My path to the Beer Industry…
If you look at the ratio of men to women within the brewing industry, one would say we’re a bit outnumbered, and that would be an understatement… but that’s how I intend to keep it, a statement. Instead of focusing on our differences, I prefer to look at what we have in common: a love of beer. It is this love, mixed with pride and passion, which draws people into this amazing industry.
It’s not very often you seriously get asked the question, “So… How did you get here?” My usual response is, “it’s complicated.” It’s easy to get carried away with the now, constantly assessing and anticipating the next, and rarely finding time to reflect on the past. There have been many twists and turns and ups and downs along the path leading me into the beer industry. I can look back and see a few major turning points in my life, but what about all the little ones? The semi-substantial moments, like pawns in a game of chess. Many in number, easily over looked, but essential nonetheless.
Three major milestones in my life that led me to this path were attending Washington State University, marrying my husband, and kettle corn. They are like the rook, bishop, and knight. But what good are these pieces without the pawns? Without moving forward and progressing the game with these seemingly unimportant pieces, one would be stuck… unable to move. That’s why I would like to highlight a few of the smaller decisions that led to the more sizable ones.
It could be said that my decision to attend WSU was the first of many that would lead to a life in the beer industry. The truth is, I didn’t even like beer then. What I did like was their highly acclaimed Hotel and Restaurant Administration program, which I quickly abandoned to pursue a career in education (quite ironic since I’m now in the hospitality industry). My decision to attend WSU created an even bigger impact on my future when I met my husband Oliver Brulotte.
Oliver was a third generation hop farmer from Prosser, Washington. I remember my first trip to the farm, spending a lovely afternoon branding cattle and irrigating hop fields. It isn’t exactly romantic getting snagged by hop vines, but there was something special about the farm; the smell in the air, the peace and quiet, and of course the cute farm boy. Our decision to get married was a major moment in my life but if it weren’t for my instant love for the farm things would have been very different (I’d probably still be drinking wine coolers). 3 years later, my unknown journey to the beer industry continued as I began helping on the farm and drinking beer at hop conventions (I finally started to like it!).
While juggling 3 kids, the farm, and a Masters in Counseling, we came to one of those moments in chess where you have to make a sacrifice. Where you have to give up a piece for the greater good of the game. Do we to stay in Prosser and continue A/B Hop Farm or sell everything, move to Leavenworth, Washington and open a restaurant? Needless to say, a year later, dawning dirndl and clogs, I was elbow deep in oil and popcorn burns, mixing pounds upon pounds of kettle corn for the masses in this unique Bavarian-themed town.
That’s right! Our ‘restaurant’ was a kettle corn stand tucked in the corner of Front Street. It wasn’t long before we grew into München Haus, a sausage and beer garden, thus filling a need in town and bringing us back into world of beer and brewing. Throughout the past ten years while running München Haus, I learned to appreciate the many different styles of craft beer available in the Northwest. I also gained an appreciation for German styles of beer, varying from Helles Lagers to Doppelbocks. The decision to only serve craft beer and German imports was a seemingly small business decision but one that would eventually lead to our establishing Icicle Brewing Company.
Our main focus while building the brewery was to create a space that would complement both our town and its surroundings. Leavenworth is an amazing place in the heart of the Cascade Mountains. Beyond the mountaintops and river valleys, it is a blossoming community full of energy and drive. It is this drive that made our first business successful and will be the fuel for our success as a brewery. With inspiration as our guide, most decisions came easily. Like a leisurely start to a game of chess, just moving pawns around so you can free up space for bigger, more serious moves. One of those ‘serious moves’ was hiring head brewer, Dean Priebe, our knight in shining tie-dye. It is his attention to detail and his desire to consistently produce fresh craft beer that, not only fit our vision, but also catapulted us into Eastern Washington’s most award-winning brewery.
Currently, Icicle Brewing Company has shattered our expectations. Our projected growth by this time was to have accounts in most of the businesses in town. Now, just over a year old, we have a rapidly increasing number of accounts in Eastern Washington and can’t seem to make beer fast enough. It’s a good problem to have and an easy decision to make–brew more beer. Fortunately, the decisions I have made both big and small, have gotten me this far, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s no secret that the decisions we make get us where we’re going and make us who we are. If anything, I hope my story shows that ALL decisions have weight, and this game of chess, with its kings and queens, is nothing without the pawns. Sure you can still ‘win,’ but in my opinion it’s not about the payoff, it’s about the path. If you can’t see that, then slow down, grab a beer, and reflect; so that when someone comes up and asks you how you got there, you’ll be able to tell them.
*Photos courtesy of Pamela Brulotte & Icicle Brewing Company