In August, we explored Gen Z's relationship with craft beer, looking at how breweries could better connect with younger drinkers and those considering a career in beer.
Now, with plenty of Gen Z workers already in the industry, we're shining a light on those who are killing it, slaying, or are just generally pretty lit. Just what do these rising stars of the beer world love about beer, why did they start working in the industry, and how do they think craft beer – and the wider world – could be better.
Kicking things off is Emily Usher, senior brewer at Deeds, here to tell us how she Slays Beer.
It shouldn’t really be a surprise to learn that working at Deeds lets you flex your creativity. One moment you’re brewing with a brand new hop out of New Zealand, the next you're pressing your nose up against a barrel of mixed culture beer before turning to a tank to check how that weeks-old pils is lagering.
For senior brewer Emily Usher, the chance to be expressive at work doesn't just come courtesy of ingredients or beer styles, but extends to every element of Deeds' many distinctive releases.
“Because of our size, I can just work on the full concept,” she says. “I might come up with the name, the labels and the recipe – it’s definitely one of the best things about the job.”
Emily says the whole production crew, led by head brewer Curtis Uhyn, is constantly seeking out new ways to be innovative, whether that's by playing with novel hop products, exploring new techniques, or rethinking their recipes and approach.
“It is a bit of a gamble, but we’re all so open about trying something new,” she says.
Hailing from the historic English city of Lincoln, in the East Midlands, you might wonder if Emily’s connection to beer is rooted in tradition: drawn from the real ales of cosy old pubs. Yet her love for beer was sparked less by cask ale and more by Cascade hops, when the young backpacker tried her first Little Creatures Pale Ale while working behind a bar in Sydney.
After returning to the UK and starting an office job that she quickly grew to hate, Emily and her Australian partner soon made the move back to these shores. After picking up work at one of Melbourne’s pioneering craft beer venues, she looked to see if her background in chemistry could lead to a career change.
“I got a job at Mrs Parma's in the city where they had all Victorian craft beer on tap,” Emily says. “I wanted a career change and I love beer so felt like I could use my degree to help get a job in brewing or distilling.
“From there, I just emailed and rang every single brewery in Victoria.”
As COVID hit, Emily joined the production team at Brick Lane before moving to Deeds’ Glen Iris home late in 2021. The move has allowed her to turn her creativity to the creation of countless beers already, something the team clearly does rather well.
In May this year, they picked up an impressive number of trophies at the Australian International Beer Awards. Mixed culture ale Ruminations won Best Specialty Beer while their barrel-aged peanut butter imperial stout took out Best Specialty Flavoured Beer. Taken together with a clutch of gold medals, it saw Deeds walk away with both the Champion Medium Brewery and Champion Victorian Brewery trophies too.
Emily believes it highlights their commitment to consistency over time, instilled by former head brewer Justin Corbitt and his sidekick Ned Treadly (who kicked off their barrel program), and upheld by the current brew team.
“It was something that Deeds had deserved,” Emily says. “Justin and Ned had built a bit of a legacy and we’ve continued producing just really awesome beer.”
What’s your role in beer?
My role mostly involves managing the cellar and brewhouse, making sure everything is going as planned, and ensuring we are producing excellent quality beers. In addition, I help out in designing recipes and artwork concepts, which is one of my favourite things to do.
I’m often found lurking around the cellar, finding any excuse to help out on the brewing floor.
What first got you into craft beer?
Growing up in the UK, the craft scene was abundant, but definitely more traditional in comparison to Australia; it seems slightly behind on styles and trends.
I had always enjoyed beer but tended to stick to the generic lagers and pales on tap. When backpacking in Australia many years ago and working in a Sydney pub, I tried Little Creatures Pale on tap. I thought it was so juicy and fresh compared to what I had ever tried before, which is when I started opening my horizons to other styles.
Only now, do I truly appreciate a hand pump ale when I go back to visit the UK!
What do you most enjoy about the beer world?
It’s a fun industry, and it’s filled with some of the friendliest and nerdiest people I know; I love it. It’s heartwarming how open people are to sharing processes, experiences and even lending equipment when in need.
All the beer events consume my calendar and it becomes a bit of lifestyle, more than a career – which has its pros and cons…
Much has been said about craft beer’s core audience getting older – are your mates drinking craft beer?
As drinking trends cycle over time, I am definitely seeing a shift away from beer, especially from my mates in Melbourne who don’t work in the industry. I see a lot of my friends, of all genders, drink more of the hard lemonades and seltzers, with many drinking wine too.
It's hard to evolve beer to a certain degree, other than sours, to compete with a more sweet, fruity and lighter palate that many are seeking. I reckon most breweries will have their own hard lemonade SKU in the upcoming year.
What do they think of your career in beer?
Pretty much all of my friends are encouraging and supportive of my career in beer and believe it to be a "cool" industry to be a part of. I do, however, often have to be reminded that nobody has any idea what I’m talking about when I start to go on a tangent about a certain beer or hop!
Although, when telling mates that I had brewing exams, they were all pretty surprised that there were courses for it and why it was necessary – I’m sure they think I just drink beer all day.
What’s your favourite way to discover what’s happening in beer?
Keeping up on social media seems to keep me in the loop; I’m sure I follow more breweries than I have friends on Instagram. It's great to see what everyone’s latest releases are and what new trends or ingredients are on the market.
Beer festivals are also a great way of networking and I’ve met loads of fab people from breweries whilst working at them – often leading to collaboration beers and sharing and learning on brew days.
With all of the limited releases at Deeds, we try to source and use the newest products. I loved designing Cryozone, which was an IPA using the Fresh Frozen Cryo Hops, YCH301, from Yakima Chief, that we had flown over on dry ice from the US.
The technology is constantly evolving and it's really exciting to see the evolution of new hop products and equipment; it’s pretty hard to keep up to date with it all!
How do you think the beer industry could appeal to a broader, or younger, audience?
Representation matters, and having more diversity within breweries and in the industry I’m sure would have a positive benefit on the market. It would be great to see more diversity in those contributing, both into creating products and inputting creatively in marketing etc, that would appeal to a larger audience and resonate with different consumers.
I can only speak for myself, but what I’d like to see and what I think resonates with a younger audience is sustainable products with local ingredients, and companies with responsible and eco values. However, I appreciate that cost is a restriction, especially with smaller breweries that are already squeezed pretty thin.
Who is doing it well?
The sheer amount of CO2 produced in a brewery is sometimes overwhelming, so Young Henrys' Algae Project has been pretty exciting to keep up to date with and continue to develop. Not only does it look otherworldly, but they’ve been thinking outside the box on ways to absorb CO2 and produce more oxygen.
In addition, Burnley Brewing’s social media seems to be keeping it current, and using meme culture and TikTok references to market to a broader consumer base. As more people look to reduce or completely omit alcohol consumption, Garage Project’s Tiny Beer is definitely one of the better non-alcoholic beers I’ve tasted.
What do you think the craft beer industry could do better or differently?
Although slowly improving, as previously mentioned, increasing diversity in the industry needs to continue to be a drive. It’s very white and very male-dominated in Australia, so more programs that promote or assist more people getting into the industry would be good to see.
A lot of craft breweries are on a smaller scale, and I think there are not enough resources being put into businesses regarding education and training on HR policies and safety, which is standard in every other industry.
It is bewildering but also unsurprising to see that there are still some breweries releasing beers with misogynistic names or labels.
If you're a Gen Z member of the beer industry or would like to nominate someone to feature in our Slays Beer series, get in touch!
The Crafty Pint is partnering with Young Henrys on their 2024 Brewing Scholarship, which will support one female / female-identifying / non-binary individual through the TAFE NSW Brewing Course. Details here.