“Just go for it” — a guest column by Erika Woodcock, of Pink Boots Society’s RI chapter

Pink Boots Society is a nonprofit organization aimed to “assist, inspire and encourage women beer industry professionals to advance their careers through education.” This article by Erika Woodcock, the leader of PBS’ Rhode Island chapter, is part of the pay it forward portion of their scholarship program.

I attended the Pink Boots Society (PBS) 10th anniversary conference. Sitting in a room with so many women — so many powerful, smart, badass brewing professionals — is a bit intimidating. Listening to them speak about topics slightly over my head and seeing the confidence and spirit they exude was inspiring. I wanted to learn more, make more connections, and become one of those influential women.

As soon as I got home, I started on my self-improvement and self-(re)discovery path. I had been brewing professionally for about two years as an assistant brewer at Long Live Beerworks. I basically just did what I was asked without knowing why or how and without digging deeper. After my passion-igniting trip to the PBS10 conference, I set out to change that. I wanted to know more about brewing science and quality control.

The first thing on my agenda was to apply for the scholarships offered by Pink Boots. I was convinced that I would not get it — there was someone out there more qualified, with a better essay and more experience, who deserved it more, etc. But I remembered that Megan Parisi, the head brewer at Samuel Adams and the keynote speaker at PBS10, said something to the effect that women will not apply to anything they don’t feel 100% qualified for but men will just go for it. We need to just go for it. So I put that fear of being underqualified aside and just went for it. One of the first scholarships I applied for was the White Labs Yeast Essentials 2.0 in Asheville, North Carolina. They offered a two-day workshop outlining some specific troubleshooting points on fermentation and yeast, setting up a brewery lab, and a hands-on portion. I thought it was the perfect thing to get me started with my renewed desire to learn more about the technical side of brewing. I have a science background, being a former science teacher, and yeast processes really interested me. I knew I could use this class as a starting point to become one of those badass brewing ladies. A few weeks later I received a call — I was awarded the scholarship. Turns out “just go for it” was a good motto.

The first day of the workshop, I had that feeling of excitement mixed with anxiety that one gets on the first day of school. The session started with a presentation form Chris White, the founder and president of White Labs — a little history of yeast and the company itself. Chris led a discussion on why he thought brewer’s yeast is a domesticated microorganism. We have conditioned it and selected properties to create what we now think of as brewer’s yeast: no phenols, lots of DNA, big cells, no sexual reproduction, flocculation, stress-tolerant. Yeast has been important to humans for centuries, even before we knew it existed. Yeast was the first genome sequenced and is still used in labs around the world. Chris went on to describe the formation of White Labs, which was founded in 1995. What started as a hobby to find better yeast turned into a demand for a company formed out of the need for a better yeast product. White Labs continues to innovate the world of fermentation.

The workshop presentation was led by Karen Fortmann, senior research scientist, and Neva Parker, VP of operations. Neva was one of the awe-inspiring presenters at PBS10. Topics for that day included things that where over my head and a lot of new and useful information. Yeast metabolism included aerobic vs anaerobic, critical metabolic pathways for brewing, yeast nutrition, flavor contribution and aroma contribution. I heard and absorbed issues on fermentation control point, factors affecting fermentation, and fermentation monitoring. Wild yeast and bacteria handling was also another topic. By the end of the day we moved to some hands-on lab techniques. Day one wrapped up and we were off to happy hour.

That evening was great. At happy hour I got to meet and speak to brewers from many different places. There were very small one-barrel breweries, distilleries, nationwide breweries, breweries in planning. There were a few women at the workshop too. I definitely found time to chat them up. As the evening went on, we formed groups and made our way to different breweries in Asheville. Most of the time the groups ended up at the same places. It was great finding that camaraderie among brewers from many different places. At the end of the night virtually everyone ended up at the same BBQ place.

Day two of the Yeast Essential workshop started with Neva talking about troubleshooting common formation problems; many notes were taken. The day continued with a presentation on yeast propagation, collection and storage. Then came the part of the course about setting up a brewery lab. From the most basic setup, a “break room” lab, with a microscope a few other essentials, to a large lab with state of the art equipment. The day ended with more hands-on lab techniques. After the workshop ended we were offed a tour of the White Labs facility and a beer in the White Labs Kitchen and Tap.

I set out to renew my need for knowledge and to become a leader in my field. This experience has set me on the path to be a badass brewing professional. I will apply to any PBS scholarship I think will get me there even if I have doubt if I will get it or not. I encourage everyone to do the same — just go for it.

Get more information about the Pink Boots Society at pinkbootssociety.org; and here’s the link to Pink Boots Society Rhode Island.

Get more information on White Labs at whitelabs.com.

And: Long Live Beerworks will be releasing a new brew to benefit the RI chapter of the Pink Boots Society. Riot Girl was made with a special Pink Boots hop. The beer is slated for late March/early April. Get updates at their Fbook page.

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