Crafty Brews: Beer Sommelier Paige Reilly Explains Why Women Should Embrace the Craft Beer Boom

“Being one of the only few females back when I first started meant I really had to know what I was talking about, and it made me realize how passionate I truly was for this industry.”

Paige Reilly of New Original Breweries
Paige Reilly of New Original Breweries

There was a time when beer time meant bro time: Frat guys at keg parties. Men gathering to watch the big game. Dudes unwinding at the local bar after a long day’s work. While those scenarios aren’t exactly a thing of the past, beer drinking is no doubt seeing more women in its future.

It’s a slow-moving trend, but according to a 2018 Brewers Association study, women comprise a growing segment of craft beer drinkers. There’s also a number of women-run breweries around the world.

Making her own mark in the beer world is Paige Reilly. One of the driving forces in LA’s craft beer boom, this native East Coaster has worked in every aspect of the beer industry including restaurants, breweries, distributors, brewers guilds and event committees.

As the Director of Operations at New Original Breweries, the brewpub division of Artisanal Brewers Collective, which owns about a dozen restaurants and bars throughout Southern California, she has helped shape the craft beer scene in one of the largest and most competitive cities in the country.

The first-ever beer sommelier to garner Zagat’s “30 Under 30” honor in 2012, Paige also helped launch and expand Los Angeles Beer Week and the Los Angeles Vegan Beer and Food Festival.

She’s also a certified draft technician and a member of the Pink Boots Society, a non-profit that supports women working in the brewing industry.

I caught up with the beerpreneur to learn more about craft beer, why she encourages all women to give it a go, and how her mom was actually the one who set her on the path to ale.

Go ahead ... grab a cold one
Go ahead … grab a cold one

Hi Paige. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with Homegirl Talk. Tell us about yourself and how you got into the beer world. Were you already a beer lover?

I got into craft beer during college when I was studying abroad in the Czech Republic. It was amazing how beer was truly a part of their communities and culture, not just a drink for drink’s sake. These breweries were hundreds of years old with so much history and heritage.

When I got back to LA, I wondered if there was a similar history and community in the US that I had never noticed. I was very lucky that just as I was exploring, the craft beer industry was really hitting Los Angeles, and I fell in love with both the community and the beverage pretty instantly.

A lot of us don’t know much about beer, much less craft beer. What exactly is craft beer?

The technical definition of craft beer according the American Brewers Association is any brewery that makes less than 6 million barrels of beer per year and is 25% or less owned by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself ‘craft.’

That being said, I think craft means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For me, craft beer is beer made by people who care about what they are doing and who strive to make the best product they can every time.

What do you think accounts for the growing interest in craft beer?

I think people today, in every industry, are interested in buying products that mean something to them and to the people making them. The reason I became interested in craft beer was because of the community that was built around it, just as much as the liquid itself, and I think more and more people are catching onto that.

Craft beer gives you something to talk to your bartender about, or the person sitting next to you at a pub. Nothing makes me happier than hearing two patrons at The Stalking Horse discussing our newest cask ale and all of its nuances.

Craft beer gives you a reason to think about what you are drinking and to think about the people it took to make that drink. I think more and more of the world wants an experience with everything they do, and craft beer is in itself a full experience.

The interior of 6th & La Brea in Los Angeles
The interior of 6th & La Brea in Los Angeles

What’s your advice to young women out there who are interested in craft beer?

Start drinking and start talking! I got my start in the industry by sitting at a beer bar in Hollywood called Blue Palms Brewhouse and tasting at least one new beer every day. The more I sat at that bar, the more brewers, beer reps and craft beer geeks I met that taught me more and more about beer.

I kept a beer journal of every beer I tried with my tasting notes, and every person I met (with notes on them too, haha). I got all of my future job offers by sitting at that bar, including meeting Tony Yanow, my partner here at New Original Breweries. There is no fast track into beer that is a substitute for really knowing the product and the people in the industry.

Men have long dominated the beer industry. What’s been your experience as a female director of operations in the beer world? Have you felt like you had to work harder than your male counterparts?

I believe I work harder than some of my male counterparts just because that is who I am, woman or not. I have always seen being a female in the beer industry as a positive. It allowed me to stand out and gave me the opportunity to impress people even more than their expectations may have heeded.

I think being one of the only few females back when I first started meant I really had to know what I was talking about, and it made me realize how passionate I truly was for this industry. If my path would have been any different or easier, maybe I wouldn’t have studied so hard or pushed to have as many experiences as I did, and then I wouldn’t be able to be as proud as I am today.

To me, being a female in the beer industry has been a blessing, and I would encourage any other women to get involved.

Craft beers come in all colors and flavors
Craft beers come in all colors and flavors

What are some of your favorite craft beers?

My all-time favorite beer will always be Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I’m a purest and a traditionalist, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has just been perfect since 1980. The beer can be overlooked for not being revolutionary enough in today’s industry, but none of us would be here today, or have the luxuries of being revolutionary, if it weren’t for this beer. It also tastes awesome.

Lately, however, I have gotten very into brut-style IPA’s. It is my favorite style that I didn’t even know I needed. Clean, dry, but still with huge hop character and some body. We make a killer version at 6th & La Brea called BIKES?! that is 5.5% and amazing.

What would you recommend to someone who isn’t sure they like beer? Is there some sort of a “gateway” beer?

The first thing I would say is, ‘Samples are free!’ haha. It never hurt anyone to try some beer, so try a bunch!

A lot of people go directly to the lightest beers when looking for a gateway, but often, these are actually not the best gateways because they can taste the most like that yellow fizzy stuff that people think they don’t like.

When I am trying to find a new beer drinker the perfect beer, I always start by asking them what they do enjoy drinking. If they are red wine drinkers, for example, I may start them with a super chocolatey stout with a bunch of booze, or a Belgian-style quad. Both give them a lot of the same tasting notes of a full-bodied, dark fruity cabernet or zinfandel.

If someone tells me they are a gin drinker, maybe I’ll try them on something with some real aromatics, like a traditional Belgian-style saison. I have always said there is a beer for everyone, we just have to find it by playing to the guests’ strengths.

Craft beer at The Stalking Horse in LA
Craft beer at The Stalking Horse in LA

What’s a beer you would like to see made in the future?

All I can say is that I’m excited to taste all of what’s next!

What are the trends you see coming up for craft beer?

As mentioned before, brut IPA’s are coming up quickly, and I couldn’t be happier. They are an awesome juxtaposition to the juicy hazy IPAs people are liking right now. Also, I am so happy to see ABV (alcohol by volume) coming down in general.

For a while, it seemed like the trend was ‘who can make the most alcoholic beer?’ But over the past year or so, more and more brewers have taken on the challenge of creating flavorful beers that you can actually have a session with at your local pub.

Lastly, I think localism is becoming more and more important, and it is exactly the reason we are building New Original Breweries. Everyone wants the freshest beer they can possibly get, because that is how beer drinks best.

The closer you are to the source, the fresher your beer will be. Our pubs are purposefully put into the center of communities so that we can be your provider of fresh, local, craft beer.

Beer, food and good times abound at 6th & La Brea
Beer, food, and good times at 6th & La Brea

What’s the best advice you ever received that you would like to share with other women?

When I was 22 years old and had just graduated college, I was living 3,000 miles away from my family on the East Coast and realizing that what I thought my five-year plan was going to be was absolutely wrong for me. I called my mom sobbing hysterically.

After a pause on the phone, my Long Island bred, Jewish, wanting-me-to-marry-a-doctor, vodka-drinking mother, who was still very much in the middle of paying for my very expensive 4-year college education, said to me with more excitement than I can explain, ‘What about beer?! You really like beer!’

Although I don’t think she ever thought it would go quite this far, what she was telling me was to do what I love to do, and nothing short of that.

If you do what you love, it will never feel like work a day in your life. I am so happy today — 13 years after that phone call — to say I haven’t worked a day since!

Feeling crafty? Be sure to check out Artisanal Brewers Collective for some of the latest and greatest brews. 

Written by Mar Yvette

Mar Yvette is an on-air host, lifestyle expert, writer and editor with 10+ years of experience working with some of the world’s most recognized media companies.