When Ashley Kinart moved to Madison from Milwaukee as a college student, she didn't know she'd one day be a local craft beer pioneer. But she caught the brewing bug while tending bar, and is now an assistant brewer at Capital Brewery, where she is the first woman to design one of its beers.
Kinart's creation is an imperial schwarzbier named Fishin' in the Dark. It's made from all-Wisconsin malts and Sterling hops from Gorst Valley -- the same variety used in the Common Thread 2014 collaboration beer, which she helped brew as well. A limited, seasonal brew, Fishin' in the Dark will debut on Saturday, May 31 at the seventh annual Burgers and Brew festival put on by REAP Food Group and will be subsequently released on draught and in four-packs.
Kinart says she's not the only woman involved in the making of Fishin' in the Dark. Two of the malt reps she worked with on it are women, and she teamed up with Capital brewmaster Brian Destree's wife Erin to design the label. Kinart also credits another woman in the Madison beer scene, Jen DeBolt, her former manager at the Old Fashioned, with nurturing her interest in becoming a brewer.
"Sometimes the small breweries we worked with would tell her, 'If you ever want to come out and try brewing, you're welcome to.' She suggested I go instead, and that put the idea in my head," Kinart recalls. "Before that it was never something that occurred to me. It's such a stereotypically male area," she adds.
First representing the Old Fashioned, and then as an aspiring brewer, Kinart shadowed at several Wisconsin breweries to learn more, and found a welcome reception. "People were so cool. They said, 'Ask me any questions,'" she recalls.
Kinart went on to attend the World Brewing Academy through Siebel Institute, in which students study both in Chicago and just outside Munich, Germany. The experience imparted her with a deep love for German beer styles, so she decided upon a schwarzbier when it came to creating her first brew for Capital.
"It seemed appropriate for a late spring release, and I like dark beers to begin with," Kinart says. "With schwarzbier you get that lager character, but dark malts. It's a warm-weather beer, but still dark, still very much in my direction; it hit all my mentalities."
Kinart started working part-time in Capital's brewhouse a year-and-a-half ago. She points out that the physical demands of brewing are perhaps most intimidating aspect for women, and newer systems, which can be easier to work on, can help even the playing field.
"The physicality of it is really hard," says Kinart. "I'm short, I'm not as strong, and I've gotta dump 50 pounds of grain. I'm not very good at asking for help. I don't want to fail or seem like I can't do something." That experience makes for a piece of advice she wants to extend to aspiring female brewers: "You have to be okay with asking for help. Just put your mind to it and work smarter, not harder."
Kinart hopes to build a stronger network of female brewers in Madison and around Wisconsin. She just joined the Pink Boots Society, the craft beer industry's networking organization for women, and hopes to build its presence locally. "I'm trying to connect lots of women in the industry, encourage them to join," she says. "That's part of what Common Thread represents to me, too -- it's how I got into this industry, meeting people with the same goal of just making good beer."
Back in her hometown of Milwaukee, Kinart has spoken at the Goddess Brewing Series, an education event for women put on by Discovery World, and she's seen first-hand the importance of breaking down the intimidation factor among newcomers to brewing.
"You feel a lot more comfortable in an all-female atmosphere; there are no stupid questions," Kinart recalls. Her goal with Fishin' in the Dark is to send a similar message: "I hope it's inspiring for other women."