Some people dream about working at a brewery. Tiki Adkisson aspired to be a field biologist. She ended up doing a little of both.
Before Adkisson joined the team at Foothills — the second largest North Carolina-based craft brewery — in 2011, she worked at an independent water testing company along the Carolina coast. There she would test drinking water and waste water: not exactly a glamorous life, or what she envisioned as a student at UT Knoxville in her home state of Tennessee. But her scientific background would help qualify her for a sexier — albeit unexpected — position as the head of Foothills’ beer lab.
Smaller breweries generally go without the level of oversight and quality control that a lab like the one at Foothills affords, but Adkisson and her small team play a fundamental role in assuring the consistency of the Winston-Salem brewery’s products. It’s not that smaller breweries don’t go through great pains to deliver a precise output, but when Foothills grew to its Kimwell Drive production facility in southwest Winston-Salem, a lab seemed like an integral part of its expansion.
Two full-timers helped fill out the lab team — Claudia Gerardo and Andy Daniels started as interns while pursuing their associate degrees in biotechnology at Forsyth Tech before being hired on — as well as a part-time staffer. Together Adkisson’s crew tests each beer at every step of the brewing process, sometimes under a microscope or with beer-specific tools to check for consistent CO2 or dissolved oxygen in finished bottles.
Adkisson, Gerardo and Daniels like beer; it’s sort of part of the job description, and they do frequently taste beers during production and after completion. But unlike any brewery employee I’ve ever met, the beer is a secondary motivation, more of a perk than anything else — these three are passionate about the science above all.
And that’s what you want, really, as a beer drinker or a brewery owner. They’re perfectly polite, and will begrudgingly pose for a picture, but before you’ve left the room they’ll turn back around to their devices, entering data into a spreadsheet or hunkering over a beaker.
Not that there’s no fun in that tucked away corner of Foothills’ brewery — there’s a baseball in there, and the trio joke around with each other and interlopers alike.
Adkisson’s interest in beer didn’t begin with the Foothills position, she said, though it certainly doesn’t hurt that her husband is TL Adkisson, who Foothills recently promoted from head brewer to brewmaster, the guy who created the seminal Jade IPA as his first recipe for the company.
Tiki Adkisson isn’t the only woman working on the production side of things here — there’s Gerardo, of course, and Foothills hired its first female brewer earlier this year. Women occupy other important roles too, including COO, comptroller and both pub general managers, a not insignificant fact in an industry temporarily dominated by men. And the Adkissons aren’t the only beer couple to be found at the Winston-Salem heavyweight either, most notably joined by COO Sarah Bartholomaus and her husband Jamie, the company president.
As Foothills grows, so do the responsibilities of Tiki Adkisson’s lab, as well as the wish list of things she’d like to add. But just like the massive warehouse space where the production brewery operates around her (in a building that used to house a manila envelope manufacturer), Adkisson is quickly running out of space.