By Brittany (Kennedy ’11) Brouhard
Brewing beer is a science and an art and a workout.
I’ve grown in this industry in a lot of different ways.
Art has always been a passion of mine and was my first college major. I switched to science when I transferred to Cal Lutheran. Still, if you told me back when I graduated in 2011 that someday I would be running a small-scale biochemistry and microbiology lab, while studying for a master’s in engineering and bioscience, all while being a “working mom,” I would have told you you’re nuts!
I’ve found through brewing that I am physically stronger than I believed, as clichéd as that sounds.
Multiple times a week at Enegren Brewing Company in Moorpark, I make a recipe that calls for 700 to 1,200 pounds of grain. One to four batches like this fills a fermenter tank that holds between 15 and 60 barrels. So that’s me, lifting and maneuvering 55-pound sacks of grain onto pallets and into a mill. Once that grain has been milled, mashed and sparged, it’s got to get out of the brewery somehow. And that’s me, too, plowing however many pounds of grain out of the lauter tun and into a spent grain tote.
During my pregnancy, I learned to push myself. Don’t get me wrong; I was careful. I knew what precious cargo I was carrying. But I was able to work up to my due date and then come back pretty quick, which was great. The movement in this job and the physical labor are what kept me healthy and kept me going for so long.
Science, honestly, has never been my strong suit. It was a struggle for me through college, and I am sure some of my professors will back me up on that. Looking back, I can see that I wasn’t passionate about the field I chose, exercise science, and therefore lacked motivation.
Kristine Butcher was a huge help to me during college and made it clear to me that, as long as I wasn’t aiming to be a chemistry professor, I could make it really far in this world. Louise Kelly, who mentored me for my capstone project on the importance of PE in child development, also pushed me to go above and beyond.
Even though I was going to be shocked at how much knowledge is needed to create beer, I was already a nerd. The love story between science and art roped me in to brewing.
Brewing is a science and then an art. Science tells us we can combine malt with water to achieve the protein and starch conversions that create the sweet liquid we call wort. It breaks down a whole series of steps from there to a finished beer, and it sets limits on how much we can alter the temperature, the time and other variables at every one of them.
Science made the paint, and Van Gogh created the masterpiece. Same goes for brewing and the brewer.
One of the first things you learn in art school is about colors. The primary colors blend to make secondary colors, and you can then take those secondary colors and create the tertiary colors. Beer is just the same. You take four main ingredients, malt, water, hops and yeast, and blend them together to create a masterpiece.
What that grain bill should be, exactly, is the kind of thing science doesn’t tell us. At Enegren, we’ve adjusted our fermentation profiles up and down by a few degrees and achieved completely different results in a beer’s flavor profile and attenuation. Every brewery is different, too. You could carefully follow a full recipe and get a slightly different result at each one. Brewing is exciting because these variations are endless.
For me, German-style lagers are Van Goghs. There’s depth and complexity to making such a pure, beautiful product, and no room for error. With lagers, you cannot skip or rush a step. You can’t miss your gravity markers on your boil. You can’t underpitch your yeast. You can’t underoxygenate your wort. You’ll taste every flaw, once the fermentation’s done, in that final product.
Until it was brought up to me about a year ago, I didn’t realize how rare it is for women to be in our industry. In Ventura County, we have a lot of good brewers and not a lot of the sexist stuff that I’ve heard about elsewhere. I’ve been lucky. Now, we finally have 15 women from Westlake Village to Ojai and Santa Barbara who make at least half of their income in the industry, which is what you need to start a chapter of the Pink Boots Society. (Brewers all wear steel-toed, shin- or knee-high, heat and chemical resistant boots, because we’re working in some pretty harsh environments.)
Brewing, again, is physically demanding, and women do get comments. I’ve heard plenty along the lines of, “Well, you must have to ask for help. There’s no way you could lift one of those sacks.” And I say, “Oh no, I don’t lift just one.”
Brittany Brouhard is the brew chief at Enegren Brewing Company in Moorpark, California.