Brewing Up A Storm: Pam Wellman, Tour Guide to Happiness

- By Anita Riley -

Happiness is a moving target. What delights one person will not necessarily please the next. Our definition of bliss is constantly evolving. Ask a teenager, a twenty-something, a new mother, a retiree what makes them happy, and you will get a spectrum of answers that are as different as PBR and a barrel aged, fruit and cocoa nib infused sour! Sometimes we just need to stop and smell the floral, malty aromas of a well-made craft beverage and appreciate the weeks of hard work that has gone into making each sip a work of art.

Pam Wellman

Pam Wellman

Here in Beer City, I think it’s safe to say that if you are seeking nirvana, a brewery tour is a good place to start… or start over… or stop worrying about finding happiness like one searches for their car keys! There is nothing quite like a glass of liquid perfection in front of you while your fun-loving, knowledgeable brewery tour guide takes you behind the scenes of Asheville’s finest creators of good times. I wanted to really dive into what these tours are all about, and what it’s like to be an Ambassador of Beverages, so I met up with Pam Wellman to talk about her experience as a tour guide first for Highland Brewing, and most recently with Asheville Brewery Tours.

I can see right away why she makes a great tour guide. I had never met her prior to our meeting, but she has that personality that allows her to instantly befriend anyone. I was surprised when she admitted that she still gets nervous before a tour. I wouldn’t have filed her under the ‘shy’ category, and I wondered how that dynamic plays out while her guests are having beers and lowering their inhibitions. “I get energized by the crowds,” she said, “After that, it just flows.” Pam says that this is also the stage where the more seasoned beer drinkers are testing her knowledge the most. As a girl, they sometimes assume that she isn’t as knowledgeable as her bearded coworkers. “By the second stop, they usually run out of questions, and I pass the test. Then they just treat me like a unicorn!”

She starts every tour by getting to know everyone in the group and where they are on the spectrum of beer drinkers. Most of her guests range between “I hate beer; I’m just here with my friends” to “I’m a Master Cicerone, and I know everything.” A Cicerone is to beer as a Sommelier is to wine. The challenges each person brings is what Pam loves so much about her job. “I love to convert new beer drinkers that thought they hated beer, and teach them how to order a beer they will love like a nerd.”

They taste different beers and she walks them through some of the beer geek vocabulary. At the next stop, Pam talks more about how beer is made. They get to go behind the scenes and learn what each vessel does and why it is important to the finished beer. Most of her guests are from out of town, and they want to learn. Only a small minority are going on these tours for the drinking alone. “It’s kind of like I’m letting them in on a really cool secret… Some of our breweries are tucked away where they would never find them on their own.” Add to that that many of the owners of the breweries will come out to greet a tour group, and they know the guides by name. That’s an experience that you would never get if you just walked into a tasting room on your own.

At the third brewery, Pam likes to talk about the history of beer, the different styles, and their origins. Her favorite styles are the wild ferments. Saisons and sour beers use a “wild” yeast that imparts a floral quality (in the case of saisons) or a tartness (sour beers) to the brew. These are completely foreign styles to a lot of folks, so it’s fun to introduce them to something new. While these styles have a rich European history, American brewers are only recently (in the last decade or so) introducing them to the market. Nowadays you can find at least one beer on most breweries’ line-ups that have been produced in these styles, with some breweries like Burial and Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium specializing in wild fermentation.

By the fourth and final stop, the group is usually getting a little buzzed, and the tone gets a lot less formal. “We usually just hang out, and I answer any questions they still have.” That’s another important piece of this job for her. “Beer is interpersonal.” She points out not only how a pint brings individuals together, but also how breweries work together to make collaboration beers and form brewers’ alliances.

By the end of a tour, a group of strangers has become a group of new friends. Beer has a way of loosening the grip of a stressful day at work, rush hour traffic, hectic family schedules, NASDAQ trends, and that client you want to impress. Some of those stresses are hard to let go of, and we allow them to get in the way of being our best selves to the people around us. Sometimes we need a tour guide to remind us that it takes weeks, and sometimes months, of hard, careful work to make a well-crafted beer that is designed solely for our enjoyment and for no other purpose to make us stop and smell the subtle nuances in our glass.

Whether the glass is half empty or half full is irrelevant. Either way, it is just the right level for swirling to release the aromas and make the flavors more vivid! This is the practice of being present and fully enjoying what is in front of you. Whether it is a glass of bubbly goodness, a gorgeous mountain view, or your closest friends and family, enjoying the simple pleasures of life is a good first step toward true happiness! Cheers to that!


Anita Riley is Certified Beer Server Cicerone and a student of Brewing, Distillation, and Fermentation at AB Tech’s Craft Beverage Institute of the Southeast. She is the Beer Buyer for Metro Wines, and hosts a variety of beer tasting events at the shop. You can find her blog Brewing Up a Storm, which focuses on women in the beer industry at metrowinesasheville.com/brew-blog. Anita is a native to WNC.

This entry was posted in May 2015 and tagged , beer city, tourism. Bookmark the permalink.

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