Johanna Foege is total quality manager at Perennial Artisan Ales in south St. Louis’ Patch neighborhood.
What do you do every day?
As total quality manager here, I manage every aspect of quality at the brewery starting from monitoring beer as it’s in the process of fermentation. I check the gravity, make sure the yeast is consuming all the sugar at the appropriate rate, monitoring the pH, tasting the beer through the fermentation process, checking for off-flavors and then also doing plating of the beer, making sure we don’t have any unwanted contaminants , all the way through to when we stop the fermentation process.
It’s already done, so we actually, it’s called crashing.We turn the temperature down and all the yeast drops out, and at that point we’ll move the beer over and (create the carbonation). So then I’m making sure that we’re at the right carb levels and keeping track of what beer batch number is in what package, packaged on what date, and then I’m keeping inventory of that, going back and testing those products.
As we’re packaging a beer, we’ll have employees go taste the beer, fill out a form — takes 5-10 minutes —and give me feedback on if they think it’s great or if there’s something that could be better. So we just have a lot of data on that and we can really look back and reflect on, was there something different about this beer that was awesome or this beer that was slightly less good? And obviously, that would help catch any larger red flags before the beer would be packaged and released.
How did you get started in this position?
I was working at Washington University in a ... developmental biology program, really working with genetics research.
I literally created this job. Every bit of it. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. I came in here expecting to interview and learn how to cellar and brew, and (brewmaster Phil Wymore) is like, “Oh, I was thinking we could use a scientist that might want to work on a quality control program.” This was the same time that my now-fiancé was getting a job in Detroit, and it was like, I guess I’m not moving to Detroit. I can’t. This is not the kind of opportunity you can pass up.
What drew you to the beer industry?
I got interested in craft beer maybe eight years ago, and really just kind of started exploring different beers, and figuring different things out. I started homebrewing about five years ago and really enjoyed it as a scientist. I really enjoyed learning what the yeast was doing behind the scenes. The yeast is making the beer, so I really liked digging into the scientific aspect of it, as well.
What can you do about breaches of quality in the brewing process?
It can happen all throughout the process. Every single step.
If the brewer noticed while they were brewing the beer, they would definitely let me know. Everybody would taste it and see how it compared. Usually, at that point we already have the tank space reserved for it, so we’ll let it ferment and see what it turns into. Maybe schedule a backup batch.
We are absolutely not afraid to dump batches of beer. That’s I think what sets a good brewery apart from a normal one. It’s not how much beer you dump, because you shouldn’t be messing up, but it’s not a perfect world, right? Even if everything on the brew side went perfect, sometimes yeast just doesn’t do what it needs to do for whatever reason.
What’s the Pink Boots Society, of which you helped to form a local chapter?
Pink Boots Society is an international society for women in the brewing industry. Really any woman whose profession touches the beer industry can be a part of it. We could have bloggers, beer writers, tasting room staff, brewers, quality control, really any woman that has a percentage, maybe 50 percentage of her income can be part of it. So it’s not just like a homebrewers’ society or anything. It is for women professionals in the beer industry, and the goal of the society overall is to empower women and get them networking skills, get them more knowledge.
So one of the biggest requirements about when you’re hosting a Pink Boots meeting, which I think we have six a year, a large aspect of that meeting has to be an educational portion.
Our first meeting was in April. I started it with Troy Bedik of Civil Life, she’s a brewer at Civil Life. She’s the one who convinced me to join Pink Boots Society. She had been a member for a few years, and she had gotten a scholarship — they do scholarships every month for women, for professional development. So she had convinced me to join last year, and just a whole year later, we’re like, “Why don’t we finally have a chapter?” We have around 30 members now.
How has being a woman affected your personal experience in science and in the beer industry?
I grew up in a family with two brothers and my dad. My mom died when I was 9, so I think I’ve pretty much always been more comfortable around men anyway. So it was a fairly natural transition for me. And really just this past year, I’ve started telling myself that I need to really embrace the fact that I’m a woman both in science and in the beer industry, and just really let that come out. I don’t feel like I just have to pretend to be one of the guys. Just like really embrace the fact that I’m a woman, and I think it’s been a lot more accepting than I think I was expecting it to be. I’d always just been kind of afraid.
What character trait has made you most successful?
I think we’ll call it perseverance. It’s beer, but it’s science. There’s a lot of failures, but you’ve just got to learn from them and figure out how to get around them.