From pulling pints of cask ale at pubs in the heart of England to immersing herself in the modern world of craft beer in Australia and New Zealand, Emma Locke has experienced more facets of the beer industry than most. And, clearly, the local beer world is lucky she's chosen to put down roots here: last month, she was the hugely popular winner of the Young Gun of the Year award at the 2022 Indies awards.
There were many practical reasons cited for her triumph – not least the manner in which she runs Beerfarm’s popular venue in the South West to her work with Pink Boots Society Australia – but if you caught the livestream of the awards you’d be aware that what Emma brings to the industry goes well beyond such things.
As the sponsor of the Young Gun award, The Crafty Pint had spoken to some of those who’ve worked and played with Emma, ready to cite some of their comments while presenting the trophy. In the end, we didn’t need to as the Indies MCs had prepared something similar.
Let’s just say that if the phrases that come to mind when someone thinks of you include “awesome”, “amazing”, “good times”, “genuine human being”, “generous”, “incredible venue manager”, and “everyone loves her” then it’s fair to say you’re a bloody good egg.
So how did such an asset for the local beer world end up at the helm of one of WA’s liveliest venues after first dipping her toes into the world of hospo in a couple of historic pubs in a town in Leicestershire?
It turns out that the start of Emma’s journey into craft beer is a familiar one, albeit with plenty of twists and turns along the way. To fund her way through a fine art degree at the University of Loughborough, she took on some part-time work at a real ale pub and, from there, a genuine interest in beer grew.
“I took a huge interest in the local brewing scene and before long I joined the management team,” Emma (pictured above right with Beerfarm colleagues Zoe Hendriks and Codie Spruce) recalls.
“After five years there, drinking my way through all of the local hand pulls, and a realisation that I would never use my fine art degree, I hit the road and travelled South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand for a year.”
While in New Zealand and Australia, Emma expanded her horizons in hospitality and gained experience within the wine industry before eventually finding her way back into craft beer.
“In Queenstown I worked in every style of hospitality under the sun – from speed service clubs, to cocktail and wine lounges to late night rock taverns and everything in between,” she says.
“The beer scene in NZ definitely reignited my love for craft, so when I moved to Margaret River, after a winter pruning vines, I got straight back into craft beer and never looked back.”
Looking at the local industry, she says: “In comparison to the US and Europe, we are just a baby. I think that makes it a really exciting time to be involved as the breweries around now have real power to shape our industry. And shape it in the right way.
“Hopefully, we have all taken some huge learnings from the change that is coming out of the US and Europe this year and know that we need to do better. Businesses need to do better for their people and continue to do better.”
Emma joined the team at Beerfarm in Metricup in 2019, following three years at nearby Black Brewing Co. And it was the Beerfarm family who put her forward for one of the Independent Brewers Association’s (IBA) peer-nominated awards.
“I would never have been nominated for the award if it wasn’t for the incredibly supportive – and sneaky – team at the Farm,” she says.
“I think the moral of the story here is to find yourself a job where everyone is in your corner and they care about the progression of their people as much as the progression of their business.”
The IBA’s guidelines for the Young Gun award state that nominees must be an employee of an IBA member business, under 35-years-old, and a high achiever who displays excellence in their field, as well as a great team member, a strong promoter of indie beer, community-minded, and someone with a collaborative nature.
As such, it’s a befitting award for Emma – who joked about how nice it was to still be considered young when she was presented with the trophy on October 13. Not only is she keeping the wheels moving at Beerfarm, but she is also the scholarships coordinator for the Pink Boots Society – a role that involves working with board members and sponsors to create education and development opportunities for Pink Boots members – as well as sitting on the IBA Hospitality Project Group board and the WA committee for WoHo (Women in Hospitality), with whom she helped launch their first mentorship programme this year.
She told The Crafty Pint that upon finding out she was nominated she felt it was unlikely she’d win, but on reflection Emma now hopes to use the recognition to strengthen her voice within craft circles even further.
“To be nominated for an award like this is something that I would never expect,” she says. “Even when I found out that I was nominated, I convinced myself that there was no way I would ever win. I told myself, ‘You don’t know enough about craft beer’ and ‘What have you even done to win this award?’, among so many other things.
“So, to find out that people actually feel that I am working to progress and better our industry is the biggest honour I could imagine.
“Only a few years ago, I couldn't see a path forward in this industry, so I plan to spend all of my spare time shouting from the rooftops about the opportunities available to women in our industry if they believe in themselves and grab them.
“If I even have the smallest impact on our industry in an effort to make it a place for women to thrive, I will be happy.”
But shouting from the rooftops isn’t Emma’s only plan moving forward. Beerfarm’s interstate expansion offers plenty of opportunities ahead, and she also wants to focus on herself.
“I want to keep working on the work-life balance,” she says. “It’s something that I have always struggled with and, honestly, the last couple of years [with Covid] have kicked my ass.
“I don’t want to sit here and say it hasn’t been hard because it has – really hard. I have the most rewarding job I could ever imagine and an incredible support system but the internal pressure to always work harder and do more is a constant battle.
“We have a huge couple of years coming up at the Farm with the NSW expansion on the horizon [so] I’m just making sure that I'm in the best shape possible to grab every new opportunity with both hands!”
Of the opportunities presented to her so far in the South West, one highlight came about while working with the Badgebup Aboriginal Corporation as part of Beerfarm's ongoing Native Series with Fervor, which you can read about here.
"They were so incredibly welcoming and it was an absolute honour to listen and learn firsthand about the stories of their people and Australian history," Emma says.
As for the wider industry in which she's swapped pints of bitter for middies of hazy IPA, and traditional English boozers for an expansive brewery complete with giant slip 'n' slide, she's got plenty in mind beyond ensuring Beerfarm guests have a good time.
"After what has been the toughest couple of years in many people's careers, I would really like to see a focus on mental health and wellbeing," Emma says. "I think we all have a responsibility working in the alcohol industry to ensure that we improve the continuity of care for our people and are building workplace cultures that support healthy lifestyle choices and empower our teams to be proactive in managing their health and wellbeing."
And, of course, there's the desire to encourage more women into the beer world and to help create a more welcoming and inclusive space for all.
“I have been lucky enough to have received some incredible professional development opportunities over the past couple of years, and I really made it my mission to ensure that I share that knowledge with other women in our industry and do everything I can to make sure as many women as possible receive the same opportunities that I have."
You can find the full results and reaction from this year's Indies here.