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.

This article was first published in:

Lynette Shoaf of Low Road Brewing in Hammond, Louisiana

By Kerri Allen
Imagine taking over your favorite brewery because you liked it so much and didn’t want to see it go away. Lynette Shoaf and her husband, Tim, did exactly this with Low Road Brewing in Hammond, Louisiana. The community's thirsty patrons have been appreciative ever since. 
According to Lynette, “Low Road was originally opened in 2017 by a former homebrewer after retiring from a corporate career. My husband, Tim, and I enjoyed the atmosphere and became regulars in the taproom. We were avid home mead makers at the time, and the original Low Road owner would invite homebrewers to bring their recipes in to brew with him. The brewery would then feature the guest beer on tap for a month. This experience was our introduction to brewing beer, and we brewed with him several times over the first few years. In early 2020, the original owner wanted to retire again, and we decided to purchase the brewery. We didn't want to see the brewery close and felt we could grow the business. We signed the purchase agreement the week before COVID shut the world down. We continued working full-time jobs in the corporate world while operating the brewery once restrictions allowed us to open at partial capacity. This allowed us to keep the brewery open.”
Raise your pints to Louisiana's first female head brewer - Lynette Shoaf! In early discussions, her husband and fellow owner, Tim, would be the brewer, and Lynette would handle the front of the house and other business areas. Like any good story, this one has a twist. Lynette shares, “We quickly realized I was better at recipe creation, and I really developed a passion for brewing. I started learning as much as I could about brewing through books, professional organization resources and from other brewers. Tim stepped back from the brewery, and I became the first female head brewer in the state.”

Tim and Lynette Shoaf 
Challenges Create Strength
After dealing with the pandemic and all of its challenges for businesses, Lynette and Tim have been successful in growing Low Road. Lynette recalls, “In late 2021, we changed our licensing from a brewpub to a manufacturing brewery so we could go into distribution. This has really fueled significant growth for our brand. With only a 3-bbl brewhouse, it requires a lot of brewing to keep up with taproom and distribution demand.” 
Being flexible and working through challenges says much about Lynette's passion for the craft and her understanding of the business. Owning a brewery is not a walk in the park. People who do not know better probably imagine a leisurely brew day with a relaxing pint at the end. However, those familiar with professional brewing understand the huge amount of work, cleaning and maintenance involved. These are the challenges of living out the dream of making beer for the public. On this thread, Lynette comments, “Even though we eventually added some part-time brewhouse and taproom staff, I was often working 15-18 hour days between my other job and the brewery, and the stress began to take a significant toll on my health. I eventually decided to leave my job in the corporate world to focus on our brewery full-time.”
When asked about her favorite part of being involved in a brewery, Lynette responds, “I love working in an industry where the other brewery owners and staff are collaborative and supportive of each other, rather than being competitive like most other industries. Most people in craft beer seem more than happy to share knowledge and resources and work together to improve the industry.” 
The Low Road Team
An Evolving Brewing Landscape
Every good job has its challenges and rewards. Lynette says that her biggest challenge “has been staying profitable in a constantly changing environment. Changing consumer habits and tastes and rising ingredient and supply costs, paired with availability issues, often create a struggle. Craft beer consumers expect our core brands to be consistent, available, and reasonably priced. When ingredient prices rise, or something isn't available, we can't always substitute something else without affecting the final product. So, you might have to raise prices, which the market will only tolerate so much. We never want to run out of one of our core products. It's much harder to bring consumers back to that product once they move on to something else. Fortunately, the majority of our beers are traditional beer styles. Our top sellers are an American lager and an Irish red ale, so current trends moving consumers back to these traditional styles actually work in our favor.” 
What is rewarding after all of the challenges? Lynette states, “The greatest reward is when a patron comes into the taproom for the first time, and I get to see their reaction when they try my beer. If they have no idea who I am, and they appreciate my beer, it's a wonderful feeling. Having people genuinely enjoy something I created makes it worth the long hours, hard work and stress-filled days.”
Low Road's Brewhouse
Not All Brewers Have Beards
Women make up half the population of the world. So many industries miss opportunities to have amazing people working in them because of a “boys club” mentality. When asked why women are important to the industry, Lynette responds, “Just like any industry, a variety of people with different ideas, backgrounds and personalities are vital for growth. If everyone in the industry is the same with the same ideas, the craft beer industry stagnates. We need the creativity and variety that arise from having many different people in the industry, each challenging the others to improve."
For craft breweries to attract more women, Lynette believes that the public's perception of a craft brewer needs to change. "There have been many instances in our taproom or at a craft beer event where someone assumes Tim is the brewer," she relates. "They ask him about a particular recipe or process, and when he admits that he doesn't know and that I'm the brewer, people sometimes don't believe him. I've been referred to as 'the owner's wife' or 'the brewer's wife' on multiple occasions. The expectation that a brewer has to be a 30-something white male with a beard needs to shift.” 
Community Connections
What can people expect when paying a visit to Low Road Brewing? Lynette stresses that Low Road is a brewery with a heart for the community. She adds, “One of the things we love about owning a brewery is that it gives us a great platform to support veterans. Our top-selling beer, Twenty-Two American Lager, is brewed specifically for this purpose. We donate 22% from sales of this beer to Irreverent Warriors, a nationwide program that works to improve veteran mental health and prevent veteran suicides. We also host an annual amateur wing cookoff and homebrew competition called 'Wings & Ale.' This November festival raises funds for our local VFW.” Head on down to Low Road Brewing in Hammond, Louisiana, hoist a tasty pint and help some deserving veterans in the process. 
This article was first published in:
 Photos Courtesy of Low Road Brewing