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Top Of Her Class: Devon Randall’s journey to becoming a head brewer

Mar 6

Words and photos by Dr. Q and Jerry from CraftBeerTasters.com 

Google the phrase “women in beer” and it will autocomplete to “women in beer commercials.” Dig deeper and you will see that the women in these commercials are either used as props to entice male fans in an effort to relate beers to sex, or as comic relief, oftentimes showing traditional male/female role reversals done so for the sake of comedy. In either case, it is clear that women are not the intended customer, nor are they to be taken seriously in regard to beer. These ideas of women in beer, however, are quite out of touch with the reality of women’s taste. A 2012 Gallup Poll asserted that 23% of women preferred beer over liquor or wine. Moreover, the misconceptions and marginalized depictions of women’s role in beer is disjointed from the social and economic position of women in the United States. The gains women have made in terms of educational attainment have significantly outpaced those of men over the last 40 years. Because of this increase in educational attainment, the participation of women in the workforce has risen dramatically from the early 1970’s through today.

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Randall’s boots at Pizza Port Ocean Beach

Yet in the beer industry, where there are 100,000+ jobs in the U.S., women account for only 10%.

The lack of women in brewing has not always been the case though. Once upon a time the role of brewing and selling beer was that of a woman. But as time went on commerce overtook the art, taxes took their share, and women were excluded. Over the years, memories of the past faded and the perception of beer brewing and drinking became more and more tightly bound to masculinity.

When researching women in San Diego’s craft beer scene, for example, it took several industry insiders quite a while to list more than 10 women who play pivotal roles in the San Diego craft beer brewing community, four of which are brewers. Only four women brewers in a county with 60+ breweries boasting literally hundreds of brewers? There is something inherently wrong with that picture. I pressed further and asked if any of these four women brewers were brewmasters or head brewers. Only one: Devon Randall. Randall was recently named Head Brewer of Pizza Port Solana Beach, which is where we caught up with her over a pint of Ponto Pale Ale.

At age 10 brewing wasn’t even a thought in young Randall’s mind. She had her sights set on veterinary school. Many years later, while attending UC Berkeley, Randall found herself in need of work. Raleigh’s, a staple in the Berkeley craft beer scene, was a fortunate part of her path. It was at this bar at age 21 that Randall got her first exposure to craft beer. The beer? Moose Drool. Why this beer? The logo on the bottle and the name enticed her, but the flavor led her to become a fan of brown ales. The flavors intrigued her; prior to this, she’d only bought the cheap, macro stuff. But at Raleigh’s she was working with 20 solid handles hosting the likes of Anchor, Sierra Nevada, and Russian River. Moreover, the management was keen on the idea of teaching staff about the beer brewing process and the history of beer styles. The more she learned, the more she loved the stories behind the beers. Randall reveled in this job until she graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication.

With a mother and grandmother who were both career real estate moguls, Randall returned to her hometown of L.A. with a freshly minted B.A. and a job in real estate marketing. Finding the job to be lacking in challenges or creativity, with a leadership lacking in these categories as well, Randall got bored and continued her education in an effort to become a real estate agent. Though this path was in her blood, it just wasn’t the right fit for her personality.

Luckily she found an outlet for her creative energy at Pacific Gravity, a Los Angeles-based homebrew club. Here she learned more about the process of brewing and created an amber ale which she viewed, at the time and even now, as boring, but drinkable. This boring beer, however, was the catalyst for change in her life. After the first batch Randall began to brew more and more, to the point where every week she was either brewing or packaging. This lasted for a solid three or four months when, on a fateful friday night, her girlfriends asked her to go out on the town. Shunning the fun-filled promises of a Friday night in L.A. Randall chose to stay home and bottle her beers. That’s when it clicked. She was in a job she didn’t like and in an apartment she couldn’t afford, but she had a passion inside of her. A passion for beer. It was at this time when Randall first approached different breweries she had become familiar with in the hope of landing any role that would allow her to learn more about brewing. Randall was given many “no” responses for various reasons. It was at this time that Randall realized a change of scenery was likely in order.

DEVON RANDALL INTERVIEW

Devon Randall at Pizza Port Solana Beach

Randall, relying on the kindness of a good friend in San Diego, began looking for real estate jobs in America’s Finest City. She knew the real estate industry here was promising, but she also knew that the craft beer industry was flourishing. Again, Randall visited many breweries in the hope of finding something, anything. She eventually arrived at The Lost Abbey in heels, a skirt, and a blouse: formal real estate business attire. She made her pitch to volunteer her time and help in any way that she could. They told her to come back at 6 a.m. the next day in steel toe boots. She immediately went to Wal-Mart and bought her boots, and called her friend with the hope of securing a place on her couch. She spent several months on that couch while volunteering at The Lost Abbey and tending bar part time at Pizza Port Solana Beach.

“Day 1 I took out the trash and swept the floor because I knew I could do that,” said Randall. The job may sound menial and the gesture may seem simple, but the initiative shown displayed to those in the brewery that this person was here to work. Slowly but surely brewery workers, cellarmen, and brewers taught her more and more skills, eventually leading Randall to transition from volunteer to employee. She worked in the warehouse where, in time, she began bottling and labeling.

Though appreciative of the role, Randall felt far away from brewing and soon saw her days in the warehouse growing from a 9-5 job to being a 9-5 and then a 6-12 midnight gig. This was all in an effort to work under the tutelage of The Lost Abbey’s night shift brewer. In fact, Randall even slept in the brewery on bags of grain from time to time, purely out of necessity. It was her can-do spirit that, fittingly, led to a pivotal Labor Day in her life. At the time The Lost Abbey didn’t have paid holidays, and Labor Day was no exception; however, the powers that be said anyone that wanted to work on Labor Day could. Randall was the only “grunt” who came in on that day, and it paid off.

“They taught us how to clean a brite tank properly, so, from that day on I had the opportunity to step up and utilize my newfound skills whenever needed,” Randall stated. This led to her being involved more and more in all aspects of production until one day she was entrusted with The Lost Abbey’s barrel program. She had her chance to be challenged, utilize her creativity, implement an organizational structure of her own design and partake in tastings with Tomme Arthur and Gwen Conley, the Director of Brewery Operations and Quality Assurance Director, respectively.

But, despite this opportunity, she still wanted to be by the brewhouse. “How could I properly do my job managing the barrel program if I had not mastered how to brew what goes into those barrels?” she asked herself. It was then that Yiga Miyashiro, former Pizza Port OB Head Brewer who is now heading up their upcoming Bressi Ranch location, tipped Randall off that Pizza Port Solana Beach, the first of the bunch, was looking for a new Head Brewer and that she might fit the bill.

DEVON RANDALL INTERVIEW

Randall speaks with Dr. Q at Pizza Port Solana Beach

Randall understood the implications. “As a Head Brewer you get to see the birth of the beer and watch it grow into its full potential. In the case of Pizza Port, you are allowed to be exponentially creative. Whether barrel aging beers, using coffees, spices, the brewers are trusted to be innovative.”

That innovation is not just on the brewing side. “Brewers take great pride in their beers, but you have to try them in various settings to see how they stand up. Fresh. Weeks later. From growlers. To get a true sense of the beer, how it really is, you have to drink it how others might drink it.”

I remind Randall that by virtue of being a female brewer, let alone Head Brewer, she is, by nature, an innovation in this day and age. When asked about being a woman brewer in San Diego she confidently shared this thought: “I have never had the feeling of someone trying to prevent me from entering the brewing industry, but I certainly had to work hard for it.”

Randall is an example of what can be accomplished with hard work and effort. Yet she recognizes that there are few female industry professionals and no overt outreach in our community. When asked what she’d tell a woman that is scared to brew professionally, Randall asserted, “If women are intimidated about getting into the brewing industry, they shouldn’t be.”

For a more in-depth analysis of women in the industry please visit CraftBeerTasters.com

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One Response to “Top Of Her Class: Devon Randall’s journey to becoming a head brewer”

  1. What a great article – I hope Devon’s journey can inspire other women interested in brewing to take the plunge.