Erin Jordan is a testament to the adage that hard work and determination pay off.
Three years after being hired for her first job in the brewing industry, she’s been promoted to the head brewer position at Archetype Brewing. Former head brewer Steven Anan has moved back to his native Florida but remains a company co-owner and resource to his former assistant brewer and the other two members of the production team.
“I am extremely grateful and fortunate that I have an amazing teacher and mentor in Steven. He really took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. He was patient with me and taught me everything that he knows — and he let me fail all along the way,” Jordan says. “I just went full steam ahead. I absorbed everything I can, and I read a lot and I’ll research and pick other people’s brains. I’m always looking for ways to improve and do it better.”
Jordan is Asheville’s first female head brewer since Leah Tyrell left UpCountry Brewing Co. in April 2018 to start Silver Spruce Brewing in Traverse City, Mich. Prior to Tyrell, that honor belonged to Hollie Stephenson, who moved from Highland Brewing Co. to the head brewer position at Guinness’ Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House in Baltimore in 2017.
“I wish Erin all the best,” Stephenson says. “It is always particularly exciting and inspiring to hear about women moving up in brewing departments. She is fortunate to be surrounded by the strong community of women in Asheville.”
Story of a boomerang
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Jordan moved with her family to Asheville at the age of 10 and graduated from T.C. Roberson High School. She then played varsity soccer at UNC Chapel Hill, earned a degree in psychology and kinesiology and moved to Texas to take time off and make sure she truly wanted to attend grad school and study exercise physiology with a focus on breast cancer rehabilitation. During that time, her interests shifted slightly, and med school became the new goal, leading to a well-paying position with a Medicare risk management firm.
But while she was there, Jordan became disenchanted with the U.S. health care system and her “soul-sucking” job. She became a certified yoga instructor and also worked for environmental nonprofit at a rock climbing gym, then moved back to Asheville in 2015 — “I like to say I’m kind of a boomerang,” she says — and managed Medea’s Real Food Cafe on Long Shoals Road. When that business suddenly closed, a store regular-turned-friend asked her what she planned to do next.
“I had built their food fermentation and juice programs, and I had been homebrewing and wanted to pursue something more. So I told him, ‘I want to get into craft beer,’” Jordan says. “And he was like, ‘Well, funny enough, I actually know somebody that’s starting a brewery in West Asheville. I know how hard you work and I know enough about you. I’ll put your name forward and let you do all the rest.’”
The friend put Jordan in touch with Archetype founder Brad Casanova, and she got to see the brewery “when it was a dirt floor.” Hired as the business’s second employee, Jordan worked under Anan’s tutelage, primarily as a cellerman with Josh Jiles as the third member of the team, being what she calls “Jack and Jane of all trades.” When Jiles took a brewing job at Highland, Jordan was pushed into the hot portion of making beer much faster than she expected. But with Anan’s help, she was able to expand her skill set in a short period of time and now feels prepared to handle the array of responsibilities that being a head brewer entails.
“It’s everything from macro to micro. It’s conception of what your vision is, what you want to execute, securing ingredients to make that vision happen, managing vendors and accounts and a staff, and [standard operating procedures] and always having a critical eye to tweak not only recipes but our SOPs,” she says. “[It’s] making sure that the glass that’s on your table is the best representation of us.”
In her new role, working alongside fresh assistant brewer hire Nate Mizner (formerly of Denver’s Great Divide Brewing Co.), Jordan plans to continue making what she calls “stellar beer” and would love to expand Archetype’s barrel program. She’s been “dabbling in sours” and expanding the brewery’s mixed-culture offerings, building on her love for working with Brett and its “range of flavor characteristics.” Additionally, she hopes to grow Archetype’s lagering program — “At the end of the day, that’s what I want to drink,” she says — as well as encourage more women to join her ranks.
“The history of beer started with women. And then, of course, over time with industrialization and the fact that you’re having to lift so much weight and you’re around dangerous chemicals and hot liquids, it’s definitely morphed into a much more male-dominated industry,” Jordan says.
“Any woman that wants to be creative, that loves science and doesn’t want to go to the gym but wants to get her workout at work — I welcome any woman into the ranks. I want more women to be a part of this collective. It’s important, and we have different palates than men do, and I think, as a collective whole, we just make beer better because we can offer something different.”
As for potential hurdles preventing women from entering the industry, Jordan notes that she got to where she is without going through a formal brewing school, which she feels is valuable but not the only avenue. Instead, she educated herself to compensate for the lack of institutional training — a route that she feels is accessible to motivated women and harkens back to the days before brewing programs, when people transformed their passions into careers.
“You’ve almost got to go to the roots and go to those major universities when people are starting to decide what they want to do with their life. And be like, ‘Hey, did you know you don’t just have to do a keg stand to enjoy beer. You can also make it for a living,’” she says, but is quick to note that the fun yet often glorified job is very labor intensive and involves a lot of cleaning. “If you’re really interested, come talk to me, wash some kegs, try and do some volunteer work to see what it’s really like and then put in the work.”