Folks, I stand corrected. Last week I posted a story proclaiming that South Carolina did not have a single female head brewer. I came to this conclusion after talking to multiple beer industry experts who all agreed that with the departure of Palmetto’s head brewer, Tanael Escartin, the state was back to an all boys brewing club.
Well, everyone agreed except Brook Bristow. I heard from Bristow — arguably the don of S.C. beer knowledge — and founder of of Bristow Beverage Law, the day after publishing my story and he set me straight real quick.
“River Dog down in the Ridgeland/Bluffton area has a female lead in the production department,” Bristow messaged me. “I believe she is the only head brewer in S.C. that is female.”
Turns out, he’s right. Amelia Keefe of River Dog Brewing Co. in Ridgeland, S.C. is currently holding it down (as far as I can tell) as S.C.’s lone female head brewer. Keefe was promoted from assistant brewer six months ago, but got her start home brewing.
“I got into brewing because I love cooking and I love learning how everything works from scratch,” says Keefe. “I used to make breads and I love working on flavor manipulation.”
That fascination lead the Pennsylvanian to leave behind studies in philosophy and science for a brewing diploma with the American Brewers Guild in Middlebury, Vermont. She eventually made her way to South Carolina and landed at River Dog last year.
So what’s it like being the only woman in her position in the state? From an industry perspective, Keefe says she’s received nothing but support. “The industry is a completely open community and super collaborative,” she says.
But sometimes it’s a different scenario in the tap room.
“A lot of the drinkers overlook me and go right to the dude in the tasting room. I’m like, ‘I’m the brewer,'” she says. “They’ll say, ‘Wait, you made this?'” The dumbfounded looks quickly turn to approval, however. In fact, Keefe’s only gotten one really snarky remark. “Only one time someone asked, ‘So you can actually lift those 50 pound bags?'” Keefe’s answer: Of course.
But being a female brewing pioneer in the state isn’t the point for Keefe. Instead, her goal is just to make really good beer. Next up she’d like to start a barrel-aging program at River Dog, but in the meantime she’s proud of one of her latest brews: “Petals in the Kettle,” a hot pink hibiscus hefeweizen.
“It’s a traditional German-style hefeweizen brewed with dried hibiscus flowers,” she says. And this vibrant brew comes with an altruistic side – $3 from every $6 pint sold is donated to Carolina Cups, a charity that provides grants to breast cancer-related 501c(3) organizations such as MUSC-Hollings Cancer Center, Mayo Clinic, American Cancer Society, Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Northisde Hospital, and Beaufort Jasper Hampton Comprehensive Health Services.
To try Keefe’s Petals in the Kettle, stop by River Dog Brewing at 591 Browns Cove Road North in Ridgeland.