The path to expertly brewing beer isn’t always straightforward.
It certainly wasn't for Ashley Kinart-Short, the master brewer for Peak Drift Brewing Company, a new massive brewing facility with a forthcoming taproom on North Main Street.
Kinart-Short's 15-year brewing career started while she was studying biology, preparing for a career in medicine. Today, she's a certified master brewer at downtown oyster bar and microbrewery Smoked and Peak Drift, one of the city's biggest upcoming breweries.
She's one of the only female master brewers in Columbia, and one of few in the state.
She fell in love with brewing after working in restaurants as a way to pay bills — starting with home-brewing while in Wisconsin and becoming over a decade of experience before packing her bags and moving to South Carolina.
Free Times talked with Kinart-Short about what it’s like being in Columbia, working in the industry and how the process has been since she started.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How does it feel to be here now, and to be working with Peak Drift considering it’s been a long-term dream of yours?
It’s amazing. The actual construction phase of both Smoked and our North Main facility took quite a bit longer than I wanted it to, so that wasn't exactly ideal. But at the end of the day, I learned so much from that process. Now that we're actually up and running, and selling beer out to the market, it's amazing to be able to go out and see our beer on tap somewhere. Just to know how hard I worked and how long we all kind of put time and energy into this. Now we're making it happen and we're up and running. It feels absolutely fantastic.
Brewing and breweries can very often be a traditionally male-dominated field, what's it like being a master brewer in this field?
I have been really lucky and really fortunate that most of my experiences have been very positive... When I brought my resume to Capitol Brewery in Wisconsin, I wasn't one of the dozens and dozens of “dude home brewers who just make beer in their garage and wanted to go work at a brewery.” It was one of the first resumes they saw from a female. If I would have been just some other guy with a beard and a flannel, they might have passed on my resume. There’s still a fraction of females to males when it comes to it, especially on the production side. But now you are seeing a lot more women getting involved in the production side of things and that’s really cool to see the progress that's come just since I've been in the industry.
Would you say being a woman, being from Wisconsin, that any of these differences shaped your relationship with brewing?
When I first got started, I think being a woman didn't really affect me so much. Outside of a couple opportunities that were presented to me, but as far as that goes, I don't think being a woman makes me doing my job any different. It's cool in the history of civilization with women — traditionally brewing beer because they were in the homes, making the food and keeping the family life together, while men were out either hunting and gathering or out in the field. It's fun to take that back in and come back around to something that traditionally was actually something women did. I really enjoy that from a historical perspective.
Being from Wisconsin definitely influences my brewing a lot. I grew up in Milwaukee area, so there is a super old culture of brewing in Milwaukee. That influences the style and the way that I put my beers together. Beer in general, in Wisconsin, is much more of a part of daily life.
To get into the details and craft of brewing, what specific things are you looking forward to, that you'll be doing with Peak Drift? A specific beer that you think is cool? A specific part of the brewing process?
We have a seasonal beer — we hesitate to call it seasonal, so on the box it says ‘seasonal, not seasonal,’ because Columbia doesn't really have the full four seasons. But that's a really cool opportunity to make a new beer every few months to bring out to the public.
The other rotating one that I have been having a lot of fun with is our fruited sour series. We like to call that the cobbler series. The peach cobbler was one that picked up and did great. Berry crumble was the first one I did in the kind of pastry or bakery-inspired sour beer. Just picking those fun, fruit flavors. We use real fruit puree in there, a whole bunch of cinnamon and vanilla, just making a really fun pastry or bakery inspired beer.
How would you describe the state of the brewing industry in South Carolina right now?
A couple of breweries in Columbia have closed down. But, at the same time, we're here and I know Bierkeller is working on a new facility. There's a couple of other brand new breweries that I've been hearing about. Post-pandemic a lot is going on. Craft beer, in South Carolina, is here to stay. For a while people were worried about the bubble bursting with craft beer and saying, 'How many breweries is too many?' There's still a ton of room for the small community breweries or the small craft breweries that are really there to feed the immediate needs of the neighborhoods.
How do you see Peak Drift playing into this? What do you think Peak Drift can bring to Columbia?
Both of these, Smoked and Peak Drift, turned around old abandoned buildings. The facility here on North Main actually had been abandoned for over 20 years. Taking these rundown and kind of nasty properties and turning them into that community building space. Once we have our restaurant and taproom and everything finished here, that will be big — obviously it's a huge building, I mean 6,000 square-feet is pretty big for a brewery. To take this empty space, turn it into something amazing and then turn it into kind of a meeting place, a community gathering spot. I hope that it'll shed some really positive light for beer and craft beer as a whole.