The Student Becomes the Master

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Matt Geiger
Kinart took over as Capital's brewmaster October 27.

Ashley Kinart Named Brewmaster at Capital Brewery

“When I made my first beer here, a lot of people asked me if I was doing it to empower women,” says Ashley Kinart. “My answer was no, I was doing it to brew a beer. I happen to be a woman.”

But Kinart, who at only 30 years old was recently named brewmaster at one of the most lauded craft beer companies in the country, might be using her tall rubber brewing boots to stomp on a variety of barriers in an industry historically dominated by men, whether she means to or not.

Clad in flannel, with a glint visible in her eyes even through thick-rimmed glasses, she says she loves many things. The tranquility that comes with yoga. The companionship of her two dogs. And the sights, smells and sounds of a bustling brew house.

Kinart’s beer education started humbly. Working as a bartender, she wanted to know more about the craft libations she served to customers. She eventually decided the best way to understand beer was to make her own, so she set up a small brewing operation at home.

With a bachelor’s degree in biology, she figured the chemistry of ales and lagers would dovetail nicely with some of her prior education. Then the kettle began spewing sloppy, hoppy water all over the stovetop.

“I definitely had a boil over right at the start,” she says. “But then I made a few more, and I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’”

Kinart spent much of the ensuing decade taking classes, reading recipe books, and shadowing Wisconsin brewmasters. (She learned in part from former Capital Brewery employee and current Port Huron Brewing brewmaster Tanner Brethorst.)

At the glorious but somewhat notorious crossroads of science, art and blue-collar labor, Kinart found satisfaction and success.

“It’s hard physically,” she says. “But like any hard work - physical or mental - at the end of the day it makes you feel good.”

Lugging sacks of grain. Sweating and scrubbing tanks. Getting scalded by boiling mash. These brew houses where Kinart learned were typically the domains of men.

But she joined in to work, and to learn, and found herself adept at both.

She also felt the same alchemic magic that draws so many to the brewing business. “When I walk into a brew house on a day when we’re brewing a dark beer,” she says, theatrically sniffing the air and causing a ruby bun of hair on top of her head to bob backward, “I think, yeah, this is what beer is supposed to smell like.”

The fact that she saw few women around her only added to brewing’s allure. 

“I think in general I tend to gravitate toward things that aren’t normal or mainstream,” she says. “My thought was, why the hell shouldn’t I do it? If you want to do something, do it. Whoever you are.”

So she did, eventually getting hired as an assistant brewer at Capital Brewery in Middleton. While she helped make an array of beer styles, it was earlier this year when she was first able to spearhead her own recipe from start to finish. The result, a rich black Schwarzbier called “Fishin’ in the Dark,” was an unmitigated success.

While director of operations Brian Destree announced Kinart's promotion to brewmaster last week, Kinart said being the master doesn't mean she won’t still be a student.

“I don't think you can ever stop learning about brewing,” she says. “There’s way too much to know.”

Running the brewery means she will focus on the very large – “production management is like a big puzzle you have to step back from to see” - and the very small, “from every little grain to every hop pellet.”

It will mean other things, too, but if all the peripherals that surround the title "brewmaster" ever overwhelm her, she can always stride back into the brew house.  It’s a place she has always felt right at home, even if her mere presence is breaking barriers.

 

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