KALAMAZOO — Friday night was a whirling dervish of red bandanas, Galaxy hops, prom dresses and beer enthusiasts with attitude.
Yes, attitude. For Kalamazoo Beer Week, Boatyard Brewing Company threw a seminar party combo with the tagline, “We Can Brew It!” Everyone had their fists up and their beer fierce faces on.
The night began with a Pale Ale Hops seminar hosted by Fermenta and Boatyard’s head brewer, Amy Waugaman. As a lady brewer in the industry, Waugaman approached Fermenta, a Michigan Women’s Craft Collective nonprofit organization, about a collaborative event where education could be combined with a good time.
Fellow industry professionals Pauline Knighton (Fermenta), Sheryl Rose (Women in Beer advocate and educator) and Bonnie Steinman (Hop Head Farms) helped guide event attendees through tasting, smelling and experiencing different hops.
“These are all the same beer, but with different hops,” said Waugaman. The fan favorite of the night seemed to be the Galaxy hops, a rare breed from Australia that displays passion fruit flavors and smells. Also in the taste flight were the more common Cascade, Celia and Mt. Hood hops, and it was fascinating comparing the different smells and tastes.
While we swirled and sniffed our beer, the hostesses answered questions and offered sampling techniques. Knighton shared her recently gained knowledge: “After swallowing your beer, exhale through your nose to get a more intense aftertaste and smell — the aroma is much stronger.”
Vouching that this does work, I can also admit it adds excellent entertainment value to hear people vehemently blowing out their nostrils while drinking beer. And I cleared out my sinuses, too!
The seminar easily transitioned into a 1940s party for all professionals and enthusiasts and for anyone who accidently stumbled into the back room — there was music for dancing, beer for drinking and local food for snacking.
In between Rosie the Riveter-themed photo shoots, I fell in love with Boatyard’s Gingerbread Man Overboard Imperial Porter as well as the Hold Fast Pale Ale. Porters and pales are not my usual go-tos, but these were flavors and feeelings I had never before associated with either kind. The gingerbread flavor gentled the heavy porter mouthfeel, while the pale had just enough bitter hops to bite a little. In talking with Waugaman about her background and just how she does it, she told me:
“You have to have a little crazy to be able to do it.”
She has only been in the industry for two years, and she didn’t drink her first beer until she was 35. So how did all of this magic happen?
With much admiration and amusement, I quickly learned that Waugaman unintentionally set herself up to become a brewer. Her schooling background encompassed Biology, Chemistry and Microbiology — so much science! Combine that with her culinary school expertise in baking and she was already an expert before she contacted Boatyard to learn the intricacies of the brewing process.
“I know yeast,” she says, “and I’m a hard worker and motivated. Brewing doesn’t feel like work. There’s no stress.”
She tells me that brewing is forever about crafting your work and paying the respect back to the process.
“It’s all about the innovation. Boatyard is a tiny team, but we take simplicity and take it far.”
As for representing women in the brewing industry? Waugaman relates it back to Rosie the Riveter and how it wasn’t emphasizing women doing men’s jobs, but rather it’s anyone having the motivation and determination to do a job.
“The men here — the workers at Boatyard aren’t here to capitalize on having a female brewer. They stand behind me — I’m their grasshopper.”
The feeling at Boatyard that night was all about possibility and saluting historical ideals. We were a room full of people united by beer, supported by the Kalamazoo community whose loyalty to beer is world-renown. We can drink it. We can smell it. We can enjoy it. We Can Brew It!