Like so many others in the beer industry, Averie Swanson’s journey began as an enthusiastic homebrewer. Gradually realizing that she had a knack for the art, she began to think about brewing as a career. Eventually, she took steps to test the commercial brewery waters.
“I reached out to several breweries in the Austin area,” she says, “and Jester King was the only one to offer me an opportunity to volunteer.”
Eager and highly motivated, Swanson helped with everything under the sun for six months without payment, then asked for a full-time apprenticeship which ran another six months.
“At that point, they offered me a job as a brewer. Over the course of my six years there, I went from volunteer to head brewer and co-owner.”
Swanson resigned from her position at Jester King in December of 2018 and moved to Chicago, where she’s since launched her own saison-focused beer label, Keeping Together. The beers are delicate expressions of mixed fermentation, with equally evocative labels and beer names (“The Art of Holding Space” and “I am Because We Are” are two of our favorites).
This week, we spoke to the brewer and entrepreneur about her brewing style, starting from scratch in a new city, and carving a path as a woman in a male-dominated industry.
What made you want to get into brewing? How did the passion turn into a career?
Coming out of college, I was an avid craft beer drinker. I tried as many different styles of beers as I could, and eventually realized that brewing my own beer would allow me to further explore the flavors that I was experiencing.
I kept a pretty detailed log of my recipes and brew sessions and was drawn to the data collection and precision in the process. It reminded me very much of the organic chemistry lab in college. I fell in love with it and before long I was brewing more than I was drinking, and I decided that perhaps it was worth seeing what it was like making beer on a commercial scale.
Tell us a little about your style when it comes to brewing?
Despite originally being drawn to brewing because of the scientific precision required, I have become pretty laissez-faire in my approach to beer making at this point. I had some pretty incredible teachers at Jester King, and while I was there I learned that brewing is just as much an art as it is a science. Making mixed fermentation beer is inherently a less rigid process than making clean beer [like lagers, or IPAs] –there is a fair amount of flexibility in the recipe development when making beer with a mixed culture.
Though I may start with a recipe or a flavor concept in mind, I more often than not end up changing my plans as the beer evolves through fermentation. If the fermentation flavors end up inspiring me to take the beer in a different direction than I originally intended, I follow my intuition there.
What went into the decision to leave Jester King?
It was certainly not an easy decision to leave Jester King. Several personal reasons led me to the decision but, in a nutshell, I had managed to seriously overextend myself through work and work-related travel and felt that I needed some dedicated time to attend to my family and personal relationships.
That brewery had been my home and the team there had been my family for a very long time, and there are days when I miss it terribly. However, I do think my decision to move on was the right one — my departure created space for others at the brewery to grow and learn, and it certainly has resulted in no shortage of learning experiences for me either.
What made you decide to start your own brewery?
Beer is what I know and what I love. Starting my own beer label has offered me the opportunity to really brew for myself and create things that I am wholly excited about. I have been fortunate to have so much support from my peers and colleagues in the industry over the years, and starting my own thing allows me to continue to give back to the greater beer community and support others as I have been supported.
Did you have any difficulties navigating through the male-centric beer world as a female brewer?
Becoming a brewer is difficult regardless of your sex or gender identity. I have certainly experienced plenty of challenges throughout my time in this industry — issues with coworkers, industry peers, consumers. I could go into specifics or details, but honestly, I don’t care to remember the assholes that tried to keep me down and prevent me from getting where I wanted to go. I prefer to look forward and spend my energy supporting a reality of equity for anyone and everyone who is interested in being a part of the craft beer community.
Progress is being made every day, but we still have a long way to go.
What advice do you have for other women looking to get into brewing?
Work your ass off and don’t let other people make you feel small or unworthy. You have every right to be there and are as capable as anyone else at becoming an authority at what you do. It will be hard, but just about everything worth doing is hard — so don’t give up.