Brandalynn Armstrong: Basking in the beer business
Brandalynn Armstrong felt that we were destined to delay our original interview.
After a couple months of playing phone and email tag, we decided to meet on a Tuesday afternoon at Zeroday Brewing Co., of which she is co-owner.
I had read a tweet she posted about how sometimes it can be disheartening to be a woman in the beer business, and I wanted to talk to her about her experience.
But a combination of a busy Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America and typical Washington, D.C. traffic pushed our interview back a week.
Good thing, too.
Some moments during the conference caused Armstrong to pause and reflect on diversity in the beer industry, which some may perceive as a "boys' club."
"I do feel beer is inclusive, but there are still areas of opportunity because of certain stigmas and stereotypes," she said.
Armstrong is a self-proclaimed "Jill of all trades" at Zeroday, which she and business partner Theo Armstrong opened in midtown Harrisburg in 2015. With a knack for customer service and product development, Armstrong steers the sales, marketing, branding, social media and front-of-house aspects of the business. She also assists with recipe development.
Armstrong sat down with CPBJ at the brewery recently to discuss what it's like running a brewery, inclusiveness in the beer industry and her love for the city of Harrisburg.
Q: What is challenging about operating a brewery?
A: It's a string of challenges. Every day something pops up. Managing your sanity and understanding work-life balance, I think, is the biggest challenge. I get entrepreneur's guilt. If I'm not here, if I'm not working or if I'm working remotely - it's hard managing that. As an owner of any type of business, you have responsibilities and these responsibilities don't stop when you leave the building. Managing the daily challenges but also finding time to take care of yourself, I think, is the biggest challenge.
All of the other stuff, you just put on your boots and take care of it. Yesterday our air conditioning was broken. We were brewing. Our old sewer pipes backed up. I was plunging sewer by hand with gloved fists. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning and that's a little earlier than normal, but it was just a day.
There was a moment there where I just stood and I thought I was going to start crying into the floor drain, and that's when my team member, Hannah, hopped in. It's not just personal ability to overcome challenges. It's the support system that we have that makes it doable.
What's difficult about being a woman in the beer industry?
I have always been particular about my gender in beer, and it's because I always say we should be people in beer, not men or women in beer. I always struggled with separating myself in the female groups. I didn't know where I fit, so I just kind of was always making sure that I was of equal opportunity to people. I didn't really grab a torch for one or the other.
I don't think that being a women in beer is necessarily harder when it comes to the day-to-day tasks. If you have the ability to do a job, you do the job. I think that we see such a disparity in men versus women in the industry because women sometimes don't try because it's perceived to be such a boys' club or a man's industry, and I think that's rapidly changing.
I do see that for every one person that's like, "Yeah, equal opportunity!," there are a couple that aren't, and it's because of stereotyping.
About Brandalynn Armstrong
Personal mantra: "Just try. I feel like that is a theme I reiterate. Just go for it. Just try."
Favorite Zeroday beer: R0YGBIV, a saison released the day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. Armstrong helped develop the recipe.
Favorite beer of all time: "I don't have a favorite beer. It really depends on my mood. I'm an equal opportunity imbiber."
Favorite Harrisburg amenity: Broad Street Market. I thoroughly enjoy the market. I like getting my espresso from Elementary Coffee Co. I like getting my fish shooters from the fish monger. (The market) is unique. There is only one like it in the city, and I think that's my favorite, most comfortable place to chill out.
I think where I find struggles is when I’m having a business discussion and the person that I’m talking to diverts to someone else. I'll ask the question and they'll look at my business partner, Theo, and answer. Or the little subtleties of being on the craft brewers conference floor. I was walking with my friend who is the owner of another brewery. We would walk up. We would be looking at the same product. He would be greeted. He would be talked to. He would be handed information. And I was there, invisible. It was one of the hardest things I came to realize because I don't think these people are doing it intentionally to hurt, but it is subconscious conditioning. It really limits people's potential because I'm an able-bodied owner that is also shopping.
Not everybody is like that, and I’d like to stress that I don’t like to pigeonhole the industry as a whole, but I think there are areas of opportunity in the industry where it can be a little more equitable because what you're really missing when you stereotype or generalize is an opportunity that might be right in front of your face.
Armstrong shared another example:
While with a group of brewing professionals at a recent gathering, Armstrong noticed that one man in the group looked familiar and she asked him where she knew him from. His response was sexist and inappropriate.
"In my brain, I'm stewing. I took a second and I thought to myself," 'Brandalynn, you are going to rip this man's head off, but you might have an opportunity to address this later.'"
Later, at a more appropriate time, Armstrong talked to him about his comment and it led to a conversation about what is and isn't appropriate, what is or isn't camaraderie or joking.
"It could go one of two ways. I could say, just joke about it, or we could actually wait for the right moment, tackle it head on and we had a very intelligent conversation in front of multiple people and there was no yelling or anything, but you could tell that maybe, just maybe, hopefully he won't repeat that mistake.
And that's all that we can do - you get nowhere by yelling at people. You get somewhere by having an intelligent conversation and every time you stand up for yourself, you say, 'You know what? I understand that you might not mean it this way, but this is how I feel, and this is how a lot of people would probably feel, so maybe in the future you should consider what your actions are.'
If you're looking for change, if you're looking for equity in whatever position it may be, gender or anything else, you have to do it in an intelligent, informed way."
What does it take to defeat the boys club mentality?
I think the majority of brewers out there aren't in a boys club. I think if a woman wants to be in the industry and wants to be around the industry, it takes trying. It takes patience. With trying, patience and demonstrating that we can do the same jobs or we can hold the same roles or we can be just as valuable, anyone that isn't already on board with that will have no leg to stand on.
You're vocal about your love for Harrisburg as a resident and business owner. Why is championing for the city important to you and how has that shaped the way you do business?
My business partner and I worked on this project for a long time. We looked at a lot of different options as to where to put it. There were a lot of maybe on the surface seemingly better options to put it in, but we loved Harrisburg city. We saw a hole that needed filled. Troegs had moved out from Cameron Street. There was Appalachian Brewing Co., but we really felt that it could be a destination for beer. The river is gorgeous. The community is amazing. We knew we wanted something urban and we wanted something within traveling distance of other towns and cities. We just saw potential.
Harrisburg is Pennsylvania's capital. It has amazing amenities. It just needs a little bit of work. I think that the last couple years, the administration and the city has seen that vision and I like supporting them, working with them. They have an eye for what changes need to be made.
Sustainability can be had for us as it sits with the residents that live in the city, but growth for all of us comes from tourism.
Being a champion for the city helps drive tourism, which helps all of my small-business owners. When you live in a community you have the responsibility to be a good community member, whether it's picking up trash or shopping locally. The tourism driver is something I'm constantly working on. I do see so many people working so hard to further the city and get people here and let people discover it's not just crime or parking.
The success of the city equals the success of Zeroday. We have to be engaged for the overall betterment of where we plopped our business. I don't have any regrets either. It has been harder. It would have been a lot easier opening in the suburbs of Camp Hill, but I was never really one for the easy road.