The craft beer community definitely has its share of over-the-top personalities and colorful characters that always keep things interesting. InTheBeerAndNow™ (ITBAN) was lucky enough to get some time to chat with one of our favorites; the self-made social media craft beer superstar…and author…and Pink Boots Society member...and new Bay Area District Manager for Green Flash Brewing Company……..Ashley Routson, @theBeerWench (on Twitter and Instagram).
|@thebeerwench - Always on the job!|
According to Instagram you have been @thebeerwench for 183 weeks but you have been blogging under that persona since much earlier than that. What made you decide to take on the persona, if we can call it that, and does it pre-date your emergence on the blog and social media or did it start with www.thecolumbuswench.wordpress.com?
The Beer Wench "persona" was technically born on February 7, 2008 with my first blog post "Welcome to the Bauhaus." And to be completely honest, I really wanted to start a wine blog, but I chickened out and opted to write about my second favorite beverage at the time––beer. I was intimidated to blog about wine because I was young, poor and thought that the wine writing world was a little too pretentious and pretty scary.
When I started my beer blog, I was working at a Columbus-based advertising firm called Young Isaac. The president and founder of the company was a huge inspiration to me and, ultimately, my blog. He was a master of personal branding and a fantastic leader. He was the one who inspired me to start blog––and inspired me to develop my own persona. The @TheBeerWench Twitter handle was developed shortly after the blog was started. If there is any one platform that I attribute the success of my blog and persona to––its Twitter. And my claim to fame is that I beat all the beer people and breweries to Twitter––which meant that I was able to establish myself on that platform before others joined.
Can we call @thebeerwench a persona? Is she someone different from Ashley or are they one in the same? If not, how are they different?
@thebeerwench: Technically, we are one in the same. My voice is my voice––when you are talking to @thebeerwench, you are talking to Ashley. Both Ashley and @thebeerwench love pizza, both love dying my hair and both love drinking beer. If anything, I do feel a little restrained when it comes to posting content. My audience is mostly made up of beer lovers, so you very rarely see me post anything else. But having said that, there are multiple facets of my personality that fans of @thebeerwench on Instagram will never see unless they know me in person or follow me on Twitter or Facebook. My posts are extremely tailored on Instagram (all beer and food), semi-tailored on Twitter, and pretty much a free-for-all on Facebook.
What was it and when was it that you realized that building your own brand on social media was a smart thing to do? Was it your own idea or did some encourage you?
@thebeerwench: As I mentioned before, I learned the importance of self-branding from my previous employer, Artie Isaac. But I didn't really understand what I was doing when I was doing it. I was just a girl who wanted to explore the world of beer (and food). I had no idea what this persona would turn into and I had absolutely no expectations for it. It wasn't until I started to get invited to events and offered free samples of beer that I began to see the power of a personal brand. So many people ask me what the secret to my success has been––and I really can't give them an answer. Everything was trial and error for me. Nobody else was doing what I was doing, so I didn't really have any mentors or prototypes to follow. I had to learn it all myself. Which was both a blessing and a curse.
One of our big themes and motivations behind InTheBeerAndNow is the concept of “fermenting mindfulness." To us, drinking a craft brew is the essence of a mindful activity; the proper glass, the color, the smell, the sound, the look, the taste…it involves all of our senses. What are some of your favorite things about the ritual of mindfully enjoying beer?
@thebeerwench: I actually have an entire chapter in my book dedicated to respecting beer (it's actually called Respecting Beer). Allow me to share an excerpt.......
Excerpt from The Beer Wench's Guide to Beer by Ashley Routson In a perfect world, beer would always be served in the perfect glass at the perfect temperature. The beer would have been perfectly stored and the glass would be perfectly clean. Now, what if I told you that you could easily live in this perfect little world? This chapter will show you how. One important note: there will always be circumstances that trump perfect drinking conditions. Sometimes you need a beer at the beach, in a canoe, or while hiking, biking, camping—I think you know where I’m going with this. Remember that, first and foremost, beer should be fun. Being a stickler about proper glassware can be a good thing, but no one likes a beer snob, or broken glass in the canoe for that matter.
As for my favorite part about enjoying beer, I'm going to have to say its the people with whom I drink it. Craft beer, for me, has always been about the people and the culture.
ITBAN: I can remember going out and buying Pete’s Wicked Ale or Anchor Steam back in the early 90’s (dating ourselves). What are some of your earliest memories of discovering that there was an alternative to Bud and Coors out there? Did you venture out on your own or was there someone that got you into craft beer?
I've had several beer epiphanies over the years––but the two biggest epiphanies were probably with my first IPA, Bells Two-Hearted Ale, and with Dogfish Head's Midas Touch.
|Bells Two Hearted Ale won Ashley's heart over.|
ITBAN: How would you describe your relationship with beer? You also have a background with wine. If it had to be one or the other which would it be and why?
@thebeerwench: I often joke that my love of beer was born from my love of wine. There is no short way to tell this story, so I apologize for the length of this particular response. Like many college students, I graduated college with no clear path or vision for the future. I received two Bachelors degrees––one in psychology and one in criminology––and my original plan was to go into the FBI. Might sound weird, but I was actually on a strong path in that direction.
So what happened to that goal, you might ask? Depression and anorexia is the answer. This is actually the first time I've ever mentioned the anorexia in a public post or interview and it feels quite liberating to talk about it. You see, I was a super competitive athlete my entire life. As far back as I can remember, I was a swimmer. Swimming my entire life. It was my identity and my entire self-esteem and sense of self-worth was wrapped up in being a swimmer (and an athlete). During my junior year of college, I got hurt––really hurt. I tore my bicep in the weight room. I still tried to swim, doing entire sets with a kick board and fins, until I just couldn't swim anymore.
The real epiphany was during one of my psychology classes. I broke out in tears because I couldn't write. My arm was so fucked up, I couldn't even take notes in class. I quit 2 hours later. Quitting swimming was devastating, but it wasn't the final nail in the coffin. That would come my senior year.
I've always been an over-achiever and as my arm healed, I started getting the itch to compete again. And so, I tried out for the rowing team. Now mind you, I hadn't rowed a day in my life before this moment. After barely a month on the novice squad, I made varsity. And I busted my ass off to get that spot. I ran and lifted weights outside of normal rowing practices. I pushed my body to the edge––and then over it. My ankle injuries from the past caught up with me. A few months in, I could no longer walk. And then, I found myself getting ankle surgery––just weeks before our competition season started. And that is when the depression and anorexia reared their ugly heads.
I started my senior year at 140 pounds and graduated at 105. I was crippled by my loss of identity. Not only was I no longer an athlete, I was also no longer a star student. My body was broken, I felt worthless, I felt hopeless and then I hit rock bottom.
I know that this is a really long story, but I think its important to know what state of mind I was in when I found craft beer because then you will truly understand how important this beverage is to me. Craft beer saved my soul. Post graduation, I found myself living at home, substitute teaching during the day and working in a restaurant at night. A geek by nature, I automatically became obsessed with the culinary world. Even though I wasn't eating food back then, I was fascinated with ingredients, flavors and the cooking process. But then, I learned what a sommelier was––and nothing was the same. I ordered some books and immediately started studying to become a sommelier, at the ripe age of 22.
My experience in restaurants and passion for wine ultimately landed me a management position at a restaurant in Columbus, OH. And that was where I learned about craft beer. I'l never forget the first time I tasted an IPA. I was practically speechless. How can beer have so much flavor, depth and complexity, I thought? I was immediately hooked on hops. And then, I discovered Midas Touch––a wine/beer hybrid from DogFish Head. It completely blew my mind. It was at that moment that I realized how amazing, innovative and exciting beer could be––and I haven't looked back since.
My new found love for craft beer and blogging was ultimately what helped pull me out of both depression and anorexia. In a way, craft beer saved me. It filled the void in my life that was left behind by swimming and school. It gave me a sense of purpose, a renewed self-esteem, and a new identity.
Thanks for sharing that really personal story! It is not surprising that craft beer saved you…as you may know, there is a Discovery Channel documentary called “How Beer Saved the World.” (watch it here) So, in a sense, beer saved us all and is responsible for us being here today.
This is going to be a tough one but, “Desert Island Beers,” name them:
IPA: Russian River Pliny the Elder (anyone who knows me at all knows this)
Lager: Firestone Walker Pivo Pils
Porter: Alaskan Smoked Porter
Stout: High Water Campfire Stout
Our last post was entitled “Craft Beer Community: 99% Asshole Free” based on the semi-famous statement from Sam at Dogfish Head. With big breweries mocking craft beer drinkers in SuperBowl ads, then turning around and snatching up craft breweries for their portfolios, what are your thoughts on our odds of keeping the craft beer community 99% asshole free?
Eh, I'm not entirely certain the craft beer community is 99% asshole-free. On the surface, the craft beer industry looks like one big happy––but the industry is actually a lot more cut throat than people think it is. I'd love to dive more into this, but it's probably best that I don't. When it comes to the community as a whole, which involves the beer fans and beer drinkers, once again––not really 99% asshole-free. But then, I tend to get more critics and haters than most people, so perhaps my perception is skewed. Just try scanning some of the popular beer forums and you will quickly see what I mean about haters in this realm.
Fair enough. The haters are just jealous. Pay them no mind. One reason the industry “ferments mindfulness” is by being green. Great Lakes, Brooklyn Brewery, New Belgium, Uinta…all have very green practices. What are some mindful trends you think we might see from brewers in the coming years?
I've actually had my finger on the pulse of sustainability in the beer industry for quite some time now. I presented at the very first Great Lakes Water Conservation Conference and worked for an organic brewery for just over four years. Waste reduction, water treatment and recycling, adopting new forms of energy like wind and solar are all great initiatives that I'm seeing more and more breweries invest in.
It is great to see the industry taking the lead to help make a better tomorrow…ya know, for the kids. Craft beer has also led you to becoming an author. You have a book called The Beer Wench’s Guide to Beer: An Unpretentious Guide to Craft Beer. You gave us a little excerpt from the book already but tell us a little more about what readers can expect when they pick up a copy on Amazon(click here to pre-order)?
In a world dominated by beer books written by middle-aged men, The Beer Wench's Guide to Beer provides a uniquely refreshing, fun and unpretentious (and youthful) approach to one of the world's greatest beverages. Part history class, part sensory training and part cookbook––The Beer Wench's Guide to Beer takes its readers on a whirlwind adventure, exploring everything from beer styles to beer history, ingredients and the brewing process, pairing with food, cooking with beer and designing beer cocktails.
We can’t wait to get a copy. It sounds like a very fun read. We know you are a big Ohio State fan…so just a touch on Ohio State…Greg Oden…what a bust, eh?
I'm actually not a huge fan of basketball––although, I will watch it during the playoffs. As far as Greg Oden goes, I think you are referring to his NBA career and, to be honest, I don't really care for the NBA at all. But, I could talk to you about Ohio State football for daysssssssssssss!!!
I bet you could. Ohio native Urban Meyer has done quite a job in Columbus. On a final note, your Twitter bio recently said “Currently Seeking A New Career.” What is next for The Beer Wench and how do I apply for now vacant position?
I left my job at Bison Brewing about 3 weeks ago to pursue other opportunities in the industry. And, as fate would have it..... I landed my dream gig this past week. I'm the new Bay Area District Manager for Green Flash!
Congratulations on the new gig and thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. You are great for the community. We all look forward to your beer photos, your burgers and pizza and of course, the hair color changes. Thanks again.
No prob! Thank you!