When choosing the women for my Women and Beer interviews, quite often I have yet to meet them. I read or hear about them through articles or social media, and if I am intrigued enough to know more, I will contact them. For The Beer Farmers’ Brenda Miller there was all that, and more!
I was really impressed and felt that she would be a great role model for women wanting to get into the brewing industry. She breaks several of the stereotypes, as she is not a man, does not have a beard and she is not under 30. Brenda, who grew up running a family-owned potato farm, is a mother of 5 boys. It was not until her very late thirties and early forties that the craft brewing world captivated her enough to start her path as a brewer.
Thanks to the world of the Pink Boots Society, I have finally had the chance to meet Brenda and some of her family — and maybe one of these days we will brew together! Please meet Brenda Miller of Pemberton Valley BeerWorks, also known as The Beer Farmers.
Q&A BRENDA MILLER, HEAD BREWER
- What you and your husband Bruce have created is unique to Pemberton. What role did you play in its conception?
30 years ago, I mentioned that a brewery might be a good idea on our farm. It was just beginning to be a possibility to have a craft brewery in BC back then, thanks to the vision and efforts of John Mitchell and Frank Appleton.When I started homebrewing, my intent was to brew a beer from ingredients on our farm. I spent a great many of the following years carefully pitching the idea that a brewery might be a good fit for the future of our family farm. One day, Bruce gave me a great birthday present: the registered trademark for The Beer Farmers.
- What role do you play now?
I brew all the beer. My oldest son Will is the business manager. My husband Bruce farms the barley and hops, as well as the potatoes, sheep, and hay.
- It reminds me very much of Crannog Ales in Sorrento—organic, small-footprint farmers. Were you looking at that model?
For 126 years our family farm has been producing potatoes, followed by grain and grasses. Although we are a fully-certified organic farm, we make no claims of being an organic brewery like Crannog Ales. We made the decision to not restrict the brewery to be certified organic just yet.In the past, our grain has been kept to feed cattle and other livestock. After a few years of experimenting with barley varieties to see which ones grow best in our climate, we began the enormous task of converting our potato storage barn and packaging shed into an on-farm brewery and tap room.Our goal has always been to create a beer that showcases the complete terroir of this place and the history of Pemberton. We have even cultured our own yeast strain from beehives on our farm and are very excited to have started barrel aging these ingredients, allowing time to do its thing.
- What kind of training/schooling have you had?
A few years back, while off work with an injury, I took the concise brewing course from Siebel Institute. Then, prior to opening the brewery, I worked as an apprentice at Coast Mountain Brewing in Whistler when they first opened.I also spent years in a laboratory propagating potato cultivars; this laboratory experience has proven invaluable in brewing beer. I took courses to become a sommelier, not to practice but to travel more viscerally. While my boys were small, I studied to become an herbalist as well as a nutritionist.It was a Crannog Ales potato beer that sent me down the rabbit hole of brewing. After drinking that beer, I spent the next eight years obsessing, brewing, and endeavoring to learn every minute detail of brewing a great beer.
- What do you love about your job and the industry?
More than anything else, it has been the people I’ve met. The folks who are growing and shaping the craft beer industry have been such a wonderful, inclusive, generous group. It is an industry I feel very privileged to be a part of.
- Do you feel respected in your role?
It’s fun to see the reactions of people when they learn that the brewer is a woman. It has been a very fun, positive experience.
- Are there advantages/disadvantages to being a woman in the industry?
The only disadvantage I see is that the brewing industry has grown up very male-centric, making everything bulky and heavy, causing me to have to ask for help from time to time.
- Any advice for other women in, or wanting to get into, the industry?
Just do it. It’s a growing industry full of opportunities.
- You joined the Pink Boots Society in 2018. Why did you join, and what are you hoping to get out of it?
In all honesty I didn’t have a clue what to expect from joining the Pink Boots Society. Such a nice surprise to find a caring, supportive, informed and curious bunch of women who have a genuine interest in supporting others. I look forward to continuing to be a part of Pink Boots.
- Who is your favourite female in the industry?
Tanya Crocker from Coast Mountain. Tanya and I have had the opportunity to work together quite a bit in the last few years.Tanya and I had a ton of fun brewing the Pink Boots Brew at Coast Mountain in 2018, thanks to all the great support from Kevin and Angie Winter and the whole crew there. So much that I am looking forward to having Tanya come to our brewery this year to help introduce the wonderful world of brewing to a group of women from the neighborhood and my family.Tanya changed professions to become a brewer. I admire her for taking that leap. She is lovely, smart, enjoys what she is doing, and it shows.
- What is your favourite beer from your brewery, and why?
I am most proud of my Lager. I worked endlessly getting this beer to my liking and am finally able to sit and enjoy it without looking for things to change…for now.
- What is your favourite beer outside of your brewery?
What I like to experience in a beer changes often. I have always been impressed with everything barrel-aged, soured, and blended. Right now, I am obsessed with Belgian beers with notes of pear and high carbonation levels.
- What is your biggest achievement to date?
Of course, I consider my life opus to be my five sons. I really enjoyed that the brewery brought something for us to work on together. All of them have played a part in the creation of it, from the engineering and building of the bottling equipment, to the design and build the taproom, to the mounds of paperwork, and the fun job of pouring beer for customers. It has been a fantastic experience to share as a family.
- What goals do you have for yourself and the brewery?
I want to continue making new beers with local ingredients and create an environment where people can come and enjoy the family farm experience like a local.