AirBrewNB Founder Elle Thomas advocates for women owning their spot in the beer industry.

By Ruvani de Silva, Photos by Justin Brummer

For Elle Thomas, starting AirBrewNB was a way to fuse her passions for learning about and appreciation of beer with her goals of supporting local craft breweries and diversifying the industry. “Although I don’t produce beer professionally, it’s my calling to assist bringing new individuals into craft beer appreciation,” she says.

Thomas launched AirBrewNB in 2018 with the goal of offering bespoke beer experiences in Austin hosted by women beer professionals. She pivoted the business online with the onset of COVID-19 and plans to offer both in-person and virtual tours in the future.

What inspired you to start AirBrewNB?

When I used to visit taprooms I didn’t see many other women, so I decided to be proactive in changing craft beer culture. AirBrewNB is designed for groups, specifically women and women of color, who may not feel included in traditional beer culture. [We] offer an environment where they can feel comfortable asking questions and learning about beer.

AirBrewNB is a way for me to continue to cultivate my relationship with beer, both educationally and socially. I really wanted to move away from the traditional idea of beer tourism, which is often associated with party buses, and [instead]offer smaller settings to discuss history, culture and beer education as we explore local breweries. My virtual tours encourage individuals to explore craft beer in their own neighborhoods, supporting local businesses.

What has it been like for you as a woman, and a woman of color,
in beer?

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My beer journey started off with people being surprised that I like beer, then being surprised I was knowledgeable about beer. Then being surprised that I own a business in beer. I look forward to continuing to surprise people.

Since I started AirBrewNB, the number of women in craft beer, specifically in Austin, has grown significantly. Austin Pink Boots (a society for women in beer) is one of the largest chapters in the U.S., which says a lot about how things are changing. Of course, there are challenges on both sides, race and gender, but these are things I face every day, and not just in craft beer. I think there have been some great discussions in Austin about making the industry more accessible, but there is still a lot of work to do. I’ve been encouraged to see many new appointments of women working in brewery production in Austin. Proving they can brew just as well as men and win awards. This is something I highlight as part of my tours.

What are your thoughts on the Central Texas beer scene, its growth and development?

One of my biggest motivations when I moved AirBrewNB into a virtual space was to help support craft beer during COVID, especially breweries without distribution and taproom-only sales. In Austin I’ve been impressed at our breweries’ resilience. I think it says a lot about how strong our craft beer community is. I’m proud of how well our breweries have handled the challenges of the pandemic. But they still need our support, so I continue to encourage people to buy local.

What community have you found in beer?

As a community, AirBrewNB creates a unique forum to redefine beer tourism both virtually and in-person. I love that I am a part of supporting the beer community by bringing people to the table to learn and appreciate both local beers and beers from around the world. A big part of what I do is sharing beer knowledge with individuals who may not read beer publications. Take them beyond current trends and help them explore further into beer culture. It’s great to showcase different aspects of the industry, from history to packaging to hop production. Building a beer community outside the parameters of whom beer marketing is traditionally targeted at is crucial to my work. And helping people make connections with beer and with one another is one of my favorite things about AirBrewNB.

What are your thoughts on sustainability in beer?

One of the things I love about craft beer is how it is always pushing innovation and looking for ways to get better. Unfortunately, making beer does create a lot of waste. But lots of breweries now are looking for ways to minimize their environmental impact and benefit the community. In Austin lots of our breweries compost and reuse their spent grain as animal food (which benefits local farms), use recycled materials and try to source ingredients as locally as possible. It’s great to see how the industry is developing in this direction. If you care about the environment, drink local beer!

What advice do you have for other women wanting to join the beer industry?

Just start. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just do it. The beer industry can seem intimidating, especially for women. But don’t getdiscouraged because you think you don’t know enough to start out. It’s enough to be enthusiastic and willing to learn. Whatever you’re passionate about, whether it’s production, design, marketing or hospitality, get behind it and talk to people who work at breweries. The Austin community is tightknit and has lots of opportunities. And people are very willing to offer help and encouragement, including at AirBrewNB!


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