asked if she could carry a full ½ barrel up a flight of stairs. Weighing at about 168 lbs., she pointed out that no one should be carrying that up a flight of stairs. Using her brains, in addition to her brawn, she would get a hand truck and drag it up the steps, use ropes and other methods to get the job done.

TBG: How do you feel being a woman affected your experience as master brewer back then?

“I hired and trained a lot of brewers and most were men. There were times I had to be the tough guy – I felt a sense that they were being rebellious. Like I was being put in a position of being a mom… It only happened a few times, and I tried to remain professional and not get drawn into the drama. That’s a unique thing to being a woman brewmaster. There were many times I was the only woman at the table. And I kind of liked it! One of the unique things about being the only woman at the table, there were times attending master brewer meetings and a lot of those fellows would say, “You could bring your wives!” It was kind of like “Mad Men”, but in the 90s. They were so used to the old boys club. I don’t hear that now. We have a lot of male supporters of the Pink Boots Society now. They all say they would love to see more women at the table now.”

Teri worked at Steelhead Brewing Company for 17 years.

This would be the first time that she opened a brand new brewpub, from scratch. Her wide ranging talents and perfectionist nature prepared her for this career achievement, despite the nightmares gearing up to the big day. On opening day, there was a line down the block. Once again, she had reached brewing success.

After Steelhead had been open for less than a year, in 1991, Teri was invited to be a judge at the Great American Beer Festival. At the same festival, she had entered two beers, and received two gold medals. With only 50 gold’s awarded, she achieved rock star status.

“It was like being Miss America, I was floating.”

There were only 24 judges then, and she’s been judging ever since.

Four years later, the Steelhead owners decided to open more breweries.

In 2007, Teri visited 70 breweries over the course of five-months across the United States. She brewed at 38 of the 70 breweries. She laughed, “It was an insane kind of trip because it was driving, brewing, blogging, drinking, sleeping, more driving...”

In the course of her five month road trip, she watched the sunset over the water with the folks at Cape Cod Beer Company, took a boat ride among the small fishing towns off the coast of Maine with a brewer friend's parents and figured out that the manager at Stranahan's whiskey was a 3rd cousin of her husband, Jon Graber. Teri got to distill at the Rocky Mountain distillery. She was able to distill right around the time of her husband’s birthday and bring a barrel home with her. Yes, it was a nice smelling ride from then, on.

Upon her journey to Southern California, she met the first female brewer from Stone Brewing Company, which altered the course of how women communicate and work together in the brewing industry. This fateful Saturday, Teri worked with Laura Ulrich. Ulrich told Teri she had never met another woman brewer who had a long career in brewing.

“She really inspired me to want to mentor her and connect with other women brewers out there. And that’s how the Pink Boot’s Society was born!”

Soon after meeting Laura, Teri met another original brewster, Whitney Thompson from Troegs Brewing Company. Whitney asked, “How many of us women brewers are there?” She wanted to know their names, so Teri posted them on her website.

“…when I had gone on this trip, when I quit my job, I didn’t realize this would happen but I actually had an identity crisis and I’m like ‘Oh my God, I’m not a brewmaster anymore. Oh my God, what am I?’ I’m going on this road trip and it’s going to be amazing. I’m gonna’ visit all my relatives that are in their 80s, probably for the last time. I’m going to visit all my brewing friends. I’m going to meet all these new people that have invited me. And I’m Teri, the what? I was a brewmaster for 19 years and what am I now? So, I gave myself a name and I called myself 'The Road Brewer'. And I got www.roadbrewer.com.”

“I mentally called this trip the ‘pink boots tour’, because I had been wearing these pink boots on the whole trip. And then I thought, well, there’s that ‘red hat’s society’ for the ladies over 50. I thought, that’s pretty snazzy, so I’ll just call it the Pink Boot’s Society. Boom.”

In April of 2008, 22 women met for the first time under the Pink Boot’s Society organization. There are six organizational goals, including encouraging women to become brewers and to elevate the status of beer in society.

“We’ve been good role models, so that hopefully younger women who are thinking about taking this as a profession, they can do it. Now there’s someone they can talk to, if they’re having a bad day.”

On her road brewer trip, Teri did some collaboration, which is now all the rage among breweries.

“I now collaborate with people who invite me to collaborate. But let’s just say I didn’t have to worry about having a job…If I could just be a road brewer all the time, is that what you’re saying? Collaborations hadn’t really taken off. So, that word wasn’t really used. I brewed with a lot of people and two of them asked me to give them recipes, which I did. But the collaboration thing hadn’t really taken off. But now that it has taken off, that’s what I would do. I would try to do that everywhere! It would be a blast. I was open to that, but I didn’t want to be the one to push that, so that’s why only two breweries invited me to do that. A lot of them have pretty tight schedules. But if I could pick anybody, I would pick the women in the Pink Boots Society because I think that would be a hoot. I would go all over the world and collaboratively brew with them. I think it would be a blast! There’s been a couple of Pink Boot’s collaborations I haven’t been able to participate in. But it would be a blast if I could have. In fact, the first one that I know of that was all women was Whitney, Laura and Megan and they all flew to Cambridge and they did the first all women collaboration and they called it Project Venus, which I thought was awesome.”

Teri is still thinking of innovative ways to elevate the perception of craft beer among the female audience. Honoring our foremothers in brewing, there’s “Bring Mom out for a Beer”. This year commemorates the 3rd annual. The goal is for every brewery, brewpub, etc. on Mother’s day to celebrate Mother’s Day and historical female brewing. This opens the door for discussion of women in beer history and of course, encourages women to try new and interesting craft beer.

Teri is also no stranger to brewing interesting craft beer.

In March of 2011, after the CBC, Teri brewed a porcini porter brewed with powered porcini. The mushrooms gave it a nice, earthy character.

“It was quite delightful.”

This year, Teri did a collaborative brew with Ben Edmunds of Breakside Brewing Company.

“I had said, ‘Well, there’s a beer I want to make that I’ve never made, that nobody’s ever made – cause that makes it fun, right?’ And he said, ‘Cool, what is it?’ And I said, ‘I want to make a sourdough beer, fermented with sourdough culture and not with yeast.’ He said, ‘Okay!’ We got a whole tub of San Francisco sourdough…and we made it from five different kinds of wheat. Malted wheat, flaked wheat, whole wheat flour… It was really interesting. It wasn’t as sour as I thought it was going to be. It was pretty well balanced. But it had like a fresh, clean, apple cider aroma – in a good way. And it was really, really nice tasting beer. They just called it ‘Sourdough Starter.’”

TBG: What are some of your favorite craft beer styles and festivals today, and why?

“I really love Cascade Brewing sour beers. I like the beers in the Pacific Northwest, because of my familiarity. They’re among the best. But, I’m pretty sure there’s amazing stuff going on all over.”

“The Holiday Ale Festival in Portland has some fantastic beers. The Cask Beer Festival in Seattle is worth attending. All the brewers are there, and they have to pour them.”

Fine beer is like fine wine and more and more women are embracing the great tastes that craft beer has to offer, thanks to women like Teri Fahrendorf. Call it a beer rising, renaissance or revolution – whatever you dub this exciting period in today’s craft beer industry, support your local craft brewery, try new beers when you travel and attend beer festivals and events.

Why? Because there is good living, where there is good beer.

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