Oral history interview with Raelle Childers, 2018

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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0:00 - Opening credits / interview introduction

0:48 - Background

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Segment Synopsis: Childers describes her background, including her culinary training at Johnson and Wales.

1:45 - Beginning work in the brewing industry

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Segment Synopsis: Childers notes that she was a self-taught home brewer for many years before she started her first job in a brewery as a bartender.

5:42 - Moving from home brewing to commercial brewing

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Segment Synopsis: Childers discusses some of the challenges and benefits from moving from home brewing to commercial brewing.

7:34 - Resources for growing as a brewer

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Segment Synopsis: Childers cites the Pink Boots Society as well as numerous classes and books that she has relied on for learning and growing as a brewer. She also notes other brewers who have served as mentors.

11:11 - Favorite part of brewing

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Segment Synopsis: Childers names recipe development as her favorite part of the brewing process. She discusses the way that she thinks through the recipe development process.

13:20 - Least favorite part of brewing

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Segment Synopsis: Childers names the social rating app Untappd as her favorite part of the brewing industry because a rater might be uneducated or simply not like a style, rate it low, and that reflects negatively on the brewery and brewer.

15:03 - Favorite style of beer to brew

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Segment Synopsis: Childers names an IPA as her favorite style to brew because it is popular and versatile.

16:13 - Future projections for the brewing industry

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Segment Synopsis: Childers discusses the notion of the brewery "bubble" bursting, with some breweries failing due to inorganic growth. She does note, though, that the local, neighborhood brewery will continue to thrive.

18:30 - Pilot Brewing's small batch approach

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Segment Synopsis: Childer's discusses the ways in which Pilot Brewing will be a small, community brewery without external distribution. She also discusses some of the outreach they have done with the apartment complex located next door to the brewery.

20:09 - Signature beer at Pilot

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Segment Synopsis: Childers notes that Pilot Brewing will have no signature beer. Instead, they hope to constantly rotate, with 10 to 15 beers on tap at all times.

21:11 - Being a woman in the craft brewing industry

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Segment Synopsis: Childers discusses challenges that she has experienced as a woman in the brewing industry, including difficulties with harassment and lack of respect for her and her knowledge.

24:01 - Advice for a women looking to enter the industry

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Segment Synopsis: Childers encourages other women to enter the industry, but also to make sure they are very knowledgeable and patient.

25:29 - Favorite beer from a North Carolina brewery other than Pilot

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Segment Synopsis: Childers names beers from Highland, Hi-Wire, Sierra Nevada, and D9 as her current favorite North Carolina beers.

27:25 - Hobbies and interests outside of brewing

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Segment Synopsis: Childers talks about having been a drummer in a band as well as her interest in Star Wars and comic conventions. But she also says that she still home brews for fun.

28:25 - Interview conclusion / closing credits

0:00

EL: If you can say and spell your name for us?

RC: My name is Raelle Childers, it's R-A-E-L-L-E C-H-I-L-D-E-R-S, and I work at Pilot Brewery.

EL: Awesome. I'll go ahead and start now. I'm Erin Lawrimore, I'm here with Raelle Childers, a brewer at Pilot Brewing Company in Charlotte, North Carolina. Today is Wednesday, June 13, and we are here for an interview for the Well Crafted NC project. Thank you for joining us.

RC: No problem.

EL: Can we start, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from, and how did you get here?

RC: I'm actually ... I grew up in Texas, and after I graduated high school there 1:00in '09, I moved up here to go to Johnson & Wales University to get my culinary arts degree, and after I graduated from Johnson & Wales, I just got really into brewing. I guess I found when I was there that food wasn't really my true passion, and I had been drinking beer, and had a couple friends there who were into home brewing and stuff, so that's basically how I was introduced to craft beer and brewing. So yeah, and I've been here in Charlotte ever since, haven't left, I love the city.

EL: Can you talk a little bit about how your career in this industry has progressed? Where it got started.

RC: Yeah, so it's fun, actually, how it did progress, because I was a home 2:00brewer for several years, and I was 100% self-taught, I just kind of watched a lot of YouTube videos, and read a lot, and just experimented, and I would go to the home brew store in the town where I was living at, it was Monroe, North Carolina, and there was an Alternative Beverage down there, and they have them here in Charlotte, but this was an off-shoot of that company, and Travis, the store owner there, he gave me lots of advice over the years on how to brew and everything, and one day, I went there and they were closed down. And I was like, "Where's Alternative Beverage?" And come to find out, he opened his own brewery and I didn't even know about it.

EL: Which brewery is it?

RC: It's Sweet Union Brewing in Indian Trail.

EL: Cool.

RC: So he was nice enough, I applied there, he knew me, so he was nice enough to 3:00give me a job there. It wasn't a brewing job or anything, but I was doing bartending and a little bit of cellar work, messing with kegs and stuff in the back, and I worked there for a short time, really familiarized myself with beer. And from there, I moved on to ... I heard that Seaboard Brewing was opening up in Matthews, so I went there, I applied, I didn't get the job right away. The job was for an assistant brewer, and I thought that I had learned enough and knew enough, I had been brewing for six or so years, just home brewing on my own set up. And I didn't get the job right away, but they did give me a job bartending at their sister store next door, at Temple Mojo, so I was bartending there for a while, and they ended up hiring an assistant brewer, and then their 4:00head brewer ended up leaving. After he left, they promoted their assistant brewer, and they came to me and they were like, "Hey, you wanted this job. Here's your chance." So I got the assistant brewer job there, and that was where my professional brewing career really started off. So I worked there for a pretty short amount of time, it was about six months or so, and I really got a really good opportunity with Rachael [Hudson, owner and head brewer of Pilot Brewing] , we met at a Pink Boots Society meeting. It wasn't really a meeting, it was a whole brew day at Bold Missy here in Charlotte, and we just got to know each other, really liked each other, she offered me a job, and now I'm here at Pilot.

EL: Awesome. Little follow up question on something you said. You talked about your culinary arts background. Do you feel like having that kind of background ... I would assume that's not a background that every brewer has, but one that 5:00could be really handy.

RC: It probably does come in handy sometimes. I think probably one of my strong suits in brewing is recipe development. So I do think that some of my culinary background does help with that, not in a ton of ways, just understanding ingredients basically. Other than that, basically it was just a great gateway into understanding beer and getting into it. I don't really utilize my culinary background a whole lot these days anymore.

EL: Yeah. You talked about starting off as a home brewer and then moving to commercial. Can you tell us about some of the challenges in going from home brewing to commercial? Or even some of the benefits of having that background? There's got to be both.

RC: There are so many benefits, and it really is a challenge as well. When I 6:00first got the job at a commercial brewery, I had no idea where to begin on this big equipment. I'm used to, like, five gallon batches, and getting to do basically what I wanted to do. So I could experiment with any ingredients, take as much time as I wanted to brewing the beer, making sure it was up to my specific standards of quality. And when you go into a commercial setting, you're on someone else's schedule, and you're brewing their beer unless they're nice enough to let you develop your own recipes, but you're mostly brewing their beer, their recipes, and you're on a schedule. You have to get that beer out at a certain time, and you have to make sure you're adhering to a schedule, you can't just let your brewery run out of beer. It's definitely different. There's a lot of different equipment that you have to learn. So my first brewery that I 7:00worked at was a steam system, which I had never worked with steam, I had never worked with any sort of calandrias or jackets. I had never had any type of glycol system or anything, so I had to learn all of that right off the bat. So it was definitely a challenge, but if you put your mind to it, you can learn it all really quickly, and that's what I did.

EL: Well as you have continued on, you talked about Pink Boots a minute ago, but what kind of resources have you drawn on to help you grow as a brewer?

RC: Yeah, right. Pink Boots is a big one, it's actually huge. They just offer so many opportunities for women to get to know each other and to learn. Their main mission in life is to inspire women and teach them more knowledge about brewing, 8:00so there's been a lot of opportunities with that, just getting to know other people. It's been a great resource so far. They offer scholarships to women who apply for them. Other than Pink Boots, other resources have just been classes. I've been to several classes on yeast, on beer tasting, I've done some judging sessions with the Carolina brew masters, and judging is one of the best ways to really get to know your styles and your off flavors and things like that. And other than that, just reading. That's the main part. You need to read. You've got to have a lot of knowledge if you're going to brew really good beer.

EL: Do you have any favorite books that you've ... that are kind of your go-tos? Or just a lot of them?

RC: So many. Yeast, Chris White from White Labs, he did Yeast, and it's just a 9:00great book. That whole series of books, I can't remember specifically the name of the series, but there's Yeast, Water, Hops, and Malt, and just that whole series has been really good. There's also ... the bible in which I learned how to brew, basically, off of, Charlie Papazian, he did ... I'm put on the spot now. What is the name of the-

EL: Guide to Home Brewing?

RC: Yeah. The Guide to Home Brewing. And then there's John Palmer's How to Brew, so those books have been ... basically, if you have a question, just a basic, simple question about brewing, those have all your information in them. And there's also ... there's a million books out there. Those are the main ones, though.

EL: Very cool. You've worked in a few different spaces and worked with a few 10:00different groups like Pink Boots, are there particular people that you see who have been a mentor, made a major impact in your development as a brewer?

RC: Yeah, there have been. There's been several. I mentioned Travis from the home brew store, he helped me so much just learning the basics of how to brew, and then my first job commercial brewing, the head brewer I worked with, Greg, we're still amazing friends now, and he has been so helpful in teaching me everything about commercial and professional brewing. And then Rachael is one of them as well. She is probably one of the best brewers I have ever met. Everything she does is amazing, and she's so smart and sharp, and she's a woman, like me, so she's very inspiring. She's pretty young and she's opening her own brewery right now. She's already been around the block at several breweries, so 11:00she really inspires me to be better, and I can see now that I can do what she does.

EL: Yeah. So big question. What's your favorite part of brewing?

RC: This is the question that I was like, "I don't know." I love all of it, I love everything about brewing. I love recipe development, that is probably one of my biggest favorite things, just being able to sit down and make a recipe and just get excited about it, and just think about, "What does this need to make this beer good?"

EL: Do you have a favorite recipe that you've developed? Either your home brew-

RC: I do, actually, and it's one that I started when I first started brewing, and it's one that I've brewed hundreds of times probably, and changed one little thing about it every single time until it was perfect. And that is a red that I've done, and it sounds boring, but it's-

EL: A good basic is good.

12:00

RC: It is, and I've just gotten it down to where it's just so delicious now, but I'm still changing it all the time.

EL: Can you talk a little bit about your thought process as you're changing it, like how you decide what to change and how to?

RC: Yeah, so I start with a base recipe, and you get to know your recipes over time, like what percentage of what goes into specific styles of beer, so I start with a basic red recipe, and then you just experiment with different malts, so I'm like, "I want this to be a little more biscuit-y." So I go and get some specialty malt that will give it a little biscuit-y flavor. And, "I want to take the IBUs up a little bit. I want this to be a tiny bit more bitter." So I'll up my 60 minute edition hops and just tweak little things like that. So you just taste the beer and think about what you want to change, and then you just make that one change, one at a time. That way, you know exactly what you did wrong 13:00that time. So that's how I've been developing my red recipe over several years, and that's how I basically develop all my recipes. I'll start with something basic, and just change, tweak it a little bit with each batch that I do. Hopefully, the first time it works out, but that rarely happens.

EL: So you like all of the things as favorites, but is there a part of brewing that is your least favorite part?

RC: It's not necessarily part of brewing itself, but I think the one thing about the beer industry itself is a little app that people like to use called Untappd. And to me, the only reason that I say that I dislike this is because ... and I like to compare it to, say you're an artist. If you're an artist, do you want 14:00any person off the street who may or may not know anything about art, no training whatsoever, coming in and being like, "I give that one star." So to me, I think it's a little bit unfair to a lot of people who are brewing really good beer. And maybe someone who doesn't know a lot about beer comes in, and they just happen to not like a certain style, and they might rate it one or two stars, and it reflects on your brewery, it reflects on you, yourself, as a brewer. So I wish it would go away. I know it never will, but I wish that more people would get an education before going and judging someone's beer for everyone to see in the world. And that's really the only part of the industry that I just ... it could go away, and I'd be totally fine with it.

EL: You're not the only person to have mentioned that.

15:00

RC: Right.

EL: So we talked about your favorite recipe that you've developed, so this may be the same answer, but do you have a favorite beer that you've brewed or favorite style to brew?

RC: I don't have a favorite specific beer that I've ever brewed, but I do have a favorite style to brew, and that would be an IPA, and the only reason for that is because it can be so different. You can brew one style of IPA, and then another style of IPA, and they can be completely different beers, and that's what's really cool about it to me, just because there's so much you can do with an IPA. And that's true with all kinds of other beers as well, but I feel like it's a popular style that a lot of people love, and it's in high demand all the time, and you can just brew any range or variety, and it will be for somebody. If somebody likes a really dry, bitter IPA, you can do that for them. Someone 16:00might like a super hazy IPA, and you can do that for them, and they're completely different beers. So I just really like messing around with it just because it's so versatile.

EL: That makes sense. So putting your forward thinking cap on, how do you see the brewing industry? You've worked in the industry for a while now, how do you see it going in the next five or ten years? What path do you see it heading down, just big picture?

RC: Big picture, a lot of people like to say the bubble's going to burst, and I agree and I disagree. I feel like the breweries who are really big right now, they're well established, they're going to continue to do really well. I feel like breweries that are opening up now and they're trying to be big, very big and expand before they can, inorganically, the bubble is going to burst, and 17:00it's going to hurt them, and we're going to see a lot of these bigger breweries, and we've already seen a lot of them, Green Flash is one that was recent, they're going to go by the wayside, they're going to sell out. Something bad's going to happen. But I do feel like, and this is hopeful thinking for me, that your neighborhood brewery, your small brewery that may or may not necessarily distribute their beer widely, they're going to stay around because if you think about it, what did people do before the brewery explosion? Before there were so many breweries. Adults went out and they drank at bars, and that bubble will never burst, people are always going to go to a bar, and they're going to their neighborhood bar. So I feel like that's just the same with breweries. They're 18:00going to go to their neighborhood brewery, they're going to go to the people who know their name, who know what they like. And I think small breweries like that are going to be really successful and stick around, and hopefully it just becomes a part of American culture, kind of like over in Germany and Belgium. And I don't think that we're going to get too saturated, I think there's plenty of room for more, I think.

EL: And you guys here a Pilot are going to take that small ... you're taking that small community approach.

RC: Exactly. That is exactly what we're trying to do. We're not distributing whatsoever, we're just your tiny, local neighborhood brewery. We want to get to know everybody that comes in, and we even have stuff on our website, like you can come in and suggest a beer style because we're going to have so many beers on in so many different varieties, if you want to have something crazy and you have a suggestion for us, we'll look at it, and if we want to brew it, we'll do that. So we have lots of participation things like that, and we're going to have 19:00all kinds of things that incorporate the neighborhood and the community into the brewery itself.

EL: Yeah. And you talked to me a minute ago off camera about some of the testing, tastings that you've done in the apartment complex next door already.

RC: Right. So there's a big apartment complex next door, and we're basically in the parking lot of the apartments, and everyone in the apartments, they're so excited for us to be opening up, so we held a tasting out there in their little sky lounge club where the residents can come in and hang out. We just set up in there and had a tasting. We had three beers that we brought. Everybody came in, we talked to them about the beers. We're neighbors. Everyone is excited, they've been looking out their windows at our brewery developing, so they're all excited. They love the beer. Just little things like that, getting to know our 20:00neighbors before we even open up.

EL: Yeah.

RC: Just say, "Hey, we're here. We care about you." You know?

EL: Yeah. And I know that you guys haven't opened your doors yet, but do you know yet, are you going to have a signature beer, or are you just going to go with lots of different ...?

RC: Yeah, so no signature beer. Our whole MO, basically, is to never brew the same beer again unless it's something amazing and everybody demands it. But what we're trying to do is constantly rotate. So we're going to have probably around ten to fifteen beers on tap at all time, and just constantly be rotating. Every single one of our brewers is also a bartender, and every bartender is also a brewer, so we're going to have five or six brewers in there. We're going to need them all to be able to brew that many varieties that often.

EL: Definitely. So you mentioned, you're a woman in the industry, you're going 21:00to be working with Rachael, a woman in the industry, as the owner. Craft brewing is stereotypically a male dominated industry, giant beards, do you feel that there are specific challenges that a woman entering this field might face?

RC: Absolutely I do. And I, myself, have experienced many of them. And it's not typical for every woman to experience. Every woman in the industry has their own different experiences, so my experience is not typical of every woman. So when I did first start brewing, I had a lot of difficulties with respect. There's been harassment, there's been off-handed comments, there's been a lack of respecting my opinion in general and my knowledge in general, and that's a big challenge 22:00that you have to get over. You have to be strong, you have to have a strong will, and you have to be able to overcome those barriers that are going to be in your way because the brewing industry is still in this world, and there still is a lot of sexism and things that happen in the world, and it extends to the brewing industry, it definitely does. Some people might say it doesn't, it does. But like I said, it's not typical for every woman, but you can overcome it, you can. And there's more and more women getting in the industry all the time. And there's things, like I said earlier, about Pink Boots, they're all there for each other, so there's a lot of things that are helping women too.

EL: Yeah. Now, on the flip side, are there particular benefits that you think 23:00that a woman coming to the industry might be able to bring that a man maybe wouldn't even think about when they're brewing or marketing or whatever with the beer?

RC: I wouldn't say that specifically. I wouldn't say that a woman could bring something that a man couldn't, but I will say that because of the challenges of a woman being in a male dominated industry, I have never met a woman in the industry who didn't know her stuff, who wasn't extremely educated on what she was doing, and who didn't make excellent beer. So I do think that because there is that barrier there for women, they do have to basically prove that they are excellent, so I do think that is something that women have brought to the industry. Every woman brewer I've ever met is just super smart and knows what she's doing.

EL: Yeah. So if we had a woman walk in right now who was in her mid-20s who 24:00wants to go into this field, what advice would you give her about entering the brewing industry?

RC: I would say just do it basically. There's all kinds of ways to get into the industry, and most women who I've known who have gotten into it basically had to force their way in, so if that's what you have to do, that's what you have to do. And it's not necessarily different for men either, but you are a woman, so you do have to make yourself stand out. You have to really be knowledgeable, so just know your stuff and be patient. Be very patient, and eventually, you will get yourself in, and once you're in, don't let anybody push you around. Stand up 25:00for yourself is what I would say. And like I said, it doesn't happen to every woman to where she's going to necessarily have to be that way, but just like in every other industry, you've got to be strong. So that's the advice I would give another woman trying to get in.

EL: Yeah. So now we hit our fun question. What's your favorite beer from a North Carolina brewery other than something you've brewed?

RC: This is an impossible question. I can list ... can I list a couple?

EL: You can list a couple.

RC: Because it is literally impossible for me to just list one. And they change all the time, so don't take this as this is my only favorites.

EL: Your favorites today.

RC: My favorites today, and they have been for the last couple weeks, there's 26:00AVL IPA, brewed by a woman, from Highland down in Asheville, there is, from Hi-Wire, also in Asheville, they do aerialist lager, and it's a great, hoppy lager, I love it so much. And I just recently went to Sierra Nevada, also in Asheville, everything's in Asheville, and had a helles lager from them, and it was one of their small batch lagers that they did, and that was probably one of the greatest things I've had recently. So those three beers-

EL: That's a wide range of beers, though, like styles. The styles aren't all the same.

RC: Yeah, I guess two of them are lagers. One's a hoppy lager, one's a helles lager, but those three, probably some of my very favorites right now, and one more, and I'm going into the sour category, is D9, strawberry fields. That beer 27:00is so good, and I keep going up to D9 and getting more, and I just have a bunch in my fridge now, so those are my four favorites at the moment. I love it.

EL: Yes. Definitely. So when you're not working, when you're not brewing, what are some of our favorite things to do? What do you like to do in your free time?

RC: If I ever did have free time.

EL: When you have free time.

RC: Back when I did have free time, I was in a band, I play the drums. I do a lot of Star Wars, nerdy type stuff. I go to a lot of comic conventions, and I actually, in my free time, I do home brew more. I'm mostly professionally brewing, but I'm still brewing for fun as well, so it's not necessarily the same 28:00thing. It's a little different because I get to do whatever I want, and that's what I'm looking forward to here at Pilot because Rachael is basically giving us free reign to do whatever we want. So I might home brew even less now that I'm starting to work here.

EL: You can test on the commercial equipment.

RC: Right. Exactly.

EL: Is there anything else you'd like to add, anything we didn't touch on that you want to make sure we get recorded?

RC: I don't know, I don't think so.

EL: Awesome.

RC: You asked some good questions there.

EL: Cool. Well thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

RC: Thank you.