If you thought that craft beer breweries are run by men only, then think again. First Street Brewing in Hastings, Nebraska is made up of an amazing staff of women that cover everything from marketing to operations to beertending. Nathan Hoeft who is the head brewer and owner along with his wife Jessi have created a brewery that is not only brewing great beers but also strives to give back to the community they love.
I was so excited to receive an email from Megan, who is the Director of Operations and Marketing for First Street Brewing, asking if I would be interested to tell their story in a segment I have on my blog called Women in Beer. We sat down in the taproom on a cool, wet spring day and had a wonderful conversation.
I wanted to get to know more about Megan and her background. I asked Megan if she grew up in Hastings and she said that she was from Colorado. That peaked my interest since there are so many breweries in Colorado. Megan made her way to Hastings to go to college after receiving a scholarship for Journalism. Now that is cool - my first time interviewing someone also that has a passion for writing! Megan graduated from Hastings college with a degree in Mass Communications with a focus on Print Journalism.
Megan fell in love with Hastings and decided to make it her home. One of the things I could tell when talking with Megan is that she had a strong desire to be part of a community where she could make a difference. One of the business ventures that Megan helped to start after college was an online magazine called Open For Business - Central Nebraska's Business Magazine. The magazine served as a great way to showcase and help promote small businesses in Central Nebraska. Helping provide the community with a means to network and partner for the greater success of all in the area was the key focus for Open For Business.
I asked Megan how she met Jessi and Nathan. She replied, "being a smaller community it was only a matter of time before we all met. Jessi was the director of a board I am on. Nathan and I got to know each other better during a Thai Boxing Class where we would often end up sparring partners! I've got a mean right hook and his kicks are super powerful."
One of the fun things for me is seeing how relationships get started and blossom. I could tell that Jessi and Megan have a shared purpose in wanting to make their community a great place to live. One of the ways that Jessi got the community introduced to the brewery was through the First Founders Club. The club provided community members with an opportunity to contribute money to the brewery in return for a few benefits. Jessi is also very active in the community with the Hastings Community Arts Council and Hastings Community Foundation. Megan is a former president and is currently on the board for the Downtown Center Association and also participates in the Hastings Community Arts Council.
First Street Brewing has also been a big part of the revitalization of downtown Hastings. The Hastings Community Redevelopment Authority (CRA) has helped businesses with some facade improvement and loans to get things started, but it has been the business owners like Jessi who have made a huge impact in turning downtown Hastings into a destination again! The Odyssey restaurant and Steeple Brewing are a couple of the other businesses you will find in downtown Hastings that are helping to revive the area.
Where was I ... yes - relationships. Jessi and Megan have built a wonderful relationship that has grown since Megan started working part time for First Street around September of 2015. By May of 2016, Megan would become a full time employee. It takes a lot to get the word out about a business, so I asked Megan how they got things going. She said that Jessi and herself spent a lot of time talking with local bars introducing their beers. Megan also went on to say that social media has been very beneficial in keeping a constant stream of information flowing about First Street Brewing.
I had to ask Megan a very important question - was it hard to come up to speed working for a brewery? Megan told me that it did help that she enjoyed craft beer going back to her 21st birthday where she remembers having a Fat Tire from New Belgium Brewing Company. Megan also stated that it is the constant learning that has made the job so exciting. Nathan is continually coming up with new beers with great flavor profiles and rotating seasonal favorites.
Personally, my first beer from First Street Brewing was Bapajack's Biere De Garde which blew me away with the incredible honey and lemon flavor. During the interview, I was having the Back Alley Porter which has such a nice roasted malt flavor. So up and down the flavor spectrum - First Street Brewing has you covered!
Time flies when you are having so much fun! I knew our time was just about up, but I had to ask Megan the following questions.
When did you first know you wanted to be in the role you're in today?
I have always been a fan of craft beer and have enjoyed helping small businesses. When Jessi and Nathan presented the opportunity to me, I knew that this was something I really wanted to be part of.
What has it meant to you to be a part of the Nebraska Craft Beer Community?
It has been an honor to be part of a relatively new scene if you were to compare to other states like Colorado. One of the best things is seeing how the breweries are experimenting and taking risk on new beers. It really keeps the market fresh and exciting. It truly is a labor of love with the connectedness of the staff at First Street Brewing and the community.
What excites you most about the future of craft beer?
I would say seeing more females in the industry in leadership roles. I think it is important to remove the perception that craft beer drinkers are big, burly men in flannel. It has been great to see more women drinking craft beer and currently First Street Brewing has a 50/50 split women to men patrons. I also get really excited about the growing spectrum of flavor profiles in craft beer.
What is it like being a woman in the craft beer industry?
Probably the most important part is how welcomed you are. People are very nice when asking you questions about beer. It is also surprising at times to see people's reaction to an IPA or dark beer. Seeing that wow factor from a hoppy flavor burst or that malty smoothness from a dark beer.
Why is it important to see greater representation of women in the brewing industry?
I think women bring a unique perspective in the flavor profiles they enjoy that can help contribute to new beers. Another important aspect women bring to the table is the way they build relationships with businesses and the community. I think there is a nurturing factor women bring to relationships that is beneficial to the brewing industry.
What a fantastic Saturday afternoon! You need to make your way to First Street Brewing in Hastings. Just a short trip off I-80, south of Grand Island. I guarantee that you will be welcomed like family in the taproom and will enjoy a beer or two.