In the craft beverage industry, the alcoholic liquids are foremost what define a business, but it’s the taproom experience that can set a producer apart from its peers. Visiting where the beer or cider is made allows customers to form a stronger connection with the brand, and throughout the Asheville area, many of the individuals making sure those interactions run as smoothly as possible are women.
“We’re the liaisons between the owners and the staff, the liaisons between production and the staff, and the liaisons between sales and the staff,” says Katy Luquire, hospitality manager for Urban Orchard Cider Co. “We have weekly meetings with the whole company, so we have a really good idea of what’s happening — not just in the taproom, but with the business as a whole.”
Between Luquire, whose role also includes managing the cidery’s Buxton Avenue location and its events, and Katie Jordan, manager of Urban Orchard’s original West Asheville taproom, they’re responsible for roughly 20 employees. In addition to hiring, training and scheduling, they write standard operating procedures, work with production to craft product descriptions and help educate each bartender and server about the ciders on tap. Their attention to detail ensures that the work of owner/operator Josie Mielke and head cidermaker Greg Hill are accurately conveyed to each patron.
“What we do most is communicating information to people and making it streamlined in a way that people can understand,” Jordan says. “A big part of that is keeping ourselves organized, too. We have SOPs for our own daily stuff that we do, so if someone is out sick or on vacation, we make sure all of our bases are covered and that we’re working together.”
Hi-Wire Brewing’s Christine Ferguson Weaver is likewise familiar with synchronicity on a large scale. As the brewery’s director of retail operations — “a fancy word for GM,” she says — Ferguson Weaver manages managers at its Asheville, Durham and Knoxville, Tenn., taprooms, as well as The Event Space next to its Big Top production brewery. In addition to providing support for over 50 bar employees, she’s in charge of all wholesale, retail and incentive merchandise that goes in and out of the Big Top, all inventory that isn’t beer and handling other duties as they arise.
“Just last week, I was on the packaging line helping them,” Ferguson Weaver says, noting that the brewery was working on its annual Collaboration 12-pack, which is brewed one beer at a time and hand-packed. “Hand-packing on top of their normal schedule, they needed help. So for one whole week, I was working in packaging. You have to be flexible and be able to jump around wherever you’re needed.”
She also hops in to assist behind the bar when required, drawing on 14 years in the craft beer industry. She quickly rose from bartender to management in Charlotte and at Thirsty Monk and Green Man Brewery. Key to helping spread expertise throughout her Hi-Wire staff is teaming with the brewers, cellarmen and other colleagues to create cheat sheets for bartenders.
“When beer nerds come in, they can talk with them about everything from the ABV to the hops used and temperatures and malts,” Ferguson Weaver says. “We try to give them as much information as possible going in. You don’t want anyone to be uninformed about anything, especially what’s on tap.”
Operations are slightly different at Zebulon Artisan Ales, where Mike Karnowski brews the beers and writes up their descriptions, and his wife/co-owner Gabe Pickard-Karnowski handles nearly everything else. Though the Weaverville brewery may soon be open on Sunday afternoons, its hours are currently limited to 1-6 p.m., two days a week. Pickard-Karnowski runs the tasting room on Fridays, and her lone co-worker is there with her on Saturdays.
“The size of our brewery is conducive to knowing a little more about the history and about the types of beer, the categories of beers and the recipes,” Pickard-Karnowski says. “People really enjoy having the brewer that made the beers there, but everybody needs a day off, so I try to be as informed as possible so people don’t feel they’re getting any less of a good experience.”
Her other duties include recruiting help for bottling days, picking out glassware and working with graphic design friends in New Orleans and New York City to craft T-shirts and bottle labels. She also handles marketing, bookkeeping, invoices, taxes and brews the occasional beer, all the while maintaining positive relationships with Zebulon’s local accounts and ones throughout North Carolina.
“We’ve only been open four years, and some of these [bottle] shops only opened four years ago, too,” she says. “We started together and, like moss on a stone, we’re symbiotic. We work together and we want them to succeed, and they all are very supportive.”
While each manager finds her work fulfilling and rewarding, they’re upfront about the job not being as glamorous as it might seem from the outside. They note that craft beverage production is a manufacturing field, and one that requires lots of cleaning and heavy lifting. And while the industry remains male-dominated and not everyone is adept at listening to knowledgeable, strong-willed women, all four managers see noticeable progress on the local front as a whole and from top-down leadership within their individual businesses.
“Asheville is a good place for moving things in more of a diverse direction, starting with the food industry,” Jordan says. “We have so many strong female chefs here, and that industry has really been shaken up. I think the brewing industry is following suit.”