Six Beer Industry Leaders Challenging the Status Quo

Craft brewing seems to be dominated by white dudes with beards. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find there’s room for more perspectives in the business.

The term “craft brewery” is practically synonymous with “a renovated warehouse where bearded millennial white dudes make beer.” They’re obviously not the only people involved in the craft brewing industry, but they sure do make up a significant portion of its population. We scouted six folks who don’t fit this mold, from a female brewer to the person behind what will be Cincinnati’s first minority-owned brewery, and asked them how they got into this industry and what their plans are moving forward. One thing’s for certain: They each find joy sharing beer with others, and that’s all that really matters.

Mike Dewey, 47, and Kathleen Dewey, 48

Illustration by Conrad Garner

Brewery: Mt. Carmel Brewing Company
Favorite local beer: “My favorite go-to beer is the one in front of me.” —Mike
Quote: “I do work for beer!” —Mike

When they founded Cincinnati’s oldest microbrewery in 2005, Mike and Kathleen Dewey became industry pioneers—“perhaps more appropriately defined as guinea pigs,” Mike says. “There was no one to borrow a pitch of yeast from, or a few pounds of hops.” He started brewing beer 19 years ago while working in commercial development (how he met Kathleen), honing his craft in the family’s cellar, but it was Kathleen’s idea to launch Mt. Carmel. As president, she controls all the finances and, “most importantly, Mike’s spending,” she says, jokingly. The husband-and-wife duo spent years focused on distribution, getting their beer on local store shelves and paving the way for breweries that followed in their footsteps. “Charting new territory was the driving force. It was motivating and rewarding to Kathleen and me to forge that history,” Mike says. Clearly their game is still strong: Last year Mt. Carmel experienced a 400 percent revenue leap. “The growth is quite competitive,” he says. “Like most industries, you need to adapt and navigate. We believe we have a course set for the next 15 years together.”


Brian Jackson, 34

Illustration by Conrad Garner

Brewery: Esoteric Brewing Company
Favorite local beer: “Obviously I’m partial to MadTree, so Identity Crisis has always been my favorite.”
Quote: “Brewing for me is a personal passion. But the main reason for getting into the industry is so that I can utilize my position to elevate those around me and bring positive change in the communities we serve.”

There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding Esoteric Brewing, slated to open in May in Walnut Hills’s historic Paramount building. Amid an already-packed craft beer scene, Esoteric will stand out as the first minority-owned brewery in Cincinnati. To founder and brewer Brian Jackson, who currently works at MadTree, that status is about much more than beer. “We want to promote and champion diversity in a way that is representative of our culture as a whole,” says Jackson, who joined the MORTAR business accelerator and connected with co-owner Marvin Abrinica. Together, they raised almost $800,000 through crowdfunding to revitalize the 1930s Art Deco building, part of a redevelopment project in the neighborhood’s emerging business district. Esoteric will look different than typical taprooms—for example, you won’t find any TVs, a choice designed to “put more emphasis on the experience our customers have with our beer, rather than the beer itself,” he says. As for the beer: Jackson loves to keep things traditional, so the lineup will feature simple styles focusing on the recipes’ main raw ingredients.


Natalie Blair, 36

Illustration by Conrad Garner

Brewery: Rhinegeist Brewery
Favorite local beer: Gadget by Urban Artifact or Hold the Reins by Brink Brewing
Quote: “It is definitely a male-dominated industry all across the board. But I do find that women really are making forays and showing how valuable [we] can be to a team—in any industry.”

Brewing wasn’t Natalie Blair’s first career choice, but it’s one she’s grateful to have found. Before joining Rhinegeist in 2015, Blair taught architecture at Miami University. Her husband had been working as a driver for the brewery when she was jokingly offered a role as a tour guide. “I was fascinated by the combination of science, art, and will [involved in brewing],” she says. After moving on to a role on the packaging team, where she spent a year and a half, she was promoted to brewer and has been waking up at 3:15 a.m. to churn out some of the city’s most popular suds for the past three years. Her architecture background comes in handy, she says, in understanding the mechanics of the complex process and finding creative solutions to “random, really strange little problems.” Most people would be surprised at how physically demanding the job is, she explains, requiring carrying 50- and 100-pound bags of grains up two flights of stairs to the brew deck. Between the hauling and thorough cleanings, she says “it’s like working out eight hours a day.”


Paul Kemp, 27

Illustration by Conrad Garner

Brewery: Humble Monk Brewing
Favorite local beer: Rhinegeist’s Gobi Brut IPA
Quote: “Dad’s always loved brewing. He gets less joy out of drinking it and more out of sharing it with others. That’s the mantra for how we craft our recipes. Our goal is to bring the joy of craft beer to everyone.”

Paul Kemp’s foray into craft brewing started with a joke. His dad had been home-brewing for more than 35 years before the duo decided to create Humble Monk Brewing in Northside. A business owner his whole life, Paul’s dad’s most recent venture had been manufacturing biodiesel, which left him with a couple of food grade tanks that the pair jokingly admitted would make great fermentation tanks. “But one day,” Kemp says, “he actually came up to me and said, ‘How about you just write a business plan and we’ll see where it goes?’” Kemp, fresh off studying entrepreneurship at Northern Kentucky University, got to work, and “the rest,” he says, “is history.” Today, Kemp runs the day-to-day operations of the business while his father serves as brewmaster to a roster of beers that’s heavy on Belgian varieties. Kemp’s wife and mother help bartend on the weekends, his younger brother helps cellar, and his sister-in-law handles event planning and social media (with an assist from his sister). “It’s definitely a family affair,” he says.


Jessica Green, 34

Illustration by Conrad Garner

Brewery: Sonder Brewing
Favorite local beer: King Cake from Brink Brewing
Quote: “I don’t have a giant résumé full of [craft beer experience] and I’m not very well-versed in the scientific side of it, but I think if you’re passionate about this industry, there are doors open all over the place.”

Five years ago, Jessica Green was running an in-home daycare and waitressing at the Hyde Park Keystone Bar & Grill (now closed) when her passion for craft beer was tapped. “It was really neat to see how much of a culture there was behind it,” she says. Her involvement in Cincinnati’s chapter of Girls Pint Out, a national nonprofit that connects women interested in craft beer, led to a bartending opportunity at Brink Brewing Company in 2018. The following September, she joined Sonder, where she worked as a bartender and taproom manager before stepping into her current role as Director of Beer Education last July. As a liaison between the production team and all other employees, she’s tasked with making sure everyone’s “speaking the same language” when it comes to Sonder beer. She does so by organizing regular tastings and classes about Sonder’s history, brewing process, and ingredients. Not only does this benefit the staff, it benefits the customers, too. “Enthusiasts want to talk about the beer when they sit down at the bar,” she says. Green makes sure that’s possible.

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