Julia Herz, Executive Director of the American Homebrewers Association
At CraftBeerAustin.com we are proud to support women in beer. As we continue celebrating Women’s History Month in March, the significance of the plethora of talented brave women contributing to the craft beer world’s success can’t easily be ignored. For a list of stellar Women in Beer we have featured, check out our many features on CraftBeerAustin.com. (Spoiler alert, another inspiring woman’s story awaits!)
One beer guru with over 20 years of experience leading the charge is Julia Herz. A longtime beer advocate, educator, an award-winning homebrewer, BJCP beer judge, Advanced Cicerone®, and author extraordinaire of projects published on CraftBeer.com and Zymurgy Magazine, her resume seems truly tailored to impress. Most recently, she added her, now, third prestigious role at the Brewers Association, this time as Executive Director of the American Homebrewers Association® (AHA).
Herz so graciously sat down with me virtually to offer advice to the first-time homebrew attempter, encourage veteran beer makers to keep beering, and lovers of a brewski to keep cheersing! After all, beer is meant to be fun!
Herz has a soft spot for our Texas beer scene, noting that that fateful week in March 2020, she keynoted the Texas Craft Brewers Conference alongside the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. That memory and uncertainty the early days of Covid brought, remind us all just how much the world has changed. She smiles saying, “I love coming back to Texas. So much of what’s going on in Texas is really cutting edge,” adding how eager she is to make her way back eventually to the Lone Star State and raise a pint to the exciting innovation and fellowship that cold sudsy beverage continues to inspire.
Herz’s History in Homebrewing
Herz was bitten by the curious beer bug at a young age. Even at ten years old, seeing her older brother’s beer can collection with all the vibrant colors, smells, and diverse producers from all over the world, she wanted to learn more. “I always really wanted to brew. I really was kind of on my own volition to just say, ‘Oh, I’m going to do that… Never mind, ‘Can I do it?’ or ‘How do I do it?’ she says. “When I was 21, me and my friend Charlie Gunn brewed a Scottish ale. It was definitely an all extract kit that we had bought. But to us, it was like the best thing we had ever made. I remember bottling it, handing it to our friends and we were just amazed that it turned out so good. So from there, there was no turning back…”
Herz’s first-authored column for Zymurgy Magazine reminisces on her first big beer festival out west. She spent much of that day as she says, “stalking, like literally tracking judges” in hopes of getting a sneak peek into what the world of beer judging and sorting looked like. At that moment she says, “I pieced it together and sat for BJCP exam then became certified. I’m now an advanced Cicerone. It’s one competition, one study group, one testing situation at a time. That’s another great way to get into beer and learn more about the beer and I would encourage anyone that’s into brewing to also consider judging through the Beer Judge Certification Program. The resources are very prolific, the AHA helped start the BJCP and that organization is going strong with thousands of judges in the ranks, and the competitions in 2022 are still continuing. When you’re a BJCP judge there are lots of great furthering education opportunities to dive in on the sensory side as a beer judge, particularly through those competitions.”
Homebrewing with Brewers Association
Although Herz has held several prestigious positions in the beer industry, she’s excited to be representing the home brewing realm. She jokes, “Personally, I am so excited to brew on the job,” but also continues that it’s all about connecting with people. Making beer is what she loves to do and being given the platform to elevate how rewarding the process is, thrills her.
Stepping into this celebrated role for an association that’s 40+ years strong and has over 36k members is not for the faint of heart. When it comes to her near-term goals Herz states, “I plan to listen, learn, do a lot of assessment on what our opportunities are. Where are our roadblocks, what are our strengths, what are our weaknesses, what are our needs to then help us help homebrewers meet their goals?” She continues, “In this era, what are we missing on technology? What are we doing that’s a home run?… People communicate differently and prefer different communication platforms… where are clubs struggling, where are they having a lot of good success? What’s hot in home brewing?” Constantly evolving and remaining agile is Herz and her team’s focus for 2022 and beyond.
Photo credit to Nate Simmons; Julia Herz homebrewing up a storm
Where to Start as a Homebrewer?
When asked what her advice to anyone, but specifically women interested in homebrewing would be, Herz detailed her frustration. Elaborating, “I’d like in our lifetime not to deal with our gender first and foremost. When you can talk to a man, it’s not like we’re dealing with the fact or acknowledging the fact that you’re a male first… we just accept it right? We were the first brewers, women were, historically, in many parts of the globe brewing first and foremost, and women today are a very prolific part of brewing from the ownership level to the brewhouse to the front of house.”
Although women often have bias and barriers to overcome, she encourages anyone interested, no matter their age, gender, or otherwise to give it a go! Her first tip is to check out HomeBrewersAssociation.org. “It’s an amazing resource,” she raves, “We have an easy guide to making beer and take into account beginner brewers. If you can make soup, you can make beer. And then if you want to get as complicated as being a soufflé chef you can geek out and go all-grain!” HomeBrewersAssociation.org has 1k+ recipes, from national gold medal winners to clones of your favorite craft beer brands. Hertz recommends sticking to something approachable, and something you’d like to drink. “Learn learn learn,” she adds.
Finding community is Herz’s true plug. According to her, AHA boasts over 1M active estimated US members who are more than happy to collaborate and share their knowledge. “Geeking out and mentoring is a really big part of it. Most any problem, if you’ve tossed it out at any of the forums, members are ready to help you solve the problem and help you narrow down on the specific answer. Maybe it was a temperature issue and that’s why your yeast stalled…And that’s why your beer tastes really sweet and under-attenuated… but you know it fermented it just doesn’t taste finished? Well, it might take three or four people to help you assess that online but people are always there. I love a lot of the problem-solving that I see out there, people trying to help each other.”
These days, you don’t have to brew five to ten-gallon batches and can focus on small kits that allow you to make even one gallon at a time. She suggests buying a kit from your local homebrew supply shop versus an Amazon-like retailer simply because of the automatic service you’ll receive. If you have a question or a problem, you can call the small shop because your relationship didn’t end with the credit card swipe. They’re there to back that sale.
Today’s Brewing Climate + Opening Doors for Women
In terms of Herz’s thoughts on what the current brewing climate is for women, she notes, “I would say that is literally one of the biggest questions I’m getting asked. It’s even more relevant today since the craft beer space went through a refreshing reckoning.”
Herz is referencing the overwhelming response to Brienne Allan’s (@RatMagnet on Instagram) May 2021 question if others in the beer community had experienced harassment. Thousands of stories poured in from female, non-binary, BIPOC, and LGBTQA+ beer professionals about their experiences with assault, sexism, harassment, and racism in the industry. This “BEVOLUTION” to honor all who have spoken out and to also bring future awareness to these issues has led to the Brave Noise Beer collab initiative, advocating for safe, inclusive, and discrimination-free spaces within the craft beer universe.
Herz elaborates, “I have a lot of thoughts. I’m encouraged but the progress is slow. I really, really feel strongly. I’m so much into this topic, I’ll be speaking at the Women in Craft Conference tied to the Craft Beer Expo in Louisville, Kentucky in March. The title of my talk is ‘Refreshing Reckoning? Maybe, Maybe Not.’ It’s the entire premise of my talk. I think the important part of this conversation is to realize that men and women should now openly talk about the issue that does exist where, women especially, experience bias, harassment, assault. Terrible, systemic, generational issues that are not going away and we need to talk about and accept them more, but we also need more tools. More empowerment, on how to hold each other accountable.”
She applauds many visible efforts actively working to create safe spaces for all. Safe Bars offers on-premise training through their SAFE Bars P.A.C.T, and many national organizations like the American Society Brewing Chemists, Master Brewers Association of America, and Cicerone, are all making headway in offering accessible tools, as well as standards for benchmarking progress.
Photo credit to Nate Simmons; Julia Herz enjoying a pint
What’s Your Current Beer of Choice?
As a Colorado resident, Herz is currently embracing the chill and cozying up to the stout train. During our chat, she pointed out three boxes of her Cherry Chica Stout just waiting to carbonate. This beer is not only a Herz-made mainstay but also a Beer Judge Certification Competition medal winner that was made in February for Stout Month alongside her friend Elizabeth. Keep an eye out as you will soon find the recipe published and available for your own kitchen brewing pleasure!
When she’s not enjoying the fruits of her own labor, Herz is currently loving fresh hoppy German, Bohemian, Czech, and Italian Pilsners. “Those are very different styles, but different beer different day. You know what I mean? she laughs, continuing, “We all love hops. I like hops with delicate nuance though. I also really like a lower ABV approach. I love Pilsner malt and that graham cracker malt flavor.”
In conclusion, Herz encourages, “I just think, if you’re into beer, you know, join us as a homebrewer. The American Homebrewers Association website is there for you. I think supporting your local craft brewery and independent craft journalists is key and keep it fun. If it’s ever not fun, take a step back.” Just like any other hobby, baking, paragliding, crafting, she points out that the beer-making hobby is one you can admire daily. “All day long all week long in my house I can see my carboy bubbling from across the room. I can smell it and gauge its progress. And then beyond brew day and the fermentation process when it’s all said and done. I can hand people my beer, and that’s one of the most special things to be able to do. I absolutely love it.”
Follow Julia on her website, Instagram, or Twitter to catch her future speaking engagements and congratulate her on her exciting new role. If you’re a Texas homebrewer and would like to have Herz speak at your event, reach out to her for availability. Join her the week of June 23rd for the National Homebrew Competition and Homebrew Con in Pittsburgh this year, where she’ll be judging. Keep supporting your local breweries and the human stories behind their success!
[Feature photo credit to Nate Simmons]