Interview with Ashley V. Routson, The Beer Wench

Ashley Routson making a beer cocktail

In our last post, we provided a bit of background on one of the country’s most intriguing and involved craft beer personalities, Ashley V. Routson. Also known widely as “The Beer Wench”, Routson has her finger on the pulse of the the craft beer world. Not only does Routson work for Bison Brewing as their “director of awesomeness”, she has also been maintaining one of the most popular craft beer blogs in the country, Drink With The Wench. Routson’s route in the artisan beverage world began the in wine industry and her passion for such mouthwatering flavors landed her in Northern California. From sommelier to craft beer guru to beer mixologist extraordinaire, we provide you with the following interview to learn a bit more about the woman behind The Wench.

Where are you from?

Ashley Routson sipping a beer cocktailAshley V. Routson: Originally, I’m from New York. Currently, I live in California.

Tell the people about yourself. How did you become The Beer Wench?

AVR: By accident, I suppose. Just over four years ago, I was very involved in the local Columbus scene, especially when it came to all things social media. At the time, there were a handful of food bloggers in the city, but no beverage focused bloggers. I was studying to be a sommelier, so my original plan was to start a wine blog. But, before I could launch it, my more experienced and learned wine friend started his own. So, in an effort not to compete with him, I opted to go with my second love, beer.

At the time, I had a kickass job as a “Knowledge Planner” for a small, privately owned creative marketing firm. My boss and colleagues taught me the importance of branding, especially self branding. And so, when I sat down to start my site, I knew I had to give it an identity. I was 24 at the time, so “The Beer Wench” sounded playful, non-pretentious and fun. So I went with it.

Honestly, I never intended to get this far. Originally, my goal was just self education and the education of others in my local community. It wasn’t until I started getting national recognition that I realized the potential of my blog. I only just turned my back on a career in wine last year, which was a huge move for me, personally.

You began as a wine advocate, how did this switch over to beer, and most recently beer mixology?

Ashley Routson, The Beer WenchAVR: I joke with my wine friends all the time that “everything I know about beer, I learned from wine.”

Being a serious student of wine taught me discipline. It made me respect alcohol as a craft, not just a quick fix to feel good. My wine mentors introduced me to the relationship between food & wine, something that I’ve been able t easily apply to beer. I also attribute my blog’s early success to the wine blogging community, my first fans and the people who taught me how to properly and successfully use social media. I pride myself in being a few steps ahead of most people in the beer industry, but this has only been possible as a result of the road paved by the wine industry.

As for beer mixology, I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 19 and have been exposed to a lot of different approaches to cocktail creation. Although my weakest subject, I am no newbie to the world of spirits. Most people know that I’m a wine and beer geek, but most people don’t know that I’m a cocktail snob. As a result of a previous position with a beverage magazine, I’ve been exposed to the extraordinary world of mixology and have met some amazing and very important people along the way.

Combining my passion for well-crafted cocktails and craft beer was a natural progression. People often criticize me for ruining the integrity of beer, but I prefer to look at it as heightening the beauty of the cocktail.

You work at Bison Brewing in Berkeley, CA.  For those who don’t know Bison Brewing, fill them in.

Daniel Del Grande of Bison BrewingAVR: Founded in 1989, Bison Brewing is a 100% certified organic brewery from Berkeley, CA. Our current owner and brewmaster, Dan Del Grande, took over operations in 1997. Bison operated as a brewpub for nearly ten years, until is was shut down by the city in 2008. We are currently gypsy brewers, utilizing the facilities of other breweries, until we have the opportunity to build our own again.

Bison is a very small team, made up of four very passionate, sustainability focused individuals who love craft beer and the planet (okay, so maybe we are a bunch of Berkeley hippies…). We work hard, but have a lot of fun doing it.

How did you end up at this brewery of all the places in the craft beverage world. After all, you are a beer celebrity.

AVR: Dan, my boss, is also one of my very best friends. He was one of the first contacts I made when I moved to this coast, with no direction or job in view. Although at first he couldn’t offer me a job, he helped me network my way into SF craft beer culture. And last year, when a position came up in his company, he approached me first. At the time, I was living in Napa and still pursuing a career in wine. It is because of Dan, that I finally relinquished the wine dream, and started a career in beer.

Ashley Routson at Holiday Ale Fest with friends

Your title at Bison is “director of awesomeness”  What exactly does this encompass as far as your roles and responsibilities with the company?

Ashley at Beer RevolutionAVR: When you work for a company of three, the roles and responsibilities are far from black and white. We are all, in a sense, Jack of All Trades. Each of us does have our specialties however, mine specifically being marketing, PR, events, and all things social media. In addition to the aforementioned, my position also entails sales, distributor and account management, administrative duties, keg cleaning, keg filling, and other various brewing roles.

Your recent collaborative website Beer Mixology is really taking off and you are getting a lot of attention nationally for it. When did you start getting involved with beer cocktails?

AVR: Do sake bombs and Irish car bombs count? Haha. I’ve been making Beermosas and Bloody Marys with beer (and tequila!) for years now, but I didn’t start dabbling in “real” beer mixology until 2011.

I first got wind of the beer cocktail concept while attending Tales of the Cocktail in 2010. One of my mentors, Stephen Beaumont, had presented on the subject at a previous conference. That year, during GABF in Denver, I got my first taste of a well-crafted beer cocktail at Euclid Hall. Been on the hunt for outstanding beer cocktails ever since!

What is your favorite beer cocktail at the moment?

Pardon my narcisism, but my favorite beer cocktail at the moment is my own creation — The Mad Botanist, which features my namesake beer, Saison de Wench and one of my favorite gins on this planet, Botanivore from St. George Spirits. Both were made using botanicals, so my main focus was on highlighting the floral nature of the two beverages. The final cocktail was prepared using a housemade hibiscus syrup and rose tincture. The result was a bright pink, slightly tart, and extremely aromatic cocktail. But don’t take my word for it, try it yourself when Saison de Wench comes out in package this May!

Bison Saison de Wench

If given the choice, would you opt for a glass of wine, beer, cocktail, or a beer cocktail?

Honestly, it depends where I am, who I’m with, if and what I’m eating, and what mood I’m in. I truly love all three beverages equally.

Ask me this right now and I’d have to say that, mid afternoon on and sunny and surprisingly warm California day, I could really go for a nice crisp pilsner.

You had a lot going on at San Francisco Beer Week this year, which just concluded. Tell us about some of the events you had a hand in, and some of your favorite parts of SFBW as well.

SF Beer WeekWhere does one begin? SF Beer Week kicked my ass. It takes a lot of energy to put on events and pour at festivals. And that doesn’t even include all the wear and tear that the alcohol consumption has on the body. My favorite event this year, hands down, was the “Unbirthday Beer Cocktail Party.” Bison partnered with St. George Spirits to completely take over Revival Bar & Kitchen, a local farm-to-table restaurant. He transformed the elegant bar into a wonderland of mischief and nonsense. People wore costumes, the drinks were amazing, and we even hosted a straight spirits and beer tasting with the distillers and brewmasters. Everyone left educated, and very happy.

As for my favorite event outside of any that I was involved with, I would have to go with the Three Ring Circus that was put on by Sean Paxton, Ninkasi, Speakeasy and Shmaltz. 9 course, 13 rare beers, circus performers — how could you go wrong? I even convinced a carnie to let me lay down on his bed of nails. Not my best decision ever, but was totally worth it!

SF Beer Week 3 Ring Circus

You will be in Portland this weekend for a special beer mixology event at The Guild Public House. How did this event come together and how did you decide on the three breweries that you are working with in devising specific beer cocktail recipes?

The Guild Public HouseAVR: The Guild Public House was looking to start a beer cocktail program and wanted some expert advice. My friend Eric from Mt. Tabor Brewing Company recommended myself and Once connected, it only seemed natural to do an event. Naturally, Bison had to be involved, as well as Mt. Tabor. And then I brought on board my friends from The Commons Brewery and the most amazing man in this world, Angelo of BREWPUBLIC. When you think about it, we are kind of like the League of Beer Mixology Justice.

Angelo Brewpublic and Ashley Routson aka The Beer Wench

What do you say to people who have never experienced a beer cocktail and might be apprehensive of the idea?

AVR: Suck it up buttercup. No, seriously. I would just let people to open their mind, relax and let it happen.