Eight Women Break through the Pint Glass Ceiling

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries

written by Bernice Richardsfeatured photo by Jeff Kennedy 

Henry Weinhard came to Oregon in 1855 by way of Germany, and made history by brewing beer in what would become synonymous with beer in the Pacific Northwest—Weinhard’s. More than 150 years later, Oregon sits at the pinnacle of the brewing industry. Here, we introduce eight creative female brewers who are reshaping the once male-dominated industry with a new sensibility.


Christina Canto-Kutzner

Oakshire Brewing | Eugene

Christina Canto-Kutzner remembers the moment vividly when she fell in love with beer. She was 21, in New England for the summer and was drinking Magic Hat #9. “My friend turned to me and said, ‘This tastes like peaches,’” recalls the 33-year-old brewer at Oakshire Brewing in Eugene. “I thought about it and said, ‘You know, it really does.’”

Her Magic Hat #9 awakening led to a summer-long investigation of breweries, new types of beer and brewing.

A home brewer since her early 20s, Canto- Kutzner has a degree in environmental science from Oregon State University, and worked in chemistry and biology before taking the plunge. “I wanted to be a brewer for a long time, but it’s a hard business to break into,” she says.

After working two wine harvests to learn more about fermentation, she decided that beer was her mission. Since then, she hasn’t second-guessed her decision, and says that she will be a brewer until she physically can’t.

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries

One lesson: If you are tenacious enough, you can do it. If you want it bad enough, you will do it.
Biggest challenge: Problem-solving when things aren’t correct or your day is not going well. It can really snowball. That part is hard because you don’t always know what the problem is, and you need to find a way to fix it. That can be very frustrating.
Favorite beer: Best beer I’ve ever had was Russian River’s Supplication. It’s hard to nail down because there are great moments connected to certain beers, and those moments are great and that beer was great at that moment.
Everyday beer: Our Espresso Stout
Years brewing: 3


Kari Gjerdingen

Mutiny Brewing | Joseph

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries
photo by Joe Whittle

Kari Gjerdingen was a long way from home when she decided to settle in the artsy Eastern Oregon mountain town of Joseph, population 1,000.

“You learn, and you get used to it,” Gjerdingen says about living in a small town, “but I’m very thankful for Amazon,” she says.

The 32-year-old brewmaster and part owner of Mutiny Brewing is a Wellesley College graduate and got her start on the bottling line at her hometown brewery in Bloomington, Indiana after college. After three months of learning about making beer on her own time, she was offered her first job as a brewer.

Professionally brewing since 2003, Gjerdingen runs a four-barrel system at her microbrewery, which opened in 2009. Mutiny is one of four breweries in the region, and because of its size is considered a nanobrewery.

One of Gjerdingen’s biggest joys is seeing how beer brings people together. “I used to have ice cream socials at my house as a teenager, but free ice cream doesn’t have the same effect as free beer,” she laughs.

One lesson: When you think you messed something up, you should fix it and move on, and not let it ruin everything else. Sometimes I freak out for a little too long.
Biggest challenge: The things we need [at the brewery] are very specialized, and it’s not something you can just get at a hardware store.
Favorite beer: Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California. It’s so good, I have no idea how he does it.
Everyday beer: Whatever I have on tap. If I’m grabbing something in a can, my go-to is Rainer. Everyone should drink it.
Years brewing: 8


Jen Kent

McMenamins Thompson Brewery | Salem

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries

In the south hills of the state capital, Jen Kent is the head brewer at McMenamins Thompson Brewery and Public House. The 38-year-old Oregonian grew up in Newport and splits her time between two passions—brewing and belly dancing.

Kent, who started working in the kitchen, admits she never thought about being a brewer when she was growing up. “I wanted to fly F- 14s,” she says, but was introduced to professional brewing when she worked at a restaurant. As a rookie, she started hanging around McMenamins brewer Gary Nance, who introduced her to brewing and mentored her through the process of fermentation.

“I really got into it by chance,” she says, When a brewing position opened at McMenamins in Salem, she applied, took the requisite weight lifting test and was offered the job.

Seven years later, Kent experiments with different ingredients. “I take a cue from what’s going on in my life,” she says. Her newest creation, Dahlia Moon, uses sake yeast for a mediumstyle body that is black, but not a porter or stout. “The flavor is cool and morphs as you drink the beer,” she explains.

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries

One lesson: Not to doubt myself in this industry, especially as a woman. Just because I’ve got boobs doesn’t mean it makes me any different. Besides, when you look at history, we’ve been around forever.
Biggest challenge: That people don’t understand that McMenamins brewers do have a lot of artistic freedom to brew as we want. Because we are a large brewing organization, it is sometimes hard for people to understand we are not just four staple beers.
Favorite beer: I’m an IPA junkie. In winter, I enjoy porters and red ales, especially hoppy red IPAs.
Everyday beer: I’m really not a daily beer drinker since I’ve gotten older. That said, I do like sake, beer and cider.
Years brewing: 7


Lisa Allen

Heater Allen Brewing | McMinnville

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries
photo by Jeff Kennedy

You could say brewing runs in the family at the Heater Allen Brewery in McMinnville.

Assistant brewer Lisa Allen, 30, says she never expected to be brewing alongside her father and boss, Rick Allen. “I had some wild ideas about what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she says. Those ideas ranged from astronaut to paleontologist. She instead got a degree in archaeology from Oregon State University, then worked in the wine industry. At the end of harvest a few years ago, her father asked if she wanted to help out at the brewery.

Growing up in the craft beer scene, Allen says it was an easy transition into beer and what ended up being a permanent position. “It was kind of tough at first how to learn to treat my dad like a boss and me an employee instead of our regular roles as father and daughter,” she says, conceding that she probably gets away with things she wouldn’t be able to at another brewery.

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries

One lesson: Cleaning and double-checking to make sure valves are open and that you don’t have something going someplace you don’t want it to.
Biggest challenge: At Heater Allen, we do a little bit of everything— self distribute, clean the tanks and brew the beer. One of the hardest things is the deliveries. They are taxing and tiring.
Favorite beer: We make a really good Oktoberfeststyle beer called BACHtoberfest. We change the recipe every year, and every year it’s delicious.
Everyday beer: My go-to beer is Sierra Nevada on tap, or the Heater Allen pils or coastal.
Years brewing: 4


Dana Robles

Ninkasi Brewing | Eugene

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries
photo by Jeff Kennedy

Soft-spoken Dana Robles takes a minute to sit outside the tall glass windows at Ninkasi Brewing Company, where there’s a bird’s-eye view of their brewing tanks.

Robles, 29, says she knew at a young age that she didn’t want to wear a suit to work every day. Because she excelled in history, she was torn between becoming a history teacher and something else out of the mainstream.

While tending bar at Eugene’s Beir Stein, Robles says she could not help but notice that all the brewers had fun, great lives and seemed to be happy. “I didn’t realize that becoming a brewer was actually an obtainable thing to do,” she says. She assumed that apprentice brewers had to wash kegs and work in the cellar for for seven years before becoming a brewer.

One night a fellow bartender mentioned an alternative. Robles went home and immediately applied to the Master Brewers Program at UC Davis. Four years later, it’s a decision she does not regret. “We make beer, so it’s inherently fun,” she says.

 jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries

One lesson: Do it right the first time.
Biggest challenge: The physical aspect of the job is the most difficult. You’re monitoring multiple vessels, and you have to make sure nothing goes wrong. You have ten-minute periods that are free to do things like weighing hops. It’s a pretty intense boogie, as one of the other brewers calls it.
Favorite beer: Everyone likes to say the one in my hand, but I’ll say Petrus Oak Aged Pale. It’s a classic, delicious beer.
Everyday beer: Whatever is currently on tap or an IRA (India Red Ale). It’s awesome. In the summer, it’s a pilsner. In winter, an IPA.
Years brewing: 4


Whitney Burnside

Pelican Pub & Brewery | Pacific City

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries

Whitney Burnside was working as an artisan cheesemaker when she discovered home brewing and fell in love with fermentation.

The 26-year-old from Issaquah, Washington has a degree in culinary arts and sees creating innovative recipes as a way to connect. “Brewing, to me, is food,” she says. Eventually, she hopes to combine beer and baked goods by opening a brewery that has an adjoining bakery. “We would serve local food and support local farms,” she says.

And while Burnside, who works at Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City, currently has no doubt she picked the right profession, she says brewing has been a difficult field to break into. “I’ve definitely had bumps along the way,” she says. “It’s usually about me not being strong enough to do something. I can do the same job, but I need to do it differently.”

 jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries

Everyday beer: Whatever is currently on tap or an IRA (India Red Ale). It’s awesome. In the summer, it’s a pilsner. In winter, an IPA.
Years brewing: 4
Biggest challenge: Getting recognition in this field.
Favorite beer: Kellerweis’ Bitburger
Everyday beer: I really love lagers—those are my go-to, especially German lagers.
Years brewing: 4.5


Natalie Patterson

Smith Rock Brewing Co. | Redmond

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries
photo by Jeff Kennedy

Natalie Patterson wears a lot of hats as brewer and part owner of Smith Rock Brewing Co. in Redmond. “It gets tricky because you have to switch back and forth between waitressing, dishwashing and brewing,” says the 45-year-old self-taught brewer from Clatskanie.

Patterson, who opened the pub with her significant other a year ago, discovered her love for fermentation when she started home brewing in 2007. “I did lots of experimenting, thinking up of new ideas and playing with things,” she says. “A lot of these batches weren’t very good.”

The concept of opening a pub was an idea she and her partner had in the back of their minds for almost two decades prior to it coming to fruition.

“It’s the first time in my life that I feel that I’m doing what I should be doing.” she says. “There’s a whole realm of creativity that wasn’t open to me before.”

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries

One lesson: Combining flexibity, creativity, and fun and feeling passionate about what you do is important for long-term success and a good beer.
Biggest challenge: Trying to juggle all the different roles I have to fill: advertising, brewer and pub owner.
Favorite beer: Oatmeal pale ale.
Everyday beer: New Belgium 1554. It’s the first craft beer I really got into. We are still brewing at such a small scale, I don’t have the ability to drink our beer every day.
Years brewing: 1


Veronica Vega

Deschutes Brewery | Portland, Bend

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries
photo by Jeff Kennedy

After working four seasons as a biological field technician with the U.S. National Park Service, Veronica Vega moved to Bend to settle down. “It’s a pretty rough lifestyle if you want to have a family,” the 34-year-old California native says, noting that in Bend, the largest employers are the hospital and, collectively, breweries.

With a degree in biology, the highly motivated Vega got a job in the taproom at Deschutes Brewery and started learning firsthand how to make beer. “I was giving tours, reading articles about women and brewing, and seeing what the situation was and got really inspired,” she says.

After having what she calls an “epiphany,” about becoming a brewer, it all came together. Six years later, she admits that beer finds its way into every part of her life.

“It’s what I think about all the time,” says Vega. Even family vacations include visiting breweries. “My fun is work, and I can’t help but meet brewers in areas I’m visiting.”

jeff kennedy, female brewers, oregon breweries

One lesson: How important it is to roll with the punches. At the end of the day, you’re making beer, and it should be fun.
Biggest challenge: (It’s also the biggest motivator). No rest. Everything is constantly moving forward when you are brewing. Even your best recipe can always be improved. Always being at your edge can sometimes be tiring.
Favorite beer: I appreciate beers that are well thought out. I don’t have a favorite style—I’m more intrigued by beers that are not limited by style.
Everyday beer: I’m somewhat seasonal in my beer selection, For example, in the winter, I like darker beers.
Years brewing: 6

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