Crafty Beer Girls | The Daily Feed

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Crafty Beer Girls

Chatting with the duo behind the local beer blog.

Posted By on June 15, 2016, 1:00 AM

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The beer culture in Utah has become solid as mahogany, branching off into various directions and also carrying with it a lot of splinters. There's about 20 different levels of beer crafting in this state, from the professionals who are trying new things all the way down to your Uncle Jim who grows his own hops next to the utility shed, all striving to create a better-tasting beer than the 3.2% we've been given. (That's what you get for being dicks to people, DABC.) There are a few different blogs who taste and keep track of things as they happen, and one of the newest players in that game are the Crafty Beer Girls, two friends who go drink beer and blog about it, all sponsored by local brewery Red Rock. Today we chat with the pair about their lives and starting up the blog. (All pictures provided courtesy of Craft Beer Girls.)

Jenni Shafer & Lauren Lerch
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CraftyBeerGirls.com

Gavin: Hey Jenni and Lauren! First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Jenni:
I'm a Utah native, the oldest of a big LDS family, raised with a love of the outdoors. I like to snowboard, ski and mountain bike. I've been a massage therapist for the past 15 years, and I’m married to a local sports/outdoor photographer, Photo-John.

Lauren: Heyooo! I’m from the East Coast. I grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I’m a middle child, 28 years old, and a big-time lover of beer. When I was 10, I thought I wanted to be a professional break dancer. At 14, a jazz guitarist. At 20, a music educator. And now? I want to brew beer. It’s extremely fascinating to me, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

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How did each of you end up taking an interest in beer and brewing?

Jenni:
I've been a beer lover for a long time. Who can say why, but there's just something about it! This past year, since we started writing the blog, I've learned so much more than I ever knew before, and my love has really grown. I always said that I'd rather drink beer than brew it, but now that I've learned more about the process, I'm thinking about giving it a try, if for no other reason than as a learning experience. I also really love the beer community here. It's been fun getting to know other beer geeks and folks in the industry.

Lauren: My first impression of beer was that it tasted like awful pretzel water. Does anyone like beer the first time they drink it? I would probably still hate beer if my friends hadn’t been so fond. Soon, I was visiting breweries, taking tours and writing all about it on a personal blog. It wasn’t until I moved to Utah that beer became more than a tasty thing to drink. I was working at Whiskey Street in Downtown SLC when I developed a more serious interest in beer. I learned about the Cicerone Certification Program through a few co-workers and decided to give the first level a go. Immediately after passing, I decided to carry on with the second level, Certified Cicerone. It became pretty clear to me a job in the beer industry was just what I needed.

Lauren, you started out on the East Coast. How was it for you getting into brewing your own beers?

Lauren:
The East Coast is a great place to take baby steps with beer, or any steps, really. The laws are friendly, and the distribution is great. I didn’t start brewing beer until after I moved to Utah two and a half years ago, but my beer experiences back east were a big part of my decision to homebrew. I actually haven’t been homebrewing for very long. It’s been about a year and a half. My first home brew happened shortly before I was hired to work at the beer store at Red Rock Brewing Company. Working in the production brewery gave me access to the brewers and their infinitely helpful insight. In between helping customers, I was asking the brewers questions about sparging, how to build a mash tun and brewing efficiency, among many other topics. Where I am now is a testament to their patience and depth of knowledge. It’s hard not to take it all in when you’re submerged in the environment every day.

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What was it like for you learning how to do it, and what favorites did you create?

Lauren:
Learning how to brew beer isn’t as difficult as it sounds. It takes a large investment of time and money, but the results are well worth it. My first homebrew took nine hours. Now, a brew day is between five and six hours. I didn’t know any homebrewers when I started, so I read a lot of books and watched videos. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there! I followed what I thought was best. Each time I brew, my process is a little different. There’s always room for improvement, which is why taking notes is crucial.

Jenni: You make me want to try it!

Lauren: Some of my favorite home brews have been an 8% Chocolate Cherry Stout and a 9.3% Lemon Saison. I’ve got a few other homebrews bottle conditioning right now that might make the list as well.

I read you traveled around a bit and worked various jobs. What eventually brought you out to Utah and what made you stay?

Lauren:
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Oregon, Australia, Montana and Utah are all places I have called home for at least a few months (in that order). I’ve worked in retail, warehouses, call centers, liquor stores and lots of restaurants. Each had its perks, but none enough to consider doing forever. My boyfriend Erik and I moved to Utah with the intention of working a winter seasonal job, and then flitting off to somewhere else the following summer. When I started working at Red Rock, it felt like a workplace that I wasn’t just tolerating, but one that I looked forward to. Erik felt the same at his job, and so we stuck around. Had we felt differently, we’d probably be in another state or country tolerating a high-paying server job and pining for the next location, wherever that may be. It feels good to be in a place and know you want to stay for more than a few months. I don’t think we’ll be leaving anytime soon.

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Jenni, you grew up here. How was it for you growing up with our weird liquor laws?

Jenni:
I'd say ignorance is bliss. I didn't know anything different. I remember the first time I went to Boise, Idaho for a visit. I went into a convenience store and there was this whole walk-in cooler full of beer. I couldn't believe my eyes! It seems silly, but I'd never seen a whole room full of beer before. I feel like every time I get out of state, I'm a kid in a candy store. I actually wanted to leave Utah for a while because of the restrictive laws. I stayed for the mountains, and eventually realized that it's really not so bad here. The laws are inconvenient, but you can still drink, and we have some awesome breweries! I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

You went more of just the beer-drinking path. What drinks did you first enjoy that got you loving beer?

Jenni:
I graduated slowly, like many do. I can remember trying Guinness for the first time and getting really excited. After that, I was into dark beers like Captain Bastard's Oatmeal Stout from Squatters. Then one afternoon, I was eating at the Wing Coop after snowboarding and had a pitcher of Wildfire (Uinta, Wyld). I could taste the hops and was amazed that such a light beer could have so much flavor. It was probably around that time that I began my obsession with IPAs. Drinking my first Elephino from Red Rock was a religious experience, and I've loved it ever since.

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When did the two of you first meet each other and become friends?

Jenni: 
Robert Jensen, who owns Red Rock, put us together. I've known him for a long time through my massage business, and we would always talk about beer. He was actually the one who had the idea for a blog about beer from the female perspective. He asked if I was interested and introduced Lauren and I through email. We met over coffee, and I could immediately see why he put us together. She's a kindred spirit. I credit Bob for an inspired pairing!

Lauren: Yes, Bob is the matchmaker for blog writers. I’m sure there’s a market for that somewhere ... I had written a blog post or two for the Red Rock Brewery website before Bob approached me about a separate blogging project with his beer-loving friend Jenni. Beer makes it easy to be friends with most people. Jenni’s go-getter personality and ability to get shit done make it even easier. It just works!

How did the idea of starting up your own beer blog come about?

Jenni:
When Bob started mentioning the idea to me, I liked it, but I didn't know if he was really serious. I figured there are a lot of people out there with more expert knowledge of beer than I possess. But, I've always enjoyed writing, and I knew it would be an opportunity to finally be able to do more of it. And what better subject? When I met Lauren and realized how knowledgeable she is, I felt a little intimidated, but also inspired by her! I knew the combination of the two of us could work out very well.

Lauren: For me, blogging in the past has been a way to organize my thoughts and document the good times I’ve had over a pint. I never thought it would turn into something I could be paid for, or even something I would do collaboratively with someone else. Jenni is a great partner in beer. She has a more consumer-driven perspective that a lot of people can relate to while also having great photography and social media chops. I’m lucky to have her on my side!

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Aside from getting you together, what role does Red Rock play in sponsoring the blog?

Jenni:
 They set up our blog and pay us something to write it each week. But, we have full creative control to write about whatever we want. It's about getting people excited about beer in general so we try to spread the love as much as we can.

Lauren: Robert Jensen was already my boss at Red Rock, so it was a natural development for me. We’re paid to make blog posts, and they will periodically share one of our posts on the Red Rock Facebook page. That gives us a nice traffic boost, which is rewarding all on its own.

What's the process for you both when deciding what you want to write about?

Jenni:
We just write about whatever is inspiring us at the time. I do a lot of event pieces, so it depends on what is going on in the beer world. We also have a list of subjects that we know we want to write about eventually. We can pull from that if we aren't sure what to do. Travel and road trips also make for good material. Really, anything entertaining or educational that we can tie to beer is a potential blog post.

Lauren: So far, neither of us have decided to write a post about something the other was also planning to write about. That is a mighty beautiful thing! If ever it happens, I imagine we’ll have to have a beer-off of sorts. Maybe we’d have to let our readers decide exactly what that means… if it ever happens!

Jenni: Well, there was that time you wrote about holiday beer. But, it worked out fine because I’d already drank so much pumpkin beer for my article about embracing pumpkin beer, that I was kind of relieved. I ended up doing a holiday gift guide for beer lovers instead.

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Are there any particular criteria when trying out a beer for the blog? Or just whatever you feel like drinking?

Jenni:
It's pretty much whatever we feel like. Or whatever is new and/or interesting. So far we've resisted actually reviewing beer. We want to be informative, but we don't want to tell people what to drink. We realize that everyone has different tastes and that’s okay!

Lauren: I drink any and every variety of beer I can, even if I know I won’t like it. A bad beer is a good learning opportunity, and I’m all for that. We don’t have a lot of rules for picking beer or topics to write about. As long as we’re courteous and don’t go bashing anything, it’s fair game.

How has it been building an audience and getting people to check out your work?

Jenni:
I think so far we’ve just been really focused on doing quality work. If we can do that, we hope people will want to read it. I’ve been happy with the feedback so far. Our following seems to be growing slow and steady. We even got a shout-out from Utah Beer Blog, which was a great endorsement!

Lauren: Like Jenni said, we’re more concerned with the content than the audience. If I write something and I like it, then I’m happy with my work. If I write something and someone else likes it, then that’s even better! I’ve been recognized by strangers a few times, which is pretty cool/weird. I guess we’re doing something right!

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Have you heard back from any of the breweries about the articles you've done?

Jenni:
Definitely! 2 Row Brewing, Epic Brewing, Avenue’s Proper, Maple Mountain Brew Co, breweries featured on the blog, have expressed approval and gratitude. We also try to be active on social media which is where we get most of our interaction. Lots of “likes” on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook from breweries everywhere who make the beer we’re drinking. Lauren got some good feedback from Certified Cicerone on her article about research materials. They even linked to it on their site.

Where do you hope to take the site in the years to come?

Jenni: 
Right now, I think we’d be happy to be able to keep doing it. Eventually, I’d like to see it get prominent enough to be self-sustaining. Currently, I spend everything I get paid on beer and beer events. We put a lot of time into it so it would be nice have it really pay off, but it’s a labor of love, too. It’s sort of its own reward.

Lauren: In the years to come, I hope to have some more reader-involvement. I’m not sure yet what that might entail, but I know people are more likely to read things they and the people they know are involved in. I’d really like to write about some of the most influential people in the Salt Lake beer scene, too. Oh! I think it would be neat to turn Crafty Beer Girls into a sort of ambassador team for Red Rock beer. We could be like the Bud Lite girls, but without the fake tits and fake interest in beer. Oops… I broke one of our rules.

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What can we expect from both of you and the blog over the rest of 2016?

Jenni:
I have a few things up my sleeve. I plan to do a follow-up on the Beer & Cheese Pairing I did with Harmons updated for summer. I also have a road trip planned for Labor Day weekend that will include some brewery visits. I’m really looking forward to that!

Lauren: I love writing about my beer adventures, and there are always plenty of those. My hopes are to experience my first trip to GABF (Great American Beer Festival) this year, and you can count on a blog post from that if I go. I, too, have a beer pairing post in mind. It’s not the same as Jenni’s though, so there will be no beer-off yet.

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