Third Street's Denise Jones
This Santa Rosa Brewer Is NOT Just One of the Boys
by Brent Ainsworth
Denise Jones doesn't possess the most traditional resume in the brewing industry, but the brewmaster at Third Street AleWorks in Santa Rosa, Calif., has made the most of her "independent study" schooling.
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She learned about the restaurant business by working at a Sizzler owned by her parents.
She learned how to make a quality product from scratch by working at a Swensen's ice cream store as a teen.
She learned about marketing and merchandising by helping run a Mervyn's department store.
She learned how to deliver the goods by spending six years as a mail carrier.
And deliver she has. By virtue of her caches at the Great American Beer Festival, the World Beer Festival and the Real Ale Festival the past few years, Jones has quickly become one of the most respected women in the microbrewing business.
In early March, Jones was beaming about the hardware she brought back from Chicago's Real Ale Festival. Her Blarney Sisters' Dry Irish Stout took home a gold medal in the American stouts category and a silver in the "best of bottles" division. She won a bronze in English-style strong ales for Annadel Pale Ale and a bronze in American dark ales for Old Redwood Porter.
"I'm really happy, but I try to be humble about it," Jones said. "We work hard here, and we know people in Santa Rosa like our beer. I'm trying to keep us local. It's nice to know that people everywhere else like us, too."
Although her Bodega Head IPA is the big seller at the brewpub's prime Sonoma County location (about an hour north of San Francisco), accounting for 38 percent of pint sales, Jones takes extra pride in her recipe variety. The chalkboard beer menu always has about 10 choices, sometimes more. Jones has mastered extreme concoctions such as her Cerveza de Santa Rosa Chili Ale, which won a gold at the World Beer Festival.
"As you move along in your career, you start to get invited to be a judge at the big contests, and that makes you more aware of what they're looking for," Jones said. "That's opened my eyes a bit. But with my background, I'm pretty adept at preparing products for public showing."
Jones's story starts in the remote mountain town of Bishop, Calif., near the northern edge of Death Valley National Monument and a short trip from 14,000-foot mountain peaks. After Jones worked at her parents' Sizzler, the family moved a few hours north to Carson City, Nev., in 1978. Jones made fresh ice cream at Swensen's, which she describes as a groundbreaking ice cream business that focused on homemade products, kind of like the microbrewing industry. She put in five years at Mervyn's and then began her stint as a letter carrier and union problem-solver within the local post office.
At a career crossroads, Jones contemplated going to culinary school before stumbling upon an advertisement for the American Brewers Guild. She shrugged and dived in. "I liked beer, and I thought I would never get bored because I'd be using a little bit of everything I'd already learned," she said.
In 1995 she was hired by Great Basin Brewing Company in Sparks, Nev., where she became a disciple of the late Eric McClary. "I was like a puppy -- listening, absorbing everything I could from him," said Jones, who wrote McClary's obituary in a recent issue [December 2002] of the Celebrator.
Jones served a brief stint at Bluewater Brewing Company in Tahoe City, Calif., before landing at Third Street. In March of this year, Jones marked five years at Third Street as the brewpub celebrated its eighth anniversary. The AleWorks has produced about 1,400 barrels the past two years, thanks in part to a 40 percent upgrade in equipment capacity in January 2002.
"In my previous experience, I worked with owners who needed to be tight with their money," said Jones. "So sometimes you had to use all domestic ingredients, so you didn't get that Continental appeal. What I like to do is make beer that is as true to the original style as possible. If I'm brewing something Irish, I'm going to get Irish ingredients. We are in a great location, so it's not that hard for me to get my hands everything I want. It might be more expensive, but I think it's worth it, and I think the customers appreciate it."
Meantime, Jones and young assistant Chris Harger have perfected everything from award-winning stouts to blackberry ale to a rye special bitter to pils export to alt to -- just about any style Jones is willing to tackle. Her ability to nail each attempt on the first try (once in a long while, a second try) has been inspirational to other women in brewing.
"She's a very methodical person, and it obviously pays off," said Melissa Myers, head brewer at Ross Valley Brewing Company in nearby Fairfax, Calif. "Once she decides what she wants to do, she will always do it that way."
Carol Stoudt, considered to be one of the foremost female pioneers in microbrewing, making beer in May 1986 and still runs Stoudt Brewing Company in Adamstown, Pa.
"I judged with Denise, and she's great. She's really determined," said Stoudt, who estimates that there are between 12 and 15 women head brewers in the country. "There's really nothing that women can't do in the industry now. We're respected in all aspects now. We've come full circle."
"It's nice for Denise when female brewers are going up on stage for awards, because there's not that many women," Myers said. "It's not that the industry is sexist in any way. I think it's just that not many women choose to go into brewing. But when they give her awards, it's not because she's a woman. It's because she makes great beer."
Brent Ainsworth, a resident of Novato, Calif., writes occasionally (or when he damn well feels like it) about beer for the Marin Independent Journal.
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