Q&A with MetroWines’ womencentric beer program pioneer Anita Riley

BOYS AND BEER: "When I was a kid, my parents had two auto body shops, and I have three older brothers. I am quite comfortable in a male-dominated field," says MetroWines' new beer specialist Anita Riley. Photo courtesy of Riley

In Beer City, USA, even wine stores specialize in brews — at least MetroWines will upon launching into beer territory this month. Pioneered by local home brewer Anita Riley, the expansion will feature an in-store beer section along with an online component entitled Brewing up a Storm — a first-of-its-kind blog “focusing on women in the beer making industry then and now,” according to MetroWines co-owner Gina Trippi.

“The Blind Tasting League has taught me about beverage prejudice!” says Trippi, citing her motivation to incorporate beer into the wine shop. “You think you like one varietal or style or price point, but when you taste without knowing what’s in the glass, you find what you like might be quite different … We want to introduce those who prefer wine — or think they do! — to the many styles of beer, and those who prefer beer to the many varietals of wine.”

Trippi appointed Riley as “the beer department” based on her fun and informative approach to engaging customers, professional involvement in industry organizations and training in A-B Tech’s brewing course. Trippi already spotlights wines made or marketed by women and hopes to do the same with Riley’s beer offerings and events.

Xpress contacted Riley for more information on her in involvement with MetroWines’ new direction.

Mountain Xpress: What do you hope to accomplish with your new blog?

Anita Riley: My hope for Brewing Up A Storm is that women that are already involved with the beer industry and those who may be considering going into it, feel a little less alone. Asheville has a great brewing community, and there’s a lot of collaboration once you’re involved, but you have to scratch the surface a bit for that to show through. A couple of years ago, when I started home brewing and then considering school for Brewing, Distillation and Fermentation, I didn’t see a lot of women hanging around the supply shops or in the breweries unless they were bartending. I realize now that was only a perception — not the reality at all. The general consensus [among my general studies peers at AB-Tech] said that brewing was a boys’ sport. This led me to visit some breweries around town and talk to some folks about the feasibility of a woman brewer. I got a mixed bag of responses, but Erica Nelson from Highland at the time — now at Oskar Blues — took about an hour out of her day to talk with me. She was really the catalyst for me pushing forward in this field. She was doing it. It could be done… I am quite comfortable in a male dominated field. All I needed to know is that there was room for me. I hope that the blog shows other women that there is definitely room for them, too.

What are some current trends or milestones for women in the Asheville craft beer industry?

The trends in the industry are really opening the doors to women. I’ve seen countless articles lately about women becoming a growing customer base for craft beer. With the growing popularity of barrel aging, sour beers, and saisons, we see more and more women trying something outside of their usual wine or mixed drink bias. With the need to cater to a growing feminine customer base, we really need women on the inside directing the beer selections and doing quality control. It’s a scientific fact that women have more taste buds than men — which is not to say that there aren’t men out there that have really well developed palates, but only a woman can taste what other women are going to taste when they order that craft beverage. I think breweries are doing themselves a favor by hiring women.

How can women get plugged into the brewing action locally? Do you know of any resources for women?

We’re starting to see women’s professional groups like The Pink Boots Society spring up across the country. I have heard of women’s pint groups that meet at their local breweries to imbibe craft beer exclusively. Barley’s Angels is one that comes to mind. I hope that Brewing Up A Storm can also become a resource for women in our area — if nothing else, to let them know that they are not alone out there. We already have a couple of tasting events scheduled that we hope will bring the women together.

How are you valuable to wine lovers?

Through the short time that I’ve been at MetroWines, and through my education, I’ve learned an absurd amount about wines, too. I hope to use this knowledge to steer folks in the right direction when it comes to beer selections … I am also using that knowledge to select beers for the shop that I think would appeal to the wine lovers out there. Here at Metro Wines, we have a wealth of knowledge of the beverage industry. I learn so much from my coworkers every day. We all sort of geek out about fermentation processes and soils. We are constantly sharing our knowledge with each other and with our customers. We love what we do, and it shows.

MetroWines is at 169 Charlotte St. Visit metrowinesasheville.com/brew-blog for more information.


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About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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