On July 13, prolific Columbia developers the Middletons named Ashley Kinart-Short the brewmaster at their forthcoming North Main Street brewery, which will occupy 60,000 square feet, and the accompanying Smoked restaurant and microbrewery on the 1600 block downtown.
Kinart-Short hails from Wisconsin and previously ran one of that state’s first craft breweries, Capital Brewing. Now taking over the forthcoming Peak Drift Brewing, she’s hoping to bring a balance between trendy and traditional beer styles — a lager and a hazy IPA, for instance.
In an interview with Free Times, she expanded on those desires, mentioning that she further hopes to focus on lower ABV styles. It fits the brewery's planned outdoorsy vibe, and her ambition to make it more than a place where one is just “sitting on a bar stool and drinking.”
In preparation for the new spots opening, Kinart-Short is currently brewing at her home. She teased that they have ambitious goals at Peak Drift, noting that there’s already space for expanded production capabilities, beyond what is already set out.
Kinart-Short also discussed her work in Wisconsin, her thoughts on her place in the city’s beer scene and handling the expectations that come with this ambitious project. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Free Times: How did you get into craft brewing?
Ashley Kinart-Short: I went to college at the University of Wisconsin. I was studying some pre-med stuff for a biology degree. I was bartending just to kind of pay the bills. While I was there I worked for a craft beer bar that served only Wisconsin beers and just really kind of fell in love with it with the industry.
At a certain point, I think they picked up on my enthusiasm and I was invited to go brew beer with some of the brewers. It was just, like, the coolest thing. I eventually decided that that was an industry in my life I wanted to go towards.
How would you describe the identity that you had built in Wisconsin with the type of beer you'd produce?
Capital Brewery was, I would say, one of the leaders of the craft community in Wisconsin. But at the same time, being one of the oldest companies in such a new market and how everything has exploded in the last few years, it was this definite kind of balance between tradition and being a staple of the community, versus just seeing how many new people are popping up and how we're coming into the market.
I think I learned a lot about tradition, and how much people really do still appreciate traditional beer styles. You have to be creative, you have to offer new things. And you have to kind of stay really flexible with some special releases and small batch limited releases.
How do you view the differences between Wisconsin and Columbia in terms of craft beer?
Wisconsin has a lot of German heritage. So lagers and German styles are just huge. Four or five years ago when lagers started kind of slowly coming into the craft market, people in Wisconsin would kind of laugh like, “Ha, that's funny. People are just starting to brew lagers.” We had all been doing them essentially forever, that was just a staple of our beer offerings. But it is good to see that people like Columbia Craft, they have a helles as one of their main beers out there. Steel Hands, their coffee lager is another. So it's good to see. It's not nearly as big as the amount of German styles and lagers in Wisconsin.
I definitely think there's quite a few more sour beers. I don't know if it's because it's so refreshing when it's super hot. I think down here everybody has at least one or a few. Where up there it was like only a handful of the breweries really felt strong in it and did some sour beer to sell. Which I'm excited about, I really like sour beer.
What’s your plan for the beers at Peak Drift? A broad range or more focused?
I think it's definitely gonna be a broad range. It's almost not fair to the customer if they come to a brew pub, and be like, “Oh, wow, there's only like this really small, little variety of beers here.” Nowadays, we have access to virtually any ingredient around the world. So there are no limits. So why back ourselves into a corner and call ourselves this type of brewery? We can be doing it all.
That being said, we're also going to be doing a lot of hard shelters and hard ciders as well. Seltzer is a relatively new thing. I think there's some people that are kind of hesitant to try to get into it. But it's clearly proven it's not going anywhere.
Within those types of things, we're gonna try to do some, some really fun, diverse offerings of each.
Does the size of the facility influence how you decide what to brew?
Yeah. So I'm not gonna say I'm gonna shy away from some of the barrel aged high gravity, because I definitely love making those types of beers. But at the end of the day, I know I really enjoyed the kind of return in the market toward session IPAs and kind of the lower alcohol. Even the hard seltzers, a lot of them are only 4 to 4.5 percent alcohol. It just encourages a more responsible, active way to enjoy alcoholic beverages. You can have one or two and still, you know, go hang out and do stuff. With our very outdoors, adventurous brand, I think there will be a lot of very sessionable and easy-drinking things.
You will be the first woman to lead a Columbia brewery. Is that important to you?
Absolutely. Just getting more diversity in craft beer in general has been something I've always kind of tried to work on. It was a bearded white dude industry for so long. And I think the best way to diversify the demographics is to start from the ground up. So by being a woman making beer, I didn't think I had a lot of power to do anything until people started telling me that, “Oh, my sister, my wife, my neighbor, so and so who doesn't like beer, won't drink beer, I told her that it's made by a woman. She drank it. And now she steals them every time she comes over.” So I think that was something that never occurred to me. That's kind of the power I have. Somebody who maybe thinks they don't like beer, simply because it's made by a woman, they're willing to at least try it.