Brandalynn Armstrong is one of the panelists for the Very Local, Very Fresh beer event on Saturday, July 13. Tickets are still available here.
Q: When did you first become interested in craft beer? What’s your craft beer origin story?
I grew up in a dry household, so my first experiences with beer were in college and the beer we were drinking then was a far cry from the options you can find in today’s craft beer market. Yellow, fizzy, meh. The first craft beer I ever drank was Yuengling Lager, a staple in my part of Central Pennsylvania – but I think my first WOW craft beer moment was the first time I ever had a Troegenator Doppelbock from Troegs Brewing Company. After that first beer, I became interested in how it was made, so I scheduled a time to go visit the closest craft brewery to me. It also was Troegs (go figure.) They were still located in Harrisburg then and the brewmaster John Troegner was giving the tours himself. It really inspired me to learn (and drink) as much as I could!
Q: You and your business partner opened Zeroday in 2015. How has the craft beer industry changed? How has it changed for women?
So much has changed since 2015. My business partner and I started working on planning for the brewery in 2011. Opening a brewery that time was somewhat different because it was before a lot of groundbreaking change to our antiquated liquor laws in PA. We decided we were going to focus on flagships and some seasonal brands in a retail setting, but to get there we had to go through many challenges such as financing, finding a location, zoning, build-out, equipment sourcing, and state and federal legislation…all of this BEFORE we could sell a drop of beer.
So, when the doors finally opened in 2015, the laws were in the process of being relaxed about for people trying to enter the market, and the way people were buying beer was changing. Your local distributor (who once could only sell a case) could sell down to a single bottle, or growler fill so in my opinion, people were looking more for what’s “new” and “fresh” versus cases of flagships. The “rise of the line” or can craze” as I call it started creeping up around this time with brewery only limited releases so we had to pivot a bit right out of the gate to keep up to date with what our consumers were asking us for. It took us a little bit of time to really find the stride of servicing our local, regional clientele and getting the word out at the same time.
When I first embarked on this endeavor there seemed to be less women, or at least they were harder for me to find. I remember going into my first Brewers of Pennsylvania annual meeting in January of 2015 and being one of three women in the group of maybe 200 brewers/and industry professionals, and the representation for POC (people of color) was practically non-existent in that room. I remember walking past a line of men waiting to use the one restroom and making a joke, but after I internalized what that meant I felt disappointed, and I have made it my personal mission to do better. Now, since being elected to the Board of Directors of the BOP in 2018, I have worked tirelessly with my fellow board members and our Executive Director, Dan LaBert to be a and advocate for inclusivity in PA Craft. This past winter we established the first-ever Diversity & Inclusion Committee for the organization, which I co-chair with Meg Evans, Production Manager of North Country Brewing in Slippery Rock, PA and we have highlighted these crucial topics for our upcoming Brewers of PA Symposium that we hold every September in State College. Craft has changed, is changing, and still has a long way to go. With organizations like Pink Boots Society, state guilds, and events like Fresh Fest it’s becoming easier for people to realize that craft isn’t just for a particular race or gender, it’s for people who love and respect beer and are willing to take a chance on themselves to try. I could go on for a while, but this pretty much sums it up.
Q: According to your LinkedIn profile, you helped to develop the Brewing Sciences Certificate Program at HACC (Central PA’s Community College), and are an Adjunct Professor of Brewing Sciences (while also running your own business). How do programs such as this prepare & assist folks in breaking into the brewing industry? What’s your favorite success story from teaching and/or developing the program? What made you devote your limited free time to this?
I have always been a firm supporter of continued education, and workforce/personal development. It was instilled in me through my ability to work with great companies over the years that promoted those very things so when HACC asked us to be a participating brewery I was honored, and excited. I was able to help develop their 32-week workforce redevelopment program in Brewing Sciences, but don’t let the name deceive you, we cover many aspects of the craft brewing industry from how to start your business, how to protect your business, general mechanics of producing beer, and marketing/sales. A common misconception is that the only jobs in a brewery are for brewers, actually, it takes a village of qualified and trained owners and employees from production, sales, logistics, and front of the house management to marketing and HR. I like that this program allows exposure to all of the ways someone can get involved in the brewing industry, and I hope our program sparks continued education whether it be an in-depth brewing course through UC Davis or Seibel, or through more local programs like Shippensburg University and Penn State offer. I devoted free time (haha) to this because It was hard finding the answers when we needed it while opening Zeroday, and my partner and I wanted to give back and help strengthen the brewing labor industry in PA and beyond. We have had many students get placed in various roles at various breweries in more than just PA, every time it happens, it’s a win.
Q: What’s the best part about being a woman in the beer industry?
My ability to help other under-represented groups realize it is for them if they want it. It won’t always be easy, but by sharing my story, and all the trials and tribulations that come along with it, I hope to inspire more people to get involved because it will only make our industry better.
Q: What is a current trend in the craft beer industry that makes you really excited to get out of bed and go to the brewery every day?
Something that makes me really excited and invigorated is the climate of trying new things, but also the resurgence of traditional lagers and pilsners. I think the ability to innovate, while also not forgetting our roots is an exciting journey. I think the current trend I’d like to see flourish is definitely QUALITY. I also am loving hard seltzers, but some may throw their pitchfork at me for saying so…don’t care 😉
Q: What is one way to make craft beer more accessible to wider audiences?
I think we have come a LONG WAY with the way beer has been branded and marketed. That being said, if more producers said goodbye to those over-sexualized labels, and narrow focus marketing efforts and opted to infuse some inclusivity into their brands it would be a great thing for all of us. When craft beer only occupies approximately 13% of overall market share in beer consumed in the US, we should SEEK OUT and FOSTER ways to make our brands, and our businesses more accessible to as many people as possible. Additionally, the initiatives from the state guilds, Pink Boots, and events like Fresh Fest, and Bold Women In Beer (which is put on but the Philadelphia chapter of Pink Boots) are crucial to making craft beer more accessible.
Q: What do you know about the Pittsburgh beer scene?
I know that I love it. Being a part of a state guild I am lucky enough to try a lot of beer from all over the state at our events, but last year for Fresh Fest we did a collaboration beer with Harris Family Brewing which introduced me to more of what was going on.
Although I got to try all kinds of great Pittsburgh beer, until last year I had only been to Pittsburgh TWICE. Once for a concert, and once for the BOP Annual Meeting. My beer exposure was limited to Hofbrauhaus, with a little stop at Arsenal Cider, Brew Gentlemen & Dancing Gnome.