Friday, February 10, 2023

Women of Beer: Abby McLocklin Cheng


By Kerri Allen
Abby McLocklin Cheng
Former CEO of Orpheus Brewing Company, Atlanta, GA

We all know that the brewing industry has been "male heavy" for a long time; however, over the last couple of decades more and more women are finding careers within the brewing world. In centuries past, most women were brewers, and it is only fitting that we celebrate the modern-day women who have found their calling in this niche of the beverage world.

"Women make up around half of the population. That is a staggering amount of underutilized expertise that comes from generations of wisdom, different ways of thinking, and eyes that offer alternative insights. The female customer base in craft beer is only growing, so the more representation from the other side of the counter (be it in production, management, sales, serving, etc.), the better!" The words of Abby Cheng, CEO of Orpheus Brewing in Atlanta, GA ring true from someone who started their career in the restaurant industry. Abby went on to say, "More women will feel comfortable venturing into the male-heavy industry if they see themselves well-represented. It goes without saying that this applies to many under-represented demographics, and I believe that women are in one of the prime spots to advocate for this type of change and inclusivity."

As graduate of culinary school, Abby's personal journal into the beer world tells the tale of someone who appreciates hand-crafted, great-tasting products. "From working in some stellar restaurant kitchens, to sharing my love of education teaching classes at Total Wine, to being in the middle of Georgia's booming beer scene working at Hop City's OG location, I've become the product of a lot of experiences that are both traditional and non-traditional. Needless to say, working around so many interesting beers shifted my passion and focus, and it was then that I began to find my way into the brewing community around metro Atlanta. What a community! This group of people was so welcoming and seemed so sincerely excited that I was finding my way into their world. After a quick departure a little deeper into the fine wine and craft spirits world, I realized that beer was no longer as central to my day-to-day routine as I wanted it to be. So, I worked out a deal with Hop City so that they could utilize my wine knowledge while I could also be surrounded by beer." 

After time spent with Total Wine, Abby worked for Atlanta-based New Realm, starting as a sales representative and ending up in the Senior Market Development Manager role before accepting a position as Director of Sales at Orpheus. As Orpheus' new CEO, Abby looks back on her journey, which led to this point and remarks, "It is a journey that I am honored to have been able to participate in thus far and enjoy sharing with other folks." On her time spent so far in her current position, Abby offers, "I absolutely love having the opportunity to introduce any level of new or experienced drinker to a flavor or combination of sensations that they have never before enjoyed in a beer. Going back to my passion for food and interesting flavor profiles, I am very fortunate to be involved with a brewery that "gets" creativity, but with balance. It would be really easy to make a sour beer with vanilla and pineapple that was super sweet and reminiscent of a dessert, but instead, Jason has crafted something refreshing and interesting that makes people think."

When asked what her biggest challenge and greatest reward have been, Abby remarks, "Honestly, my answers are kind of one in the same. I have learned so many more facets of the business and how to strategize past just encouraging sales in the market." Always striving to add to her knowledge, Abby is currently enrolled in the fall cohort of the Brewers Association's mentorship program. She excitedly says, "I am so thankful for the knowledge being so freely and graciously shared amongst other professionals in the industry."

At the start of this article, Abby spoke of the insight and perspective women bring to the industry. When asked how we can attract more women to the craft beer world, Abby contemplates," I think it is probably one of the best times in recent history to get involved. I also think offering opportunities for easily-accessible education will help women - or any participants - feel more confident in making themselves more marketable and formidable against other folks that may have walked into their roles more easily. With Safe Bars and #NotMe becoming more of the industry standard, it is my hope that those who viewed safety as a barrier to entry might feel more secure getting into the biz."

Before the release of this article, Orpheus hosted its second annual Burning Mouth Hot Sauce Competition. Abby commented on the importance of events such as this. "Our beer is incredible, and I definitely want return patrons to enjoy it, but it's also about finding ways to appeal to members of our neighborhood who aren't as beer savvy and might be more comfortable getting to know us through food events or evenings during which we feature interactive activities."

Regardless of what part of the industry in which you work, the more you know, the better. It is no surprise that Abby has made it to where she is today through hard work, a variety of experiences and a true passion for craft beer.


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