Women in the Craft Beer Industry: Hannah Gohde (Free Will Brewing Co.) Part 2

Free Will Brewing Co. - Hannah Gohde & Colleen Rakowski
The ladies of Free Will Brewing Co., Colleen Rakowski (left) and Hannah Gohde (center) with myself, Chelsie Markel (right) at SAVOR 2017 in D.C.

Earlier this month, another SAVOR craft beer and food experience went in the books as one of the best fests, parties, events (all these things) of 2017! Sure. There is always magnificent beer to sample from all across the country. And, yes, there is delightful, gourmet bites of food to pair with each brew. But there also is the social and networking aspect that makes it special and is really what it’s all about for me.

Our friends from Free Will Brewing Co. from Perkasie, PA were in the house serving their sought after Olly (Flanders Oud Bruin) and Ralphius (Wood-Aged Strong Stout). Co-Owner & Brewer, John Stemler along with Hannah Gohde (Brewer & Events Coordinator) and Colleen Rakowski (Lead Cellar Worker) were there to talk about each of the selections as well as catch up on all things ‘Free Will Brewing Co.’ Most folks know who John Stemler is and his role at the company. But many do not get an opportunity to meet Hannah and Colleen – two hardcore craft beer ladies with gobs of talent and tenacity helping make Free Will Brewing Co. the powerhouse brewery that craft beer enthusiasts flock to in Pennsylvania.

It’s no longer surprising seeing or hearing about women making a difference in the craft beer industry. But it’s still something we at Stouts & Stilettos love to celebrate. To cheer on our fellow ladies who enjoy great brew, make great brew and change the face of the brew industry as a whole. I had a chance to interview both Hannah and Colleen to hear their story so you can get to know them as well.

PART 2 – HANNAH GOHDE (Brewer & Events Coordinator)

Q: Tell me about your craft beer career. How did you get to the place you are today?

A: How did I become a brewer at Free Will? Short Answer: Right Place, Right Time.

In part, that is the truth. And, while I believe in listening to the universe for guidance, it is much more than just a fortuitous aligning of the stars that brought me here. Growing up, my parents didn’t drink, so my exposure to beer was limited to what my grandfather would drink, usually Yuengling Lager, and whatever beers my friends and I could scrounge up from their parents’ fridges without them noticing. Let’s not even pretend that we didn’t all drink in high school. Ha!

I transferred to Shippensburg University my sophomore year of college, and it was there, during a pre-semester summer party and a chance encounter with an upperclassman, that my love of craft beer started to take shape. You never forget your first time. The way that it tastes or makes you feel all warm and giddy inside. Or the fact that you can’t stop thinking about it and obsessing over every last detail. For me, that first time was with a bottle of ice cold Water Gap Wheat from Appalachian Brewing Co. Sure, I drank my fair share of Natty Lite. Because, let’s be honest, $10 for a case was what my college budget could afford! I would save a dollar here, a dollar there and splurge every few weeks on a 6-pack of that delicious Water Gap Wheat.

I started homebrewing occasionally with different groups of friends, including Kevin Walter, who just left Iron Hill to open his own brewery, Love City Brewing. I don’t actually remember if what we brewed was good or not, but it was palatable and I loved the creativity and comradery that went along with it.

Around the time that I turned 21, one of the former dive bars was revamped and turned into a craft beer English-style pub, which is where I first experienced and solidified my love of sour beers.

I continued to dabble with homebrewing throughout my 20’s, brewing occasionally with my younger brother and friends while I was in grad school.

Life post-grad school got a bit chaotic and I found myself abruptly moving from Hershey, Pennsylvania to Bucks County (Doylestown, PA), with an old friend from undergrad who conveniently enough, also loved craft beer, Scotch (my spirit of choice) and had occasionally homebrewed with friends as well. Shortly after I moved in, Andrew and I went to Keystone Homebrew Supply (Montgomeryville, PA). We bought several hundred dollars worth of homebrew equipment and made the full jump into brewing. It didn’t take long before we were both completely hooked and started nerding out together over recipes and processes.

Fast forward 6 months later, I started working at Keystone Homebrew Supply learning and absorbing everything that I possibly could from the seasoned brewers that I was surrounded by on a daily basis. Many people don’t realize that John Stemler (Brewmaster & Co-founder of Free Will Brewing Co.) got his start in the beer industry via Keystone as well. He left Keystone just prior to my start, in order to focus full-time on opening his brewery. But there was and still is, a close relationship between Keystone and Free Will.

I started working part-time at Free Will in February of 2014. I would work 1-2 days a week in the tasting room. This was prior to the law change, so onsite beer consumption was prohibited except for the free samples, which was enough to make me realize how much I wanted to be a part of Free Will in any way possible.

For the next 18 months, I worked both jobs, became BJCP certified, taught numerous classes, and bugged the shit out of John and Dom to hire me full time. I wasn’t sure what my role would be, if/when I went full time. Would I be a brewer? No, probably not. I didn’t have any professional experience and there were hundreds of people with more training than me. A sales rep? Or marketing? Or events? A combination of things? I wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty, to pay my dues, to do the work that no one else wanted to do. I just knew that I NEEDED to be part of it all.

In July of 2015, I got my answer! I became the Brewer and Events Coordinator, a role which was created specifically for me at Free Will Brewing Co. When John first called to offer me the job, I asked him, “Wait… me? You want… me? Are you sure??” Never in a million years did I think that my job offer would include “Brewer” as part of it. The plan was to train me as a brewer, while simultaneously also taking over social media and taking the reigns on in-house events. Eventually, I was to transition out of brewing full time, and focus more on the events, as the demand grew. At the beginning, I was about 80% brewing/production and 20% events. Six months into the endeavor, I was almost 50/50.

In February of 2016, I had a pretty major brewing accident, which dramatically changed my career path, as I was no longer able to physically brew. During the following 12 months, I really took control of the events and also took on new responsibilities. As it goes with any small company, I wear many, many proverbial hats (but only the cute ones—no ugly hats here) and continue to keep my role ever-evolving within the brewery.

I have an extreme amount of passion for this industry, which most people will tell you they can sense within the first 30 seconds of talking to me, and it’s genuine. However, much of that passion comes from me having my hand in the product. I have the unique opportunity to be able to have my hand in the product AND get to share it with our Free Will Friends, whether it’s sharing a pint in the Taproom or pouring at a festival or educating the public.

Present day, I am managing all in-house events (many of which are private events), social media, marketing, PR, community outreach, and other responsibilities along those lines. Additionally, I manage to brew 1-2 times per month, which is just enough to “scratch the itch” and stay involved. One of my strong suits is my palate. I consult with the brew team and specifically Nate Walter (Master Blender and Head of our Barrel Program) to taste, blend and critique our beers (for the good or the bad). I love tasting and describing a beer to someone. It’s a way for me to be creative while still playing inside the lines.

 

Q: What is your favorite style of beer to brew and why?

A: I love brewing IPAs and saisons. I love how changing a hop variety or the time at which you add the hop addition can so dramatically change the beer. I brew the way that I cook. I find something that inspires me and I try to re-create it, but with my own “Hannah-spin”. Saisons are one of my favorite styles to begin with because they run the gamut in flavor profiles. I tend to prefer the funkier, uber dry, peppery style saisons.

 

Q: What is your favorite beer to brew at Free Will?

A: I LOVE our sour program at Free Will Brewing Co., but I don’t think that brewing sours is all that much fun. It’s what happens in the barrel, with all the trillions of microbes, that actually makes the beer. I like the blending process. I love tasting barrels and discovering just how different they are from barrel to barrel, even if it was from the same 15bbl batch. All of that being said, I have a fun story pertaining to one of our beers.

The first time I had Free Will was in the fall of 2012. I had C.O.B. (Coffee Oatmeal Brown) on tap at the Blue Dog Tavern in Chalfont, PA. It was one of those extremely memorable moments where you know that your life was just changed. I actually said out loud, “Holy F*CK! What is this?? I need more of this in my life!!!” Andrew told me it was from this new brewery in Perkasie and that we’d have to go visit sometime. Fast forward 3 years, and I can’t even make this up, the first beer that I brewed as a professional brewer, was C.O.B. It was serendipitous, and completely by chance. Life always has a way of coming full circle.

 

Q: If you don’t mind, would you be OK with talking a little bit about your brewing injury/incident?

A: Ahhh, yes… my accident. It was a very large nitrogen tank weighing about 200lbs that crushed my right arm in February of 2016. A lot of people think that brewing is glamorous. I have news for you—it isn’t. Not even close! Most people have no idea just how dangerous it really is. They have no idea the amount of blood, sweat and sometimes tears, that go into producing that pint of beer that you’re sitting in the taproom drinking, while watching the Brewployees scurry about in the brewhouse.

I was CIP’ing (Clean in Place) a tank in the Sour Cellar. A brewing hose was stuck on one of the castors. I bent down in almost a football like stance, trying to push it loose. When it broke loose, my momentum went forward and my shoulder caught the nitrogen tank beside me, sending it crashing down on my arm. I rolled the 200lb tank off my arm, stood up, and tried to walk it off (hey, a girl has to try!), but refused to take my brewing glove off because I didn’t want to see what was underneath. It took all of about 6 seconds before excruciating, blinding, searing pain set it. I ran/walked upstairs to find help. Anxiety and adrenaline kicked in. I was sitting in a hospital room in the ER within 17 minutes of the accident happening. I spent 26 hours in the hospital due to extreme swelling and the intense amount of pain that I was in. I had 4 broken bones in my wrist, deep bone bruising, and extensive nerve and soft tissue damage. I spent the next 3 months in various casts and braces and a total of 7 months in therapy, 3x a week, 2 hours each session, trying to gain back use of my right arm. Ultimately, I ended up having surgery on my nerves in my right elbow, in November of 2016. It’s been an extremely long road to recovery. I still have pain. I can predict the weather days before it happens. It has taken a huge mental toll on me. BUT, things could always be worse. I could not have an arm. Or it could have hit me in the head. Some days are better than others. Somedays I barely even remember that I sustained an injury. Other days, everything hurts. The nerve pain and sensations are so intense that it distracts me from everything. I can’t focus. But somehow, I manage to get through it. I am very fortunate to work for a company that has supported my recovery and have shifted me into rolls that I was able to do. As John put it, “At least you have multiple skills that we use here.” I’m still recovering, and maybe I always will experience some pain, but at least I’m otherwise healthy.

 

Q: Who/what inspires you in this industry and why? 

A: The beer community and diversity within this community) is what inspires me. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that beer has brought me together with so many people that I would not have ordinarily crossed paths with. Beer unites us! Diversity is not about race, religion, or socioeconomic backgrounds. Diversity is simply a difference between people. Diversity is me looking at someone and drawing from their experiences, their knowledge, their background, and using that to become a better person—a better brewer. The people, whether patrons or industry folk, are what I draw inspiration from.

 

Q: Are you a member of the Pink Boots Society?

A:Yes, though I wasn’t always a willing or active member of Pink Boots Society (PBS). I used to question why I would want to be part of an organization that further segregates women in the brewing industry. I don’t want to be a good female brewer. I just want to be a good brewer! I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into a specific “gender role”. Beer isn’t about gender. Beer is just beer. However, my whole perception changed this past March, when I participated in Big Boots Brew Day, which took place on International Women’s Day. I met so many kick-ass women within the Philly Beer Scene that made me realize that I need to own my femininity. Own my gender. Who cares if people want to categorize me as a good female brewer?!? I mean, I am female, right?!? The PBS Luncheon during CBC this year, was the final nail that sealed the deal for me, and made me realize just how awesome the Pink Boots Society really is. Since that luncheon, I’ve been pretty vocal and involved in the local Philadelphia chapter. Even going so far as forming a steering committee for planning events within our area. I feel insanely lucky to have met these women and to now be able to call them some of my very close friends.

 

Q: Anything else you’d like to share about your skills, career or personal interests?
A: 
I always wear lipstick. Always. The brighter, the better. I will have no other makeup on, but I will always have on lipstick. It’s kinda my thing. I’m obsessed with NYX matte brand. It stays on all day, even through mashing in, graining out, and all the sweat that goes along with it, and it’s pretty inexpensive. If I ever started a blog or a cosmetics company, I’d call it “Lipstick Brewer”.

Anyone that knows me, knows that my 3 favorite things are beer, hearts and bubbles. Yes, bubbles. I carry bubbles with me at all times. They make me happy. If I’m happy, mad, stressed, anxious, sad, or even crying, all I have to do is blow bubbles and I am instantly happy. It sounds fake, I know, but I swear that it isn’t. We used to have a bubble machine in the office that I’d periodically just turn on. I’m like a child. An adult, brewer, lipstick wearing child.

I love kayaking. Being on the water is probably my favorite place to be. When I lived in Harrisburg, I would kayak nearly every day from Fort Hunter, up to Lady Liberty. It was an intense workout and I absolutely loved it.

I have a Masters Degree in Environmental Science from Ship, and I never worked a day in that field. I did my thesis on weather and wine grapes.

 


READ PART 1: COLLEEN RAKOWSKI (Lead Cellar Worker at Free Will Brewing Co.)


 

(Follow Me On: Twitter & Untappd: @dzyngrl | Instagram: @dzyngrl14)

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