It’s International Women’s Day! To kick off this VERY important day, BRÖÖ is celebrating the women who are taking back the beer industry! We had the incredible opportunity to sit down with Sarah Gulotta, the WNC Sales Rep for Hi-Wire Brewing (Asheville, North Carolina). Read Sarah’s inspiring story and learn how she got into brewing beer, her experience as a female working in a male dominated industry, and the deep relationship she has with beer. She gives us one more reason to love craft beer!
(BRÖÖ) How did you get into the beer industry?
(Sarah) I had a long trajectory to get into beer. I went to school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia and was a Psychology major with a Russian minor. There were a lot of vineyards in Charlottesville and I really fell in love with wine! I was harassing these poor wine makers to teach me how to make wine! After I graduated, I moved out to Oregon with no plan whatsoever thinking “oh I’ll just break into the Pinot Noir industry.” I actually ended up getting a job in the tasting room at Rogue Brewing. That’s where I fell in love with beer. I realized I like the process better than wine. I liked what went into it and the culture surrounding it. So I worked there for a couple years and decided I wanted to move back to the East Coast. As soon as I moved to Asheville, they started the brewing program at AB Tech. I managed to get into the first class, graduated, and now I work at Hi-Wire!
What was your first job in the beer industry after graduating from AB Tech Brewing Program?
I knew I wanted to work at Hi-Wire so I took the first job available, which was a tour guide! After a couple of months I started working on the packaging line, and about a year later, I started working on the brew house. I’d been doing that for a little over 2 years. About a month ago, I switched over to Sales. So basically… I’ve worked everywhere in this place!
As a Sales Rep, it’s really great to be able to talk to people about what actually went into the beer. The beer that I’m selling right now, I actually made! I have a deep relationship with beer and it’s great to be able to convey that to people. I’m the brewer that likes to discuss beer and teach beer so moving into sales was a good move for me.
Who do you look up to in the Craft Beer Industry?
My first beer god was Sam Calagione with Dogfish Head. Dogfish Head is what got me into craft beer. I grew up in that area, knew it really well. I just love what they have done with the brand, he is the face of that brand, and he’s the one that goes to all the festivals. He came to Asheville and I got to meet him. I went up to him and just said “YOU’RE THE REASON I GOT INTO BEER!” He talked to me for 10 minutes! For any nerdy brewer, it’s just one of those “oh my god” moments. I have always respected him and what he’s done with that company.
What inspires you on a daily basis?
What drives me and why I worked so hard to become a brewer in the first place is that I wasn’t seeing a ton of women in that area. I wanted to prove that I could do what the boys do. I did it and I did it well. A lot of what drives me is to be this visible, talented, hard working woman in an industry that is very full of men. I rarely get told “no.” But if I do get told “no,” I’m going to do it anyway. I realized how important it is. A lot of people would come thru [Hi-Wire] and they see me on the brew deck and there was always this look of shock… “Oh, they have a female brewer!” It’s a matter of being out in front of people and making sure that I am visible. It isn’t something new or novel. So that’s a really strong driving force.
What’s one beer that you’ve made that you’re especially proud of?
One of the recipes I’m really proud of, I got to work with another female brewer, Katie Smith, from Highland Brewing. Not only are you taking two of Asheville’s biggest breweries, but you’re taking two women, getting them together and making a beer. We made a plum nectar kettle sour.
Do you ever feel disrespected as a female brewer?
Within my company, I’ve never felt that. I hate to say that I’ve lucked out at my work, because that is how it’s always be. But no. They don’t even sensor themselves around me! I’m just part of the group and part of all the gross jokes. But just because it hasn’t happened to me, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
I’ve been in sales for a few weeks and I’ve already experienced some little things. Like a bar manager holding their hand on your shoulder for a little too long and it just makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable. It’s real. Even in a place like Asheville where everyone thinks it’s liberal, safe, and ‘woke,’ it’s still happening, even here.
Like I said, I’ve been so lucky at Hi-Wire because my company respects me. I know that if I did have a problem when I was a brewer or even now that I’m in sales, they would have my back. They’ve always been upfront and said “We will always have your back. We will believe you & we will back you up.” It is so important for companies to tell their female employees this!
Tell us a little bit more about Pink Boots Society & how you got involved with it.
Pink Boots Society is a female organization for any female in the Beer Industry. At first, I struggled with the idea… if we are really equal in the industry, why do we need to stand out with Pink Boots? I’ll never forget the day that changed my mind about this. The owner of Hi-Wire brought his 5 year old daughter into the brewery one morning (we have fish out back and she loves to see the fish). I was cleaning the brew deck and she saw me up there that morning. Weeks after, she kept asking about me. “Does that girl do all the things that boys do?” I realized how important it is to just be visible. She may not grow up to be a brewer, but at least she doesn’t have the concept that only girls or boys can do certain things. That’s why Pink Boots is really important for this type of visibility so people know we exist.
We formed the Asheville chapter last year! It’s mostly educational opportunities for women. When we have meetings, we try to add an educational component. The main part of pink boots is to raise money for scholarships. Pink boots is all over the world! It’s a global organization!
Is mansplaining still a thing?
HAHA! OH YES!
Already in sales, I’ve had someone say to me “Oh let me tell you about a Hi-Wire ale” and I’m like “Really dude?! Ok.. How about I tell you. Because I made it!”
It’s a time thing. If we are loud and visible for long enough, we should see less and less of this type of behavior. When it happens, I just explain it right back to them, and usually explain it better!
What is one piece of advice that you carry?
Do what makes you happy.
It doesn’t matter if you’re making six-figures. It doesn’t matter if you’re saving the world. Strive for something that makes you happy. I’ve always followed my heart and followed whatever I wanted to do at the time. I’m leading a pretty happy life so far! If you do what makes you happy, life can’t be that bad!
Do you have any advice for women who want to follow in your path?
GET YOUR EDUCATION! That’s the biggest thing. You need the education to back you up. Gone are the days where you can walk into the brewery, start off with nothing, say “just teach me” and be a free intern. Having your education and being able to back up what you’re doing with that… it changes everything. It’s a game changer.
Do you feel like women have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously?
I moved up very quickly here at Hi-Wire and I moved up quickly because I’m a hard worker! If you work hard, you will succeed. My biggest thing is my work ethic. I put in the time to study, read up, and go thru all the hardships. You just have to go thru it, learn from it, and work really hard. And of course, that’s with having a company that supports you! I see a lot of pretentiousness and lack of humility across the craft beer industry and it’s exhausting. You can tell the people that want to play nice and help each other out, because we are all trying to do the same thing. You don’t have to mean to other people to succeed.
Answer these questions with the first thing that pops into your head!
The first beer you remember drinking… Golden Monkey, Victory
Your all time favorite beer is…. Festina Peche by Dogfish Head
The best time of day to drink beer is… OH! Noon
Beer goes best with… Pizza
That’s a wrap!! Thank you Sarah for taking the time to tell us your story, and talk about your experience in this industry. The work you are doing is so important. You are making history! By living with such passion and commitment to hard work, you inspire us! We are going home to read this interview aloud to our daughters (and sons)! Cheers!
If you made it this far, we want to say ‘thank you’ by giving you a code to get 20% off our Amazon Store: BROOVIPS.
Click here to learn more about Pink Boots Society and the amazing work they do.