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Welcome to a new Reader feature called Meet the Brewer. We kick this series off with questions we asked of Allyson Rolf, head brewer at Earth Rider Brewery in Superior.
Q. What triggered your interest in beer and brewing? Did you begin as a homebrewer?
Allyson Rolf: When I first started drinking beer in the mid to late ’90s. I as going to Mankato and Schell was right there. Exloring beer, I drank a lot of Schell’s, Summit, Leinie’s. I always gravitated toward the more flavorful beers, not that I didn’t drink my fair share of Michelob Light in college.
I moved to Duluth after graduating, and there were microbreweries here in the area and also South Shore in Ashland. I really started to get into the local craft beer scene and what they were offering was really intriguing for me. I started really trying a variety of craft beers. It seemed like this whole new world was opening up with options and flavors. It was interesting and creative.
I guess the a-ha moment that brewing might be the thing for me, I worked a brew festival at the Dells in Wisconsin. We had some issues with serving beer. I went over to Dells Brewery and talked to a woman and said, “We’re having some trouble with our beer. Do you think when the brewer gets back he could help me out with some stuff?” Little did I know that that was Jamie, the head brewer there. She gave me some really good advice about what I should do.
She was like, I am the head brewer. All I’d ever seen is men in the industry. Why didn’t I think of this? It wasn’t, you should become a brewer, but this is something I find interesting and challenging, making a product you get to share and enjoy with other people. The aha moment was, maybe I could do this.
So I started learning about all of these beer styles and became a BJCP certified judge. I started homebrewing, started volunteering and making an effort to learn everything I could about what it means to be a brewer.
Q. When was that a-ha moment?
AR: I took over (the Thirsty) Pagan (her first head brewing job) in 2012, so the aha moment was 2009 or 20190. I spent a good amount of time learning to be a homebrewer before I even thought I was good enough to try to get a position as brewer.
At first I did a whole lot of brewing by myself. My very first batch of extract homebrew was on the stovetop while watching a YouTube video. But then I got really involved with the Northern Ale Stars, the local homebrew club. I still try to do at least one homebrew batch a year, just to say I still homebrew.
We did a study group together for the Beer Judge Certification Program. They were great. There’s a lot of really good beer judges in that group. Whenever I had a question about beer or was trying to tweak a recipe or get some thoughtful feedback, I definitely reached out to members of the club that I know are really good beer judges. They’re a great resource.
Q. What is your go-to beer?
AR: I think it’s really context-related. What is your favorite beer on a hot day doing yard work. I really like Miller High Life for that. One of my favorite go-to craft beers? Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I also like, in small amounts, sour beer because I know it’s really challenging to make. So it really depends.
Sierra Nevada Pale for a craft. If I go into a liquor store and I don’t know what I want to drink, that’s probably what I’ll grab.
Q. What beer have you brewed for the public that you are most proud of, and why?
AR: I’m really proud of all of our beers, honestly. What we’re putting out here at Earth Rider, I’m absolutely proud of every thing we’re putting out. But I’m especially proud of our sour beers. It’s a difficult, time-consuming project. There are a lot of question marks making sour beer. Being able to make a good one is a lot of luck and experimentation and know-how. I’ve definitely dumped a lot of bad sour beer in that learning process.
Coming up, the Cedar Sour Red I’m most proud of and eager to share. Also the lagers we make. It’s not an easy beer to make well and I’m really proud of them.
Q. What does it mean to you to be a female head brewer in the male-dominated industry.
AR: Talking to a few women in the brewing industry at a professional meeting back in February, there’s really no reason that there aren’t more women in the brewing industry. The physical aspect of it, there are definitely some hard days and heavier lifting. I think seeing other women in the brewing industry is really important. That’s why we do a lot of these events, just to show other women that there are women in the brewing industry. I’ve had a relatively good response from the men I’ve worked with and interacted with.
Some of the issues I have in the industry are some of the same issues women in leadership face, the way women are represented, they’re bitchy or demanding, versus if it were a man in that position, he’s a strong leader. The narrative is different. I think that’s one of the difficult things. It’s no different from being a woman in a leadership position in other industries. The descriptors often are applied differently to women than men in those same positions.
I get it more from the consumer side. I think a lot of consumers, before they know I’m the head brewer, the same way I made assumptions with Jamie not being the head brewer. I didn’t ask her for help, I asked for the brewer. When I’m talking about beer and people say, Wow, you actually know a lot about beer. Well, I make it.
I see a little bit more of the assumptions on the consumer side. Like my knowledge and who I am, that’s a little more gender-biased then the men in the industry. Knowing other women in the industry, I think I’m fortunate that I’ve not had bad experiences because I know it does happen.