Though inroads have certainly been made in recent years, the craft beer industry is still a largely male-dominated landscape. Duluthian Ginga Newton is a brewer who has been struggling to break into the field. For a number of years, she has settled for jobs on its periphery, biding her time and waiting for an opening.
But Ginga’s never been able to bust into the role of brewer. And at one point while trying, she experienced an ugly incident of sexual harassment that would make any woman question her desire to be a part of the industry. She was considering giving up on her dream when she got a call in November from the Pink Boots Society, a group that works to advance women’s careers in the beer industry, telling her she had won a scholarship. With luck, this may be the break she’s been waiting for.
Ginga Newton, our Pink Boots Scholarship winner, began her 5-week apprenticeship with us yesterday. We… http://t.co/LuKYU7UvcS
— Fremont Brewing (@fremontbrewing) February 3, 2015
Ginga was initially exposed to great craft beer while living in Seattle. She especially enjoyed hanging out at Boundary Bay Brewing. “I’ve always loved beer and spending time in the brewing environment—I love the people and the culture,” she says.
A single mom, Ginga moved to Duluth from Seattle in 2006 to be closer to family. She was opening a bank account when her love for beer came up in conversation. Fortuitously, the banker was a relative of Dave Hoops, brewmaster at Fitger’s Brewhouse, and encouraged her to go talk to him. She immediately went in and filled out an application. Though there weren’t brewery positions open, she started the next week as a prep cook at the Brewhouse.
It was Ginga’s first job working in a brewery environment and she admits, “It was a little intimidating. At that time there weren’t any females working in the brewery.” But she took advantage of it, picking Hoops’ brain whenever she could and borrowing books from him to learn as much as possible.
What particularly interested her was the fact that historically, women were the brewers. “I wanted to know more about this culture that women had played a part in that really didn’t exist anymore,” she says. “Because of that I felt a responsibility and a challenge to learn more.” Soon she was baking with beer and designing desserts to be paired with Brewhouse beers. But she aspired to do more.
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Though Ginga hadn’t even homebrewed yet, she ambitiously jumped into a volunteer apprenticeship at Lake Superior Brewing, Duluth’s oldest microbrewery. While there, she learned the ins and outs of production brewing. “I remember that one day I was helping head brewer Dale Kleinschmidt grind the grain and he turned to me and said, ‘You’re a brewer.’ That made me feel like I had a purpose,” she says.
After her stint at Lake Superior Brewing, Ginga did a volunteer apprenticeship at Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior. After starting big at Lake Superior Brewing, a production brewery that produces about 2,000 barrels per year, she learned to scale her brewing back at Thirsty Pagan, a small brewpub. There, she essentially learned how to homebrew. “It taught me patience and a more balanced approach,” she says.
Since then, Ginga has been forging her identity and philosophy as a brewer, a role she takes seriously. “If you give two people the same recipe and same ingredients, the beer will still turn out different,” she says. “That’s because beer is a living, breathing organism. We as co-creators are putting pieces of ourselves into it.”
Ginga has a degree in environmental science, which gives her an edge in understanding brewing chemistry. She has also taken online courses at the Siebel Institute of Technology and has won a number of homebrew competitions. She’s been perfecting her recipes and honing her unique style of brewing, which involves what she calls herbal and healing beers. She’s created a smoked peppercorn wit and an apple cider ale. She’s especially proud of her St. Valentine’s Intimacy Lager, which uses cinnamon, rose petals, and lady’s mantle.
For a time while waiting for a job in the brewing industry, Ginga worked as a baker at Amazing Grace Bakery. “Not a lot of doors seemed to be opening for me. But a voice in my head told me to be patient,” she says. She made good use of her time at the bakery, experimenting with different techniques. “I love cooking and baking and being creative—brewing is similar,” she says. “In baking bread, you’re working with yeast, it’s very similar to brewing except you can see your results more immediately.”
Ginga currently works as a “beertender” in the Bent Paddle Brewing taproom. “Every day I get to talk to people about beer,” she says. “It’s helped me create my own vision—because I get to learn about what people like to drink.” Based on the feedback she’s gotten from customers, Ginga’s thinking about experimenting with gluten-free and non-alcoholic beers.
Ginga started applying for brewing scholarships a couple of years ago and was getting discouraged at the lack of results. She says she “poured her heart out” in the Pink Boots Society scholarship application, which involved submitting an essay and ten original beer recipes.
The scholarship could not have come at a better time. While applying, Ginga remembers thinking to herself, “If this doesn’t work, I’m going to need to figure something else out.”
The award supports a 5-week apprenticeship in brewing and beer production at Fremont Brewing that starts this month and includes a $2,500 stipend. Ginga is eager with anticipation. “I feel excited and really empowered and supported,” she says. Thanks to the Pink Boots Society opportunity, a young woman has the encouragement needed to continue towards fulfilling her purpose: becoming a professional brewer.