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Kristen Wilson

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Juggling Middle Management and Den Motherhood: The Life of a Tasting Room Supervisor With Kristen Wilson!

Juggling Middle Management and Den Motherhood:

The Life of a Tasting Room Supervisor

Before craft beer, my experience in the beverage industry was as front-of-house staff in various bars and restaurants throughout South Jersey.  The money was fast and there was little commitment; I tell everyone that if you can work in one bar, you can work in them all.  Being a ‘people person’ is a transferable skill that crosses all industries.  But what happens when you’re a people person, type-a, and painstakingly meticulous?  You end up in middle management!

Back in 2016, Eight & Sand Beer Co. posted to Facebook that they were hiring and my husband tagged me in the comments.  I studied the website and some craft beer blogs and nervously awaited my interview.  The tasting room was still under construction at this point, but I was assured that it was coming along quickly.  Despite swearing that I bombed my interview, I received a start date for training and I was pumped!  Our soft and grand openings came and went and the team was coming together.

As many places as I had worked prior, I had never opened a brand new establishment.  Getting to be part of a business as it grows has been really special.

I knew when I took the job that while both of my bosses had a wealth of knowledge and talent in their respective fields, they did not have bar/restaurant management experience.  I was so eager to learn and be a part of the process that I began offering to help, providing suggestions, and volunteering to take on more responsibility.  It was a few months later that myself and another server were officially promoted as Tasting Room Supervisors.  The role includes fairly standard supportive duties – opening and closing the tasting room, handling cash, and training staff, but it has been an ever-evolving position as we navigate the first years of business.

Fast forward to today.

Because we have a small staff and most of us have other jobs, all of our roles blend together.  Admittedly, this can be confusing, which is where my secondary, unofficial job title comes in: Den Mother.

Most of my week consists of communicating with everyone on some level.  This could be email, text, group chat, or Google Hangout.  It is usually all of the above, simultaneously, about different things.  I have a working knowledge of everyone’s position and act as a mediator across all levels, keeping track and collaborating with everyone.  I am responsible for scheduling our tasting room staff of about ten people, myself included.  That is ten different personal schedules and preferences, in addition to corresponding with the team for any reservations, on and off-site events we have planned – or that pop up last minute.  I often have reminders set to remind other people about things.

I am the gatekeeper of information.  The management team holds a weekly conference call to catch everyone up on the business.  It is then up to me to filter and disseminate information to staff, formally or informally.  This information-sharing goes both ways, as my staff confides in me things that need to be communicated to our bosses.  Part of this means advocating for staff on their needs.  If one of my staff members is frustrated or upset, it becomes my job to bring it to the rest of the team to figure out how to fix it.

Another layer of my role involves knowing non-work related things about my staff.  I know who is planning to have children, who definitely *does not* want to have children, I know who is getting engaged, and I know who needs tile work done in their bathroom.  If you were thinking that this sounds like normal friendship, I would say that you are absolutely right.  I can proudly say that I have formed friendships with everyone I work with on some level.  From my owners’ goal of having a successful business to my staff wanting to get more involved in craft beer, being a Den Mother means supporting everyone as they achieve their goals, whatever they may be and as much as they let me.

Some days are harder than others to carry the extra emotional labor that goes along with my role.  And while emotional labor is often an expectation of women in the workforce, this was not the case for me.  I nagged, badgered, and annoyed my way into this role because, 1) it is who I am as a person; and 2) because I believe in the value of being this person to an employer.  Any person with a high level of organization and empathy can help make a business successful.

I love craft beer.  I love the people in the industry and the people who enjoy it.  I never imagined that I could be considered “a voice for women in craft beer” – I am so new to this and I am not an expert!  Opening my own brewery or even home-brewing in my garage is not in my future, but what I will do is keep tasting new beer, talking to people about it, and supporting others in their journey in the industry – because that is what a Den Mother would do.

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From Pastime to Passion: A Journey to Craft Beer through Feminism

From Pastime to Passion: A Journey to Craft Beer through Feminism

Working in the New Jersey craft beer scene has been a wild (almost) two years.  If you came to me in 2012 and told me that I would be regularly drinking craft beer, occasionally brewing it, and talking about beer all the time, I would tell you to sit down and have another drink.

My foray into craft beer began at the 2012 Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival with my then-boyfriend, now-husband.  We had just started dating and I only went because it gave me the chance to be ‘the cool girl who drinks beer’.  Up until a few years ago, I believed the societal notion that beer was for guys and women only pretended to like beer to look cool (Go ahead – gasp and clutch your pearls.  I will save my Come to Jesus-I mean Feminism moment for another time.)

I was intimidated.  The only beer I had ever consumed at this point was some classically collegiate light beer and Yuengling Lager when the party hosts wanted to appear ‘cultured’.  Thankfully, my partner was aware of my palate (wine, please!) and introduced me to mead.  I think I spent the majority of the session between two meaderies (or in line for the bathroom) and felt like I was starting to fit in.  Over the course of the next four years, my partner made it his personal mission to find beer that I liked, and to my shock, I liked beer!  I grew comfortable looking at a beer list and learning which styles I preferred, and it became exciting to visit all the local breweries that were popping up like weeds.

This brings us to 2016.  Ever the stereotypical millennial with overwhelming student loan debt, I made the decision to get a second job.  With ten years of bartending experience under my belt and my newfound appreciation of craft beer, I felt confident in applying to a new, under-construction brewery.

Enter Chris Burke and Chris Mazzone of Eight & Sand Beer Co. – two friends who decided to open a brewery in Woodbury, New Jersey that focuses on styles that are traditionally European, with an American flair.

Eight & Sand is a 10-barrel brewhouse dedicated to its community.  Located on Evergreen Avenue, you are close enough to hear the train that runs through the city several times a day.  In the late 1800’s, trains were the main source of transportation.  Almost everywhere a train stopped, a community would grow around it.  This was the case for Woodbury, where three rail lines merged in the center of town, making it one of the oldest train hubs in New Jersey.  The name Eight & Sand is an old train term that means “quick and safe travels.”  Notch-8 is the fastest speed on certain trains and sand was thrown on tracks to prevent slippage.

I had no idea that starting a side hustle would turn into a passion, but Eight & Sand has been like a family to me, from my bosses to every person that comes in the Tasting Room.  Sure, I get to finish my full-time job and go right into a second one.  Many nights, I am responding to emails, scheduling staff, and thinking about social media, but who needs a day off when you get to do what you love every day?

It was Chris Burke that told me about the Pink Boots Society and encouraged me to join.  Founded in 2007 by brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf, Pink Boots Society is a non-profit organization created to assist, inspire, and encourage women beer industry professionals to advance their careers through education. To this end, Pink Boots Society provides scholarship opportunities, job resources, and industry information to its more than 1,500 members.

This year, I coordinated the second E&S Women’s Brew Day and our first for International Women’s Brew Day.  Nevertheless She Brewsisted is a hoppy Kettle Sour brewed with Buddha hand fruit to compliment the citrus and herbal notes of the Pink Boots YCH hop blend.  When collaborating with our head brewer to create the style, I knew that even though the female staff and I would be brewing the beer, I did not want to brew a “girly” beer designed to only be marketed to and consumed by women.  This is the same consideration we had when collaborating on We Can Brew It, our Lemon Wheat Ale.

Within the craft beer industry, pandering to female consumers and using sexualized images of women’s bodies to market products is not hard to find, but it is getting better (a lot in part due to the Brewers Association Advertising and Marketing Code).  From a server standpoint, I have had more sexist comments from those new to craft beer than those who have been around for a while.  The majority of my customers trust and respect my knowledge, knowing that my favorite part of my job is introducing people to new styles and tastes.

It is not hard to tell a craft beer newbie from someone more experienced.  I love asking people what they typically drink and finding a match in one of the 20 beers we have on tap at Eight & Sand.  Most recently, a new female customer told me cognac and coke is her usual drink of choice.  I will admit that this stumped me for a second, but our bourbon barrel-aged Belgian Tripel and Biere de Mars (respectively, Steel & Snow and Broken Nose) were winners that she enjoyed.  I can only hope that I inspired her appreciation for craft beer, as my partner did with me six years ago.

Even though New Jersey now has over 100 breweries (47 of which are in South Jersey), it is still on the list of states with the fewest breweries per capita.  This tells me that there is still more room to grow.  With this growth comes the opportunity for more women to learn and develop a passion for craft beer – whether that is drinking, selling, or brewing it.

Never forget – hop flowers are female!  Cheers.