When passion for brewing, excellence in craft beer, and hard work come together, the end product is nothing less than a delicious and aromatic beer. Asheville, North Carolina is a brewing Mecca with over 25 craft breweries and an emerging scene of female brewers. Though still a male-dominated field, there are a growing number of female brewers bringing added value to craft brewing. One such, Jen Currier of Wicked Weed Brewing, brings a unique perspective to the table while sharing her love for brewing and a palate for flavor-filled beers.
“I came to work here because I was really impressed by the beers, the staff, and I wanted to be a part of it all.”
While Jen initially studied human biology with a plan to be a physical therapist, her enjoyment for home brewing led to her current position as a Wood Cellarman. The first and only female brewer at Wicked Weed Brewing, she is responsible for the beers after they leave primary fermentation, including pushing in inoculants, fruiting, transferring beer to oak barrels, and preparing blends. Each day is labor intensive, as the brewers can produce 60 to 180 barrels a week, and sometimes more. Her role as a Wood Cellarman involves careful barrel and foeder preparation, handling and moving barrels, and the filling of the oak vessels where the beers begin the process of aging. At different times, the beer is tasted as part of her job.
“Each beer is different, thus allowing for longer or shorter aging times and a variety and combination of blends of fruit or other ingredients,” says Jen.
Being a Wood Cellarman has also allowed Jen to express a creative side. “Women bring a diverse palate that is an important part of the beer making process, particularly with sour beers,“ she says. This diverse palate can be incremental in the blending process, as well as in product and recipe development. According to Jen, there is a satisfaction knowing that what you are making is going to be consumed and the end product is something that people will get to enjoy. Jen most enjoys the days making spontaneous beers, such as the Belgium style gueze, a lambic beer. On those days, more time is spent boiling the beer with a longer mash time. The beer goes into the coolship room where it cools and picks up wild yeast and bacteria.
“It’s a labor intensive day, giving a lot of time to making the beer, but also a fun day.” Referring to the process as being similar to romancing the beer, Jen says, “It feels cool to be a part of that tradition and my favorite thing is to be in the coolship room when it is being filled because you can see the steam being collected to the ceiling. You can see your hand in front of you but not much past your face.” She points out its similarity to being in the beer sauna and explains that it isn’t just a process of producing one particular type of beer, but instead a work in progress where yearly stocks of spontaneous beer are being created in anticipation of making a fabulous spontaneous blend at the end of several years.
Jen didn’t simply glide into the shoes of Wood Cellarman. When she moved to Asheville to enter a brewing program at AB Tech, she was told that it was full. Through persistent contact with the head of the program and the good fortune of someone dropping out, she was able to enter the first brewing program at AB Tech. During this time, the craft beer brewing industry was blowing up in Asheville, thus allowing her to try an abundance of different beers and visit numerous breweries. Her choice in a brewery to work for was easy. Upon her first visit to Wicked Weed Brewing, she noticed that it looked totally different and thought whatever these guys are doing to make this beer, they are doing right.
“I kept coming back to Wicked Weed because I wanted those beers,” says Jen. When her Dad came to visit, he said, “If you get into brewing, you have to work for this brewery.” While attending AB Tech, she started bartending at the Funkatorium and with hard work and determination, found her way into the wood cellar.
When she received the call that she was being hired as the first female brewer, she was stoked to tell her Dad, and very proud. “I came to work here because I was really impressed by the beers, the staff, and I wanted to be a part of it all.” It’s presented her with opportunities to meet a lot of amazing and impressive women in brewing across the U.S., and be part of a brewery that gives back to the community and takes care of its employees.
Though the male-to-female ratio is still high in this industry, Jen hasn’t felt any differentiation or special treatment. She likes the people she works with and refers to her work environment as a great place where she doesn’t feel out of place. Since her inception as the first woman walking in Wood Cellarman’s shoes at Wicked Weed, not a lot has changed. “We still make the beer as we always have and it feels cool to be a part of that tradition.”
Jennifer “Jen” Currier is a Wood Cellarman at Wicked Weed Brewing and earned her Brewing, Distillation and Fermentation Degree from AB Tech.
Juliet Matthews resides in West Asheville and is a co-owner of 828 Beer Soap Co., LLC. Since retiring as an attorney, she enjoys teaching piano and furthering humanitarianism. Juliet can be reached at email@example.com.