Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Women of Beer: Ally Duffy with Wild Leap Atlanta

By Kerri Allen

Many people know Wild Leap Brew Company from their hip beers, such as Alpha Abstraction Double IPA, but did you know that Wild Leap recently hired a rockin' female brewer for their Atlanta location? Meet Ally Duffy of Wild Leap Atlanta.

Ally did not start with the idea of being a brewer. Although a fan of craft beer, she was pursuing a different path. Ally talks about her circuitous route to head brewer by recalling, “I started 'beertending' part-time at my friends’ A Little Madness Brewing in Pensacola while working full-time in marine biology for the US EPA and finishing graduate school for my master's degree in biology. I was already a craft beer enthusiast, but I felt inspired by all the creative ideas and experimentation I didn’t realize went into brewing a beer."

A Fortuitous Meeting

After finishing her degree, Ally and her “now-husband” moved to Columbus, Georgia. Being landlocked, she decided to temporarily return to craft beer while searching for a science job. "This temporary plan turned into a newfound passion and career when I met the brewers of LaGrange's Wild Leap Brew at an event," she recalls. "I joined their production team in April of 2020, started in the 940-barrel capacity cellar, and was quickly cross-trained to brew 30-barrel batches of Wild Leap's core and seasonal beers.”

Later in 2020, due to the pandemic, Ally and her husband moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. About her growth as a brewer, Ally comments, “I continued as an assistant brewer until I felt I had outgrown that role and wanted to brew my own recipes.” When she was ready, Ally landed the job as head brewer at Knoxville's Elst Brewing Company, where her duties included brewing, cellaring and kegging all of the products by herself. "These challenges taught me how to work with and around my strengths and weaknesses and honed my creative problem-solving skills," she notes. "Working alone at Elst taught me to trust my knowledge and gut instincts. I sometimes had to make snap decisions in the best interest of the beer without being able to ask for a second opinion, and this is one of the greatest skills I left with.”

Georgia on Her Mind

On coming full circle and moving back to Georgia to rejoin Wild Leap, Ally relates, “The well-rounded experience within all of the production roles at Elst prepared me for my current role as head brewer of Wild Leap Atlanta. I run a five-barrel brewhouse at the Atlanta facility with an 80-barrel capacity cellar. I choose what beers we make and get to add an experimental component to each recipe, meaning we are trying a new ingredient or technique with every single batch we brew. I will eventually be in charge of a small team and look forward to the fun beers we’ll be producing!”

When asked about her favorite aspect of being in the brewing industry, Ally talks about the critical link between creativity and teamwork. Ally enthusiastically states, “Brewing is a technical craft, a science and an art. I loved using the scientific method to develop research questions and perform experiments as a marine biologist. Brewing allows me to continue to apply these background skills while expressing my creativity through ingredients to create art.”

A Rewarding Work Environment

As with any job, having a good work environment helps foster enthusiasm and passion, making the hard work worthwhile. How does Ally's current position fit in this love of brewing? She observes, “It can be rare in our industry to find a company where the ownership, production staff and front-of-house staff all work together smoothly as a dedicated, cohesive team. It takes a healthy company culture to achieve this; Wild Leap has focused on these goals from the start. When I come to work, I know we all respect each others’ important roles and are there to work together toward the common goal of selling our products and creating memorable experiences for our guests. We all support each other in pushing the brewery's creative direction forward and pushing ourselves to perform our best and grow in our respective roles. I love this feeling!”

In the still male-dominated world of brewing, some folks still forget that women can do anything that men can do.  When asked about her biggest challenge and greatest reward, Ally confides, “Earning respect as a woman in this male-dominated industry has undoubtedly been one of my biggest challenges, especially when I had to start over in a new city. I was one of four female brewers within an hour's radius at the time and the only female brewer in the city limits of Knoxville by the time I left Elst. From dealing with biased views such as 'Can she even lift a bag of grain or operate a forklift?' to being treated differently by freight delivery drivers or being called rude names by a few colleagues in the industry, I've had to step up and prove my worth constantly. My greatest rewards are defying expectations and rising to a head brewer role. Knowing my current bosses trust my vision for the beers and will offer me mentorship to help me grow has proven invaluable.”

The Importance of Inclusion

As to why women are vital to the industry, Ally brings up her respect for uniqueness and diversity. She explains, “Every single person on this planet perceives the world in a unique way. When you want your product to be as unique as possible to compete in an inundated market, why wouldn’t you hire as many diverse types of people as possible to bring more ideas and skills to the table? It's the responsibility of brewery ownership and production managers to invest in hiring, supporting and promoting more women, non-binary folks and BIPOC in this industry. Owners and managers must also write and enforce codes of conduct for all their employees to create safe workspaces where everyone is respected. Word spreads quickly in the service industry, and workers know which establishments have good reputations and which ones they should avoid. If you strive to create a truly inclusive company, more diverse groups of people will want to work for you.”

In addition to creating a safe and equitable work environment, Ally shares a few ideas on attracting more women to the brewing industry. “Spreading awareness about various roles in the brewing industry creates another pathway for engaging more people," she notes. "While working in production and bartending is considered labor-intensive with lots of bending, heavy lifting and working on your feet all day, women are absolutely physically capable of these tasks. Ladies might have to apply some creative problem-solving to get the job done by working around stature and physical abilities, and a truly supportive manager will have no problem helping troubleshoot if needed. The manual labor jobs aren’t the only option either. There are also plenty of other opportunities in craft beer such as marketing, graphic design, sales, distribution, administrative roles and more.”

Atlanta craft beer enthusiasts have embraced Ally's beers at the atmospheric Wild Leap Atlanta taproom, conveniently located near downtown's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “My first beers at Wild Leap Atlanta were released during the first week of September and are available in the taproom only, so I invite everyone to visit us," Ally says. "Besides beer, we offer craft cocktails with our in-house spirits, mocktails and vodka-based slushies, so there’s something for everyone.” Thanks, Ally - please save us a bar stool.

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