The sun comes up over the Atlantic making its way over the Charleston landscape and it’s not long before the temperature climbs. While most consider late August into September the “dog days of summer,” in the brewing community — especially, the breweries that don’t have a full air-conditioning system — the dog days seem to start earlier and earlier.
For four area women, each in different areas of the brewing business, the days might look different, but they are all long and hot nonetheless. We sat down with these women to discuss their lives and experiences in this male-dominated industry over a beer and brunch at Holy City Brewing.
Packaging lead at Commonhouse Aleworks
“8 a.m. is hello and safety, 8:30 is grain in.” It’s noisy, wet, and slightly chaotic. There are bags of grain lined up at the mill and hot water is already running in the mash tun. This is the start of the day at Commonhouse Aleworks for Daisy Crater. She is hosting the Pink Boots Society to brew an IPL (India Pale Lager) for its charity.
A South Carolina native, Daisy grew up in Gaffney and found beer at a young age. While studying accounting at Clemson University in the late 1990s, she was also waiting tables at Keith Street Bar and Grill. This was where she discovered a vast selection of beer.
“They had the best selection of bottled beer. If you could drink one of every beer, you got your name on the wall. And boy, I tried to fill that card.”
After she got her degree, she started working in the banking industry. “I love numbers. I love the math of accounting. But if you aren’t fulfilled with your work, you aren’t fulfilled.”
Several years later, she was watching a news report about the Cicerone program. This struck a chord in her, and she started home brewing as a hobby. Soon that hobby became a passion and that passion became a career.
“I walked away from banking, and never looked back.”
First, she started busing tables at Newgrass Brewing. It was there she met co-founder Jordan Boinest. Boinest founded the Asheville and Charlotte chapters of the Pink Boots Society (PBS), and was instrumental in helping Daisy expand her craft beer knowledge. PBS offers Cicerone classes, internships and scholarships to women in the craft beer industry.
It wasn’t long before Daisy moved into front of the house management at Newgrass. But her heart had a desire to work on the production side of a brewery. “I wanted to be in a brewhouse. I wanted to build the recipes, to smell the beer brewing.”
In 2019, Daisy took a leap of faith and moved to Charleston. Her first stop was South Carolina’s oldest brewery, Palmetto Brewing. From there, she began developing relationships around town. Her resume now boasts stints with Rusty Bull and Pawleys Island.
Now after years of experience, Daisy not only works in production, but she runs the Wild Goose canning line and does cellar work at Commonhouse Aleworks. If you see her, ask her about her love of low D.O. (dissolved oxygen). “One of my favorite things is stepping out the door next to the keg washer. There are these Carolina Wrens, the fellows with the white eyeliner. They play among the pallets, in the sunshine, with the smells of the brewery. It makes my heart happy.”
We think it’s safe to say that Daisy has a long, promising career in brewing.
The Pink Boots Society is available in the Commonhouse Aleworks taproom. More: pinkbootssociety.org
Lead brewer at Frothy Beard
Kim Berly says she’s learned that sometimes you have to put a smile on your face and walk away.
“It’s hard to understand how someone who was enjoying the hell out of a beer, [and then] questions the same beer when they find out a woman brewed it.”
Lead brewer at Frothy Beard Brewing in West Ashley, Kim hails from Brookfield, Conn., and began her career in the beauty business. First, she studied at Oxford Academy of Hair Design. Then she worked as a stylist for many years before becoming an instructor back at Oxford Academy.
When asked about how she chose Charleston, she replied. “I just kind of ended up here.” As a bartender at Frothy Beard, every employee gets a brew day. “They (Frothy) feel it is important for everyone to know what everyone else does in the brewery. And I loved my brew day. I wanted to know how everything worked. What this did, how to do that. How do I get to work back here?”
First, she began by volunteering to help on canning days. In her downtime, she began reading. “So many books,” Kim said. “Books by John Palmer, anything I could find about beer, online classes, but mainly I learned by doing.” This led to her being offered a full-time job in production. After a few years, she became the head brewer.
“I’m short, and I don’t weigh more than the kegs I move, but you figure it out. Platforms and determination help. And hand carts are your best friend.”
“I’ve been asked, ‘where’s your beard?’ and told ‘you make pretty good beer for a girl.’ That’s when the smile comes in. Everyone here has my back. This industry is a big family. I want it to see the whole craft beer community grow.”
Sara Gayle McConnell
Co-founder, owner/operator at Tradesman Brewing
“I always said, when it stopped being fun or I knew it all, it was time to get out.”
Sara Gayle McConnel is the vice president of operations at Tradesman Brewing but she was referring to her career as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit of MUSC. “I was a nurse, a patient advocate, a nurse educator. And after 25 years, I knew it was time to move on.”
Scott McConnell, her husband, was a longtime home brewer. He and Sara Gayle decided to open a brewery to pursue their craft brew dreams. And in 2014, Tradesman Brewery opened on James Island and their dreams became reality. It was one Charleston’s eight breweries at that time. Four subsequent breweries also opened in 2014: Freehouse Brewery, Edmund’s Oast Brewpub, and Frothy Beard Brewing. It was clear that this community was growing fast.
“My official title is VP of operations.” Sara Gayle said. “This is a fancy way of saying I do everything inside while Scott runs the production outside. But sometimes our jobs overlap.”
While juggling the many aspects of the business, she also founded the Brewster Program, a series of female-led brew day events for women to learn about the brewing process and to help create beer. It’s designed to get more women interested and involved in the brewing process.
“Every day I hear women asking more questions about beer,” she said. “Questions like, what hops are in this, what is this style, how was it made? Every day, there are more opportunities for women to join the industry, whether it’s front of house, production, or in the business of beer. This industry is a family, a community. The bigger the family, the better the community. I want to use our spot (Tradesman) to give back to the community, and watch it grow.”
Front of house bartender at Revelry Brewing
“I love seeing our regulars,” Keli told HOPS.. They know everyone’s birthdays and will bake them treats for it. And Mandi, our neighborhood dog in a backpack.” Keli has spent the past four years holding down the front of the house fort at Revelry Brewing.
Keli made her way to Charleston from Orangeburg after most of her family moved here in 2009. She’s worked in the food and beverage industry for most of her life but has larger ambitions to pursue a career in the booming Charleston film industry. Lagunitas Brewing on Bay Street (originally Southend Brewery) brought Keli into the craft beer world.
“I got excited to see new beers, to find out what was coming out next.” The innovation and consistent new releases kept Keli coming back to try more and more.
Keli described how each shift is a chance to catch up with customers. “I love working at the brewery, it allows me to step away from the craziness. The regulars contribute in their own way to keeping me sane.” Relationships are built over time. Each familiar face is a way to connect. Each new face is a chance to connect. I love being busy, but not slammed. That way I can catch up with the person, not just the open tab.”
Connections are key in the industry and Keli sees the big picture of how this will help her future.
While working at Revelry, Keli is also pursuing a degree in film media at Trident Technical College. “It started with a class in filming, which led to a class in editing, which led to a class in production. I want to do everything and keep adding to my knowledge.”
Through those connections and education, Keli is excited for future promotional work and commercials. She even wants to tackle documentaries. Maybe even one about Charleston’s craft beer scene.
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