Women in Beer: Deb Carey
The Story of the Woman Behind New Glarus Brewing Co.
The first time I met Deb Carey she was sharing her story at the craft beer bar, The Sugar Maple, to a crowd of people. She looked like a really cool Grandma, but swore like a sailor. I instantly needed to get to know her. As a Wisconsinite, I thought I knew the story of New Glarus Brewing Company, but Deb gives a different look into the struggles of starting a brewery, being a woman in the industry and how she overcame the difficulties from her childhood.
Deb as a child dealt with an abusive, alcoholic father that moved them around a lot, periods of time were spent living in city housing, on food stamps and sometimes sleeping in their car.
Deb shared that most people don’t realize how much that contributed to her success. “I really did grow up and work hard to be where I am,” she says. “A lot of my success is that I really am a street fighter.”
Though Dan, her husband and business partner’s, career as a brewer didn’t lead them directly to the town of New Glarus, Wisconsin; they eventually found their way about 23 years ago and started their brewery.
Getting a loan for a brewery was on par with getting a loan for an adult “toy” store. Hopefully you catch my drift here. Investing all of their time, money and efforts into starting New Glarus Brewing Co. came with struggles from local groups trying to sabotage them, creating problems within the town of New Glarus and raising two small children.
Deb talked to me about how hard the beer industry is and how it’s really something you don’t realize until you’re in it. You see things in bars, restaurants and other establishments that you really shouldn’t and the everyday struggles some of those people face.
“I want to win because I ran the race well; not because somebody else fell down”, that’s Deb on giving advice or direction to other brewers/breweries even though she knows the competitive nature of the industry. She says it, “forces me to play my own best game.”
When I asked Deb how she stays relevant and how she keeps New Glarus relevant she stated she is a very creative and independent person who is always thinking, listening to customers and watching trends in coffee and chocolate and always noticing new fruits in the produce department. Deb has spent at least the last three years creating new packaging and they are launching that very soon. Want to see? Because she showed me and apparently I’m the first reporter to see it. Though, you may have noticed it on the new label for their new beer, Bubbler.
When I asked Deb if it was hard being a woman in the industry, she replied, “I don’t know, I’ve never been a guy.” Then she went on to tell me a story about her at a conference (she couldn’t remember which one) where she was listening to a gentlemen speak from Sierra Nevada on the distributors and difficulties, and she spoke up during the meeting because they were all telling stories and she said, “I think it’s all that and worse because I’m a woman. And he just jumped my shit. And he was like, ‘this is a hard industry. This is just tough. This isn’t because you’re a woman, it is a bare knuckle, fist fight everyday, and if you think you’re getting picked on because you’re a woman, get over yourself.’” His response definitely startled Deb and was not what she was expecting, but after a moment of thought she knew he was right.
Within the last year and half Deb and Dan have transitioned the brewery to be employee owned so everyone can benefit from the wealth they’ve created together. Though Deb does drink beer that isn’t hers she mentions that 99% of the beer she drinks is New Glarus, and if you ask her to pick a favorite she’ll say, “it’s like picking a favorite child.”
I thought it important to ask the woman that inspires me what inspires her and in my head, I thought I’d know the answer. Her answer was better than expected. “I’m inspired by the strength of everyday people around me,” she said “There are at least 100 people that work here now. They bring their best self here even through the everyday drama of daily life.“
We spent about an hour together talking and then went to have lunch and a beer in the courtyard. I am forever grateful to her for allowing me two hours of her very busy day, and will remember it as I continue my journey in the beer industry. As always, if you love it or hate it, let me know at email@example.com or you can find me on Facebook.
“When shit hits the fan, are you going to fold or figure it out?” -- Deb Carey