Days 23 & 24

Was is the lack of sleep? The overindulgence in bad food and candy (which might account for the lack of sleep)? The stress of over- booking an up to now very disorganized life? A slight hormonal imbalance?

What ever the cause, Thursday and Friday were not good days. My brain blew small nuggets out of proportion, and I spent way too much of time obsessing over what my classmates thought of me, possibly imagining things and over-reacting. The phrase, what the fuck am I doing here? drifted across my mind a few times.

I think what it comes down to is that after 12 years of working with women in a highly feminist environment, it’s a bit of a culture shock to turn 180 degrees and be around men and men only, some of whom will argue there’s no gender bias in using the word “he” in a sentence that is meant to convey both genders. Throw in teachers who ignore the duality of the class, and talk about things like distractions of “crop tops and shortie shorts” as if that applies to all of us.

Sigh.

Luckily there were two events that stopped my brain from spiralling. The first was a great presentation given by Laurie Craig of Clear Valley Hops. She and her husband John, started Clear Valley Hops in 2010, and her presentation went through all of the trials and tribulations they encountered as they built their business. After, we all went out and took at look at Niagara College’s new hop yard, and it was clear that the woman knew her stuff after four years in the industry.

After two days thinking about gender biases, it was amusing to go to Sensory Evaluation class and talk about more bias, this time of the sensory kind. Notes were taken furiously by everyone. Apparently some biases are believable; others not so much.

I left as soon as class was over and made my way home to Toronto, stopping close to home to visit the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies. I could feel some of the stress lift off me as I walked up the stairs of the Jam Factory and into the hum of women drinking beer and having a great time. I was back among my tribe.

The environment wasn’t all that conducive to long conversations (hey, there was beer drinkin’ to be done!), but I managed to get hugs from my pals Erica and Jenn, and have some very good chats with Robin LeBlanc, Ren Navarro and Kristen MacDonald from Muskoka Brewery.

Just what I needed. I was finally able to quell the self doubt, put a damper on the emotions and realize that the only way I am going to make it through the next 15 months of school is to just be the my own weird, feminist self. Once more I had made the mistake of worrying about what people thought about me; that way lies madness as I well know.

And has change ever come from people trying to fit in?

School, Day 0, in which I thank a lot of people

How to explain how I felt yesterday as I sat in a classroom for orientation, listening to people talk about the program I spent so much time and effort getting into. I think giddy covers it best.

(We’re going to gloss right over the nerves, anxiety, self-doubt and near-crippling panic that I experienced in the preceding 48 hours. The less said about that the better.)

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Yes. We drank beer during the orientation info session. I can safely say we were the only program that did. They had 5 styles, but I felt that trying all five with no breakfast might be a mistake so I settled for samples of the NC Teaching Brewery saison and Septemberfest. Both made me wish I’d had breakfast.

I met most of my classmates. It appears that I am the only estrogen-based life form, which should make the next 16 months interesting. As well as from Ontario, there are two guys from the US, one from Calgary and another from Fredericton. I was as chatty as a nervous former teacher could be, so I’m pretty sure they know more about me at this point than I know about them. Note to self: sshhhhh.

Today is the first day of classes, and a fairly light one at that; an hour of Math of Finance at 11:30 followed by two hours of Computer Applications, which seems to be basically a self-learning software to guide one through the basics of MS Office. As someone who has taught it for the last 12 years, I am really hoping I can fast track through it.

I should go and have breakfast then shower and get dressed. But I can’t help but linger here over my coffee and think about how fortunate I am.

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First and foremost, I have to hand it to my beloved. He was the one that planted this little seed in my mind by replying “Brewmaster Goodale has a nice ring to it” when asked what I should be when I grow up. He has been nothing but supportive and wonderful throughout the last year while I was recovering from having the rugged pulled out from under me and then planning and working toward this next stage. He is quietly sacrificing much. He is shouldering a larger financial burden while I’m a student, has seen his vacation cut short from 2 weeks as planned to 5 days to accommodate some work that came up for me, and is keeping the home fires burning solo while I’m at my mid-week home across the lake. He is, in a word, wonderful, and I am quite lucky to have him in my life.

While Keith keeps telling me I made it this far due to hard work, I could not have done it without a lot of help in one form or another from just about everyone I know.

  • my brothers Brian and Doug, and my sister-in-law Linda. They have been my cheerleaders in unexpected ways and have offered much needed moral support and offers of financial assistance (which I hope I don’t need). I am grateful for how they have my back.
  • The Moose, our friend who is graciously renting me a room in his house in Winona. I hope he still wants to be my pal after being my mid-week landlord for the next while!
  • The “beer girls” – Erica at Black Oak, Jen Murphy at Beerlicious and Jen Shute. I met them at the Prud’homme beer course and they have been invaluable sources of information and assistance whether it be a letter for my Second Career application or connecting me to beer folks so I can make some extra money doing LCBO tastings. You guys rock!
  • Bella Dodswell of The Career Foundation, who helped me navigate the paperwork minefield that is a Second Career application. My application would not have been successful without her cheerful advice.
  • Juliette, who is still willing and able to pick up the phone and talk me off a ledge, even though we live on opposite sides of the world from each other and are separated by a half a day’s worth of time zones. The woman has mad skills and I am proud to call her friend.
  • Lori is another friend from far away who is kind and generous with her time and herself. I appreciate her more than I can ever say.
  • Caroline, aka the Hoppy Beer Witch, who is funny and interesting, and who has been instrumental in whetting my interest in the BJCP.
  • Robin Le Blanc, the Thirsty Wench. I have only spoken with her a few times, but we have many common thoughts on social justice and equality. She has given me much to think on in terms of working to expand the diversity of brewing, while introducing me to people in the industry.
  • Toronto brewers, who helped my application by taking time to complete my survey: Steve at Liberty Village, Tomas from Spearhead, Jeff from Indie Alehouse, Mary Beth at Granite, Mandie at Left Field, Dave at Kensington and Doug at Junction Craft. Shout outs to Tina from Junction Craft and Paul from Flying Monkeys in Barrie who have patiently answered my many questions about the business on several occasions.
  • Nate Ferguson and Alan Brown of Niagara College, for giving me a tour of the college and patiently and promptly answering all of my email questions, no matter how big or small.
  • The women at the Admissions department of Niagara College. They gave me invaluable advice during the application process and their emails were always fun and friendly.
  • my derby pals, my former colleagues, former students, friends and friends-of-friends, and perfect strangers, all of whom said “wow cool” when I told them of my plan to become a brewmaster. No one said I was too old, too female, too unexperienced or too anything; everyone has been amazingly supportive and interested.

And for this, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I quite honestly could not have done this without you and I am grateful.

Let me buy you a beer next time I see you.


(cross posted from my personal blog, It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time)

Queens of Craft

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Commuters and devices

I had a ticket to go to Queens of Craft in Guelph on Wednesday. I decided to take the GO train out and get a ride back with my beloved who was working in Kitchener. I’ll be honest, I was looking forward to taking the train, because I thought they were a nifty way to travel, speedy and scenic.

Note the past tense there? It took this one ride to realize it was not scenic, romantic or interesting. It was mind-numbingly boring. I watched people who do this every day, who commute from Georgetown and Guelph and couldn’t help but hope their jobs were worth losing this much of their precious time over. I can’t see any situations where I would voluntarily put myself through that on a regular basis. I’d only rethink my position if they put in a bar car.

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Muskoka Detour IPA

Pulled out the trusty Google Maps on my phone once I got to Guelph and walked the few blocks to the venue, where I was mildly concerned to find I was the only person there. Eventually the organizers and panelists came back from dinner, the crowd started to fill up the tables and the samples started pouring.

Like many others there, I was disappointed at the time constraint. The venue had a salsa night that started at 9, which meant that each of the panelists had only 8-10 minutes to talk about their particular area of craft beer, their female POV in it and to present a beer. This proved to be not even close to enough time. The panelists were rushed, and I can’t help but wonder what information I missed out on. The Thirsty Wench went into more detail about her topic, Beer Blogging Basics, on what else, her blog, but there was zero time for a Q and A or even a follow-up chat as most people hit the road for home when 9 o’clock came and we were pushed out by the increasing volume of the salsa music.

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Amazing women, amazing beer.

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There just something about the whole women-in-(insert male dominated field here) that I am becoming less and less enamored with. I do agree that there needs to be few gender barriers on fields, but this whole focus on the binary male/female bias only is honestly less than it could be. As this great sign I saw at Pride last year said, binary should only be for computers.

The support of these organizations is great if you’re a woman looking to break into a male-dominated field. But I think there’s a point where the segregation might be just shooting ourselves in the foot, and I don’t see how that is going to help us all in the long run. I was talking to a woman in IT a few years ago about a particular women-in-computers groups, and asked why she hadn’t joined. She thought a moment and replied that they were comfortable to be in but that change didn’t really come from within a comfort zone. She also asked a question that stuck in my mind: how does a women’s club that looks like a men’s club do anything to break down the men’s club?

How indeed.

A week or so ago, this exchange on Twitter that caught my eye between Neko Case (who I admire) and Playboy (who I don’t):

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It resonated. She had other tweets that followed, about being Peggy Olson-ed (she’s good, you know, for a woman) and about the whole “women in ….” thing. And I thought, yeah, this.

I don’t want to be a kickass “woman in beer”. I want to be a kickass brewer in  beer.

The good, the bad and the ugly of the OBA Gala

As I had helped out with the judging nights and sorting the BJCP sheets, I was offered a ticket to the Ontario Brewing Awards Gala on April 5th. I wasn’t sure if I had anything in my closet suitable for a gala (I’m a jeans and tshirt kind of girl), but a quick look at past pictures on the website reminded me that brewers are pretty much a jeans-and-tshirt kind of crowd. Phew. Off I went to my first beer award event, not sure what to expect.

The Good

Kudos to Roger of Thirst for Knowledge and Jen from Beerlicious for putting on a good event! Everything seemed to run well from my perspective, which really just means the beer was plentiful and delicious, the food was plentiful and delicious, and no one stepped on my toes.

Even though I went solo, I had some great conversations. Roger introduced me to Jon Downing, the brewmaster professor at Niagara and soon to be one of my teachers. I may have gotten a little gushy with my enthusiasm.

I saw someone in a Big Rig sweatshirt, and started the conversation with, “hey, do you work at Big Rig?”. Turns out I was speaking to Lon, the brewmaster. I told him about my experience at the Toronto Beer Festival Spring Session, and how much I really liked his Black Peppercorn Saison. Yeah, I might have gotten a little gushy there too. I was pleased but not all that surprised at how many awards Big Rig received. He was very sweet and gracious when I congratulated him later on his wins, and nicely said that the awards were great but that his best takeaway from the night was my feedback from the festival on his staff and my friends’ reactions to his beer. See – sweet guy.

I got to meet the guys from Stack Brewing in Sudbury. I have family there, and we have drunk much of their product while sitting on the dock or the deck. Congrats to them for winning gold for their Les Portes de L’Enfers.

I also introduced myself to Paul, the head brewer at Flying Monkeys, and had a great chat with him about their markets outside of Ontario. I talked with Robin of Thirsty Wench fame in the bar where we reminisced about the bad old days at the Gladstone before it became gentrified. And I finally got to meet Caroline the Hoppy Beer Witch, who I have been following on Twitter and Instagram for months.

The Bad

I don’t know if I really call something bad when I can’t think of a way to make it good.

In case you don’t know me, I am a fierce advocate of feminism and multiculturalism, and I find it hard to relax in homogeneous gatherings because my brain begins asking why, why is this <insert gathering here> like this? 

My takeaway from the OBA’s is that brewers are not a very diverse crowd. There weren’t very many women there, and it’s hard to say how many of those in attendance were in media as opposed to in brewing. And I don’t think I’m out of line by saying that it was a very white crowd.

I do wonder what are the barriers to entry for people who aren’t Caucasian and male; I don’t get the feeling that it’s top down, that it comes from within the industry itself. I don’t know. It’s definitely something I’m interested in finding out more about, and contrasting that to my experiences in IT.

The Ugly

Warning: I might get a little ranty here, and this is just my personal take. I have to write this so it’s out of my head. I’m not sure if it’s my upbringing or my age, but cliquishness and bad manners irk me. Feel free to stop reading now if you are ok with these things. Me, I think courtesy and inclusion should be modeled no matter where you are.

One:
The schmoozing had been going on for about an hour when Roger went to the mic and started his intro the awards. Now, in just about every other event I’ve been to, that’s the cue for people to dial back their conversations and pay attention. If anything, this crowd got louder. I had to bite my tongue to stop the former teacher in me from shushing everyone.

Two:
I could be totally reading too much into this, but when Magnotta Brewing won a gold for their True North Copper and the brew went to pick up the award, the applause was just this side of crickets. The applause for other craft brewers was significantly louder. I know I’m fairly new to this industry and will freely admit there could either be more (or less) to this than I am seeing, but can’t shake the feeling that there are some biased opinions in terms of who makes “craft” beer, what brands are the “cool kids”. I hope I’m wrong, because that’s bullshit. Good beer is good beer, regardless of who makes it. I will admit to having certain perceptions about Magnotta, but that didn’t stop me from trying and enjoying their beer, or from congratulating someone who made a beer that won gold in its category.

Three:
This is the one that has really bugged me, and made me think less of someone. I was standing in a group near the end of the night, when one person made a comment about how the competition was “totally fixed before hand”  because awards were won by the craft beer divisions of big corporate names like Molson-Coors and Labatts, and then proceeded to imply that money had changed hands.

Listen. If you hold a position in an industry where your opinion is listened to, you really shouldn’t say shit like this when you are at an industry event. It’s highly unprofessional, and unless you have even the slightest shred of proof to back you up, it’s unethical. As someone who helped the nights of the judging and later sorted forms, I don’t believe there is any possible truth behind that individual’s claim. Yes, that person is still entitled to their opinion, but as Douglas Adams said, “All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.”

Rant over.

Cask Days 2013

Cask Days 2013 is the first beer event I’ve gone to in about 8 years. The last one was at the Toronto Beer Festival when it was still at Old Fort York. I’d gone one year and had a great time with some friends tasting beer and enjoying the sunshine. The next year it should have been called Frat Boy Fest. I spent most of my time dodging drunken 20-somethings with 6-packs reconfigured as hats and avoiding the increasing puddles of sick as the afternoon went on.

I didn’t go again. To quote Danny Glover’s character in Lethal Weapon, I am too old for that shit.

Fast forward to now. I’d heard good things about Cask Days, and decided to try the casks on Saturday and volunteer on Sunday. I asked my beer-drinking friends if they wanted to join me for Session 1, but they all had plans. I’ll be honest, I was a bit uncomfortable at the thought of going on my own (yes, I’m a introvert with hermit-like tendencies), but I forced myself to go. I can only learn so much by sitting at home reading blogs on the internet. I printed out my tickets and a list of all the casks, highlighting those that  sounded interesting.

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I signed up for the First Access and Tasting session with Stephen Beaumont so I could get some guidance around the British casks that were on hand. It was worth every penny. I would have likely not tried any of these lovelies:

I didn’t take any notes at the Cask Days, a mistake I won’t make again. Middle-age memory is fickle. I enjoyed them all, but I do remember thinking that I enjoyed the Wells & Young Courage the most. Which is more than I thought I’d remember. You see, two of the cast members from my TV guilty pleasure, Lost Girl, were in the session as well. I found it hard to concentrate on the beer when I was busy trying not to act like a dorky fangirl in front of Kris Holden-Reid and Paul Amos.

I set out on my own after the session. I was quite happy to be on my own, as it allowed me to go where I wanted and be more open to random conversations. I talked to a Viking for a while, and ran into the Thirsty Wench who then introduced me to Nate Ferguson from the Brewmaster program at Niagara College. They introduced me to sour beers, and encouraged me to try the Storm Imperial Flanders, for which I will always be grateful. So delicious.

I found that asking people, “what’s the best beer you’ve tried so far?” was a perfect conversation starter. I soon abandoned my highlighted list, and tried many of the recommendations. I tasted a lot of novelty beers; Liberty Village’s Gummi Beer,  Grand River’s Beetifide Bohemian and Hockley’s Jaffa Cake all had interesting flavours at first sip but palled by the third or fourth. I met Cheezweezl and her husband by chance, and they directed me to the coffee goodness of Amsterdam’s Full City Double Tempest and its neighbour, Amsterdam’s El Jaguar, a chocolate chili stout that was so good I tweeted that I would marry it if I weren’t already married.

I ran into Andy, a former colleague, who has the same love of beer and punk rock as I do. Of course we would run into each other there. We compared notes and wondered what we would have to do to get the DJ to play more Clash.

Andy and I joking with the guys at the Quebec casks. Photo Credit: Connie Tsang (http://connietsangphotos.com)

The next day I volunteered and was working the Manitoba and Alberta casks. The day was still cold, but the rain held off, and the brief bursts of sunshine made the day wonderful. I had a chance to meet Ralph Morana of BarVolo and learn a bit about the proper care of a cask, and had a great time pouring the beer and talking to people.

I finished the weekend very impressed by the work and dedication of the Cask Days organizational team and the volunteers – it takes a lot of work to make these many pieces fall together effortlessly.

I can’t wait for next year.

A selection of beer tshirts that caught my eye.
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Found these in my pocket when I did laundry. Hopefully, I’ll remember where I stashed them when I head to Cask Days 2014.