Posted on March 1, 2012 by Marina

On Sunday March 25th, 9 female craft brewers (including our own brewer Erica!) collaborate to produce one-off beers for Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation in an event titled “Beer For Boobs”.  Erica will join some of our craft brewery friends  from Black Oak, Amsterdam, Burger Bar, Mill St, and the Granite to collaborate on one special beer to be featured at the event. A first and one of a kind event in the Canadian beer scene!

On February 18th, our Erica along with Bridgid from Mill St began brewing a  Belgian Biere de Mars beer at Great Lakes Brewery. There’s nothing like female brewers coming together and sharing their talents. Here’s a photo of Erica mashing:

Erica Graholm previously worked at Amsterdam and Magnotta Brewing. She attended the prestigious Versuchs-und Lehranstalt fur Brauerei (VLB) in Berlin, Germany where she studied to become a certified brewer.

Read our Q&A with Erica where she shares what it’s like being a female brewer, her favourite craft beers, how she got involved with Beer For Boobs & why she decided to focus on beer instead of wine.

Q. What made you want to be a brewer and what’s it like being a female brewer?

I started homebrewing nearly a decade ago and my hobby quickly turned into an obsession.  I loved reading about the science and history of the craft, and exploring the many flavours of beer styles from around the world.  The latter involved a lot of tasting and evaluation, both of my own homebrewed beers and any commercial examples I could get my hands on.  When I realized this hobby could lead to a career there was no question I would go for it.  A job at a local homebrew shop eventually led to a job at Magnotta Brewery, which gave me a chance to speak to other brewers about how they got their start in the industry.  I was very fortunate with the opportunities that came my way, so I followed every one of them and never shied away from any hard work.

Being a female brewer is…pretty much like being a male brewer I suppose.  Except when we sweat it smells like lavender :)  Seriously though, it’s a lot of work but it’s even more fun.

Q. Do you have any suggestions for anyone wanting to pursue brewing as a career?

Homebrewing is a great place to start.  It can give you a good foundation about sanitation, fermentation, and you get to experiment, be creative, and make a lot of mistakes.  Some breweries will take volunteers or allow you to shadow a brewer, which is a good introduction into brewing on a commercial scale.  Yes, you will probably have to shovel the malt and scrub a lot, but you can also ask questions and that first beer at the end of the day will never taste better.

If you are serious about pursuing brewing as a career, take a program at one of the many brewing institutes around the globe.  Introductory and more in-depth programs are offered at Siebel Institute in Chicago, and the more local Niagara College offers a 2 year program, to name a couple.  While education is very helpful, when it comes to commercial brewing be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up – experience counts!

Q. How did you get involved with Beer For Boobs?

Beer for Boobs is a breast cancer fundraising initiative started by Lisa White, vice president of White Labs, a yeast production company that services many craft breweries worldwide.  What started in 2008 as a 3 day, 60 mile fundraising walk, has turned into a series of events across the continent where anyone with an interest in beer and fundraising for breast cancer can put on their own unique event.  Kevin Freer from Magnotta Brewery and Tracy Phillippi from Black Oak Brewery simultaneously had the idea to put on such an event in Toronto in support of The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.  They joined forces and asked female brewers from around the GTA to collaborate on one-off small batches to be released at an event at BarVolo on March 25th.

I was thrilled to be asked to be involved because it’s a great learning experience for us brewers, and the event should be a lot of fun, not to mention that it’s for a good cause.  It’s great that so many breweries have got behind the idea either by donating raffle prizes, donating materials, and that the brewers at House Ales, Great Lakes, The Granite, Amsterdam, and Black Oak have collaborated with us to produce these beers on their pilot systems.

Events like this really showcase how craft beer folks work together as a community, which is what it’s all about to me.

Q. What are some of your favourite craft breweries & beers?

Well I’m glad you didn’t ask for my #1 favourite because that question is always too difficult to answer.  Locally some favourites are Beau’s Lug Tread for an easy drinking anytime beer, any Saison from Great Lakes Brewery, House Ales TuHop for a hop fix, Amsterdam Tempest Imperial Stout for a slow sipper, and King Brewery’s Vienna Lager.  Further afield, I love beers from Dieu du Ciel, Charlevoix, 3 Floyds, Jolly Pumpkin, and Goose Island to name a few.

Most beers are meant to be enjoyed fresh so travelling to the brewery is the best way to enjoy them.  This year I plan to travel to California where the craft brewing scene is absolutely raging and I can’t wait to try their wares!

Q. How did you decide on brewing beer instead of becoming a wine maker?

When I worked at Fermentations, a homebrewing and home winemaking shop on the Danforth, I learned a bit about the art of winemaking.  I do love wine and enjoy day trips out to Niagara, especially the Beamsville Bench area to taste the spectacular Rieslings and Pinot Noirs.  It’s amazing to me, as a Torontonian brewer and lover of all things fermented, that we have one of the best wine producing regions in the world on our doorstep.

But I was always much more passionate about beer than wine – maybe because craft beer is a bit of an underdog in terms of the industry as a whole, but I saw the potential for so much more.  It’s really rewarding to work in an industry that is seeing such immense growth, and to be able to reach people on a personal level and re-introduce them to a beverage they thought they knew, or maybe thought they didn’t even like.

That being said, winemakers and brewers in Ontario are starting to work more closely together, and I think this is a great trend that will help push both industries forward.

Here’s a few more shots from Erica’s and Mill St’s Bridgid brewing day at Great Lakes:

Share and come out to the event March 25th to see these awesome female brewers!