Charlotte’s First Female Brewer
Across the country, in trendy watering holes and local dives, at patio tables and polished bars, Americans are drinking craft beer. It’s not just bearded, flanneled gentlemen drinking the bubbly beverage these days. In 2014, a reported 32% of craft beer consumed in our country was sipped and swilled by ladies. And yet, in that same year, a Stanford University study found that only 4% of American breweries had similarly sexed brewmasters or brewers at their head. It’s a notable disparity, and a common one: an industry whose fruits are shared by all, but whose leadership is traditionally doled out to guys. Fortunately, those are percentages that are quickly changing. The past few years have offered a marked increase in the number of female brewers, and even our own Southern city got her first First Lady in the form of Alexa Long.
Long’s ardor for ales is longstanding, beginning at the tender (and legal) age of 21. “I developed a serious passion for craft beer right when I was 21,” Long begins. “I was working at a craft beer bar and was introduced to it while I was finishing up my finance degree at UNCC. I knew I didn’t want to pursue a traditional job, so I decided to make a career out craft beer.”
When Long talks about her decision it seems like a casual one, but given the statistics, it’s anything but. In a male-dominated industry like craft beer, where hearty facial hair and biceps aren’t just the norm but practically a requirement, setting your sights on the physically demanding, practiced palate position of head brewer, well, it’s pretty darn bold.
“I always knew it was a male-dominated industry. When I worked at a home-brew store, everyone looked past me. Everyone wanted to talk to the guy with the beard,” Long says with a laugh. But she shrugs it off now, just as she did then. “I just love brewing,” she answers when asked if her breaking of industry standards was an intentional one.
Long polished her malt knowledge, like many local brewers, at Charlotte’s craft beer shop, Alternative Beverage. Most ladies interested in the beer industry tend to gravitate toward the business side, as a sales rep or in marketing, and Long nearly fell into such a traditional role. “I thought I wanted to be a sales rep originally,” she remembers. “To just drink and sell beer. But I’m just not as talkative as some of those sales folks, and that’s why I decided to go the brewery route.”
Rather than saddling up to the bar and hocking her brews, Long gets her hands dirty and her muscles sore behind the scenes. Her first brewing position at Heist Brewery proved to be the perfect, welcoming introduction. As a pilot brewer producing ten fun, small batches every month, Long developed her brewing chops and her recipe book. And then, a year ago this month, she helped open Legion Brewing.
At Legion, Long offers four flagships and rotates the other eight taps with seasonal brews. “The great thing about working at Legion is that, from the start, nobody was the least bit concerned about whether I was a female,” Long says. “It just doesn’t matter here, so everyone at Legion has always treated me just like everyone else. In fact, we have a number of strong women working at Legion, and we named a special brew, ‘Just a Regular Girl,’ to recognize all of them.”
Long was Charlotte’s first and only female Head Brewer, and given the greenness of the scene, she’s really helping to establish the local brewery culture as one that’s open to women. “The Charlotte brew scene is so young, really only five or six years old, and because it’s so young we’ve all grown up together,” she points out. “We all used to work at the home-brew store together, so we all know each other. It fosters this healthy competition, and forces everyone to up the quality, the diversity, and to develop a unique brand.” But it’s all still friendly; the brewers will call on their neighbors for the proverbial cup of sugar or, in this case, barrel of hops. In truth, it’s the best possible setting for a young, headstrong woman to break into a traditionally male industry.
Really though, Long doesn’t see herself as some pioneer or trailblazer. She may be carving a niche in a male-dominated industry, but to Long, she’s just a girl who loves her job.