Photos by Michelle Sternberg, Sternberg Photography
Name: Allyson Rolph
Hometown: Charles City, IA (where my family lives), Mankato, MN (where I went to college and “grew up”), and Duluth, MN (where I make my home)
Works at: Thirsty Pagan Brewing
The Growler: What’s in your fridge right now?
Allyson Rolph: Pickles, tortillas, vegetables, and condiments. The beer cellar is in the basement.
G: What’s your favorite music to brew to?
AR: I wish I could say it was whatever our kitchen plays, but it usually is not. Actually, I may be the only brewer that would rather not have music in the brewery. If I am listening to something, it is most likely MPR, a podcast, or an audiobook.
G: Favorite beer and food pairing?
AR: Beer and cheese. I don’t have a specific favorite pairing. I really love exploring how they change each other. The same cheese can taste very different with a variety of beers.
G: What are you reading right now?
AR: Siebel Module 1 Course Materials.
G: How did you get your start in brewing?
AR: I started making wine and cider at home and then I started homebrewing with kits from Northern Brewer.
G: When did you decide you wanted to brew professionally?
AR: About six years ago I was trying to pour beer for Thirsty Pagan Brewing at a brew fest, but we were missing some important items to actually serve the beer. That was the day I met Jaime, the head brewer at Dells Brewing. She had a few things to say about our lack of preparedness then gave me a handful of parts. She changed my perspective of what a brewer was or could be. Also, make sure you have everything you need to pour your beer at brew fests.
G: How did you connect with the folks at Thirsty Pagan Brewing?
AR: I knew Steve before he bought the brewery. My partner has worked there almost the whole time he’s owned it. Over the years I did a lot of odd jobs there and poured at festivals. I already knew everyone so it was an easy place to start volunteering.
G: What line of work were you in before you started brewing?
AR: I was managing an art gallery and frame shop in downtown Duluth. My degree is in art and I loved the attention to detail required in framing art. The tap handles at the brewpub are carved ceramic from back when I had free time and an art studio.
G: What are your other passions in life? Do they influence your brewing?
AR: I love cooking and having a garden during our super short summer. I love fermenting food and other beverages. They absolutely influence my brewing. We are not afraid to try spices and herbs in our beer. When possible, those herbs come from my yard. Also, my favorite source of Lacto for our Berliner Weisse is from ginger root, not a yeast lab.
G: Sounds like you like to experiment. What about using homegrown spices and herbs appeals to you as a brewer?
AR: I like being able to bring in some of those familiar flavors that we use in cooking. Often in the brewing industry we use descriptors like peppery, piney, or herbal when talking about hops. I like the idea of taking it back to that level, trying out how using actual pepper, spruce tips, or herbs give us a different frame of reference for those flavors.
G: What is your favorite herb or spice to brew with? What’s the toughest to brew with?
AR: I love brewing with spruce tips. They vary so much from tree to tree and variety. I like white spruce for an IPA with its bright, citrus, and resinous flavors, and black spruce in a dark beer with its earthy, dark, and even dusty profile. In the late spring, you might see me walking my dog around my neighborhood pinching off spruce tips, looking for the perfect tree. I hate brewing with the typical “pumpkin pie” spices. I strongly dislike clove in any beer. They are spices that everyone has a taste memory of grandma’s pumpkin pie, so either it is too light or way too much.
G: Who has been your biggest individual influence in your career?
AR: My partner, Sarah. No joke. I blame her for all of this. From the first time I said brewing might be my thing, through all the homebrews and weird fermented things, to getting me to volunteer in the brewery. She has an amazing palate and can talk about flavors, balance, and even process. Since she’s behind the bar, I get honest feedback about what the customers are liking, not liking, or what styles are they asking for. If I have a question about a beer, I hand her the glass. She makes me a better brewer.
G: If you could only brew one Thirsty Pagan beer for the rest of your life, which would it be?
AR: Our Burntwood Black. Mashing in smells like coffee, toast, and chocolate. Plus it makes a nice hot worty.
G: What keeps you inspired?
AR: I love seeing what other brewers are doing. Whether it is in a barrel with weird ingredients, a very well made to-style lager, or anywhere in between. Also, homebrewers. They come up with some crazy stuff, but can also make a style really shine.
G: Where is your favorite place to put one back?
AR: Thirsty Pagan. No joke. It was my favorite place before I started brewing. I love the fact that one table can have suits and ties on, electricians at another, dock workers, families with kids, college students, and everything in between. The point being I love the mix of people there… and, I make the beer I drink. If not there: Bent Paddle or the wine bar at Chester Creek Café.
G: What are your favorite parts about living and working in Duluth and Superior?
AR: I fell in love with Lake Superior the first time I visited Duluth. When I get a chance to go for a run, we have amazing trails. I love the extremely long, cold winters and how it makes us so fully embrace the few perfect days in the summer. Plus, I get to make a living making beer. So, if you don’t like cold, snow, hills, trees, or Lake Superior you might not like it here—but I do.
G: Duluth is reinventing itself from an industrial city to a cultural destination in Minnesota. Do you think a similar movement will come to Superior, Wisconsin?
AR: I would love to see Superior more fully embrace the arts and create an infrastructure that better supported cultural experiences in the city. As a brewer in Superior, I would love to see many more reasons for people to cross the bridge.
G: What is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
AR: Other than the port-a-potties at brew fests, I haven’t figured out why brewers are primarily men. Also, that beards equal the source of brewing power. Or that brewers stand around and drink all day.
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G: What is the most gratifying part of your job?
AR: Sitting down at the end of a day and still being able to enjoy a beer.
G: What would you be doing if you weren’t brewing professionally?
AR: Please don’t make me contemplate this question…
G: Is there a beer or brewery that changed your perspective on what craft beer could and should be?
AR: Jolly Pumpkin is why we do sour beers.
G: What’s the philosophy of your brewhouse?
AR: “Don’t Fuck Shit Up!” It’s on the to-do list.
G: Any new recipes you are working on?
AR: We collected yeast from my neighbor’s plum tree last fall. I am doing a bunch of recipe development around that.
G: What do you see as the “next big thing” in the craft beer world?
AR: Sours, sessions, and lagers. I see sours as the thing people are seeking out at brew fests, sessions are what brewers want to drink (because we stand around and drink all day, right), and lagers because homebrewers are starting to do them really, really well and I want to see how these traditionally tight lager styles could be stretched and played with.
G: What about beer means so much to us as a society?
AR: One of my favorite regulars that I talk to is a philosophy professor. The answer to this question is very long and requires many beers. (That answer itself is the answer to why beer means so much to us a society… think about it.)
G: Wisconsin or Minnesota?
AR: Live Minnesota. Brew Wisconsin.