Before the sun comes up most days, Alexandra Nowell is already at work in her stainless steel brewhouse at Three Weavers Brewing in Inglewood. On a recent Wednesday, wearing steel-toed brewing boots and fitted jeans, she grabs a hulking 55-pound sack of grain, cuts open the top and hoists it shoulder-height, dumping the grains into the nearby mill. The metal monster of a crushing device grinds the grains and deposits them into the mash tun, a giant steeping vessel of gurgling hot water. There, the sugars will be extracted.
Then Nowell does the same with 17 more giant bags, which will make one batch of beer.
Since she is creating double batches, multiply by two the 1,000 pounds that she (along with an assistant brewer) just lifted, and that's literally a ton of grain. All the spent grain must be scooped out of the mash tun, put into oil drums and moved onto a palette to be picked up by a local farmer, who feeds it to his livestock. Repeat that process three days a week. That's the manual labor that goes into beers such as Three Weavers' fine extra special bitter, Deep Roots ESB.
In an industry dominated by men, Nowell is the only female brewmaster in Greater Los Angeles and one of only a handful of women brewmasters in California.
“There's nothing glamorous about it, but it's fun and it's a lifestyle,” the 30-year-old says, with a slight lisp and an easy smile. “I'm always working, but there's something about the industry that's fulfilling to me.”
After studying religion and photography in her native Florida, Nowell moved west to take a paid internship at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, the biggest town in the rural northern Sacramento Valley. She turned out to be quite a bit more than an intern, learning all she could about ingredients and writing a training program on brewery operations. She later used all that knowledge to her advantage and was eventually hired as lead brewer at Bay Area powerhouse Drake's Brewing, where she was at the time the only woman on the brew team.
She moved to Southern California in early 2013 and took a job as head brewer at Kinetic Brewing in L.A.'s high-desert suburb of Lancaster — and promptly went to work tweaking Kinetic's house favorites, Potential Blonde and Torque session ale. That October, her altered recipes won two bronze medals at the Great American Beer Festival, an impressive feat for a young brewer.
“People are sometimes surprised when they learn that I'm the one who brews the beers, but I'm used to it at this point,” Nowell says. “These days, though, most beer drinkers are so disconnected from the industry that they see the tap handle and don't even think about the person behind it.”
Nowell opened Three Weavers in 2014 with financial planner Lynne Weaver, another standout in L.A.'s growing craft beer scene. Weaver named the brewery after her three children, and today the brewery serves as a hub for women working in the craft beer industry.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Chapter of the Pink Boots Society – an international organization that aims to empower female beer professionals – held its second meeting in the Three Weavers taproom, with Nowell serving as president.
A week later, on March 8, her brewhouse hosted L.A.'s contribution to a global movement known as International Women's Collaboration Brew Day — a day when a beer dubbed Unite was brewed simultaneously by groups of female brewers around the world. Proceeds from sales of the beer will go directly to the Pink Boots Society's scholarships and programs for girls and women.
L.A.'s Pink Boots Society is made up of dozens of ladies earning at least some of their income from craft beer, working in jobs ranging from assistant brewers to bar managers to distribution representatives to marketing managers (the author of this story is a journalist member).
“L.A. is very progressive as far as having a diverse group of women in the beer industry, but it's definitely not a universal thing,” says Frances Lopez, social media manager at Golden Road Brewing, which is located in an industrial area adjacent to Glendale. Lopez, co-founder of the Pink Boots Society's L.A. chapter, says, “In New Orleans as recently as a few years ago, there was only one Pink Boots Society member — and she works in a tasting room.”
Women have always had held leadership roles in L.A.'s brewing industry: Two of the first three breweries in Los Angeles County (Ladyface Ale Companie and Eagle Rock Brewery) were founded by women. And you're just as likely to see a woman behind the bar, in a sales position and at the taproom as you are a dude. Through mentorship and organizations such as the Pink Boots Society, that diversity may translate into more female brewers, like Nowell, making waves in the national craft beer scene.
“I don't need to prove anything,” Nowell says. “My beer speaks for itself.”