by Eric Ginsburg
Leah Adams is one of the few women working on the brewing side of the Triad’s beer industry. And she’s just 23.
Leah Adams pulled a pair of oversized, yellow rubber gloves up to her elbows before reaching her head and shoulders into the small open door of the mash tun, but it didn’t do her much good. Turning her Greensboro Grasshoppers hat backwards to ease the process, Adams quickly found herself covered in spent grain — leftovers from the brewing process that a farmer will come pick up for feed — anyway. Bits of the excess found its way into her black boots, almost knee-high, as head brewer Calder Preyer sprayed water into the metal tun from a raised platform.
Adams started working as a bartender at Preyer Brewing in Greensboro back when it opened in May 2015, but expressed interest during her job interview in one day working on the other side of the wall where the beer is made. In early October, she became the brewery’s second brewing-side employee, serving as assistant brewer to co-owner and head brewer Calder Preyer.
She stood out from the start; Preyer remembers that Adams was one of the very first people to reach out after the brewery launched Facebook and Twitter accounts, eagerly inquiring about working there.
Adams fell in love with beer and dove into the craft world while working at a bottle shop in her hometown of Raleigh, but she’d spent a year at UNCG and liked the idea of returning to the Gate City, she said, in part because it’s more affordable. She’s always been into art and science, and Adams said brewing is sort of a chance to combine the two. Plus it’s a workout, and really beats the idea of a desk job.
Adams still splits her time between the taproom and brew house, which she appreciates because bartending pays better and allows her to interact directly with people who can provide feedback on beer she’s helped make. Both are physical and keep her on her feet, but Adams estimated that up to 70 percent of her brewing work is cleaning, filling and hauling kegs.
Preyer often refers to himself as a glorified janitor. That’s okay though; the dirty-jobs aspect of the gig entices Adams.
As Adams and Preyer worked to empty and clean the mash tun, loading the spent grain into four barrels and then hoisting each one together onto a pallet jack to cart outside, a mounted TV silently flashed scenes from the NCAA Tournament. Below it, on top of a keg, sat Adams’ copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — there’s a lot of downtime in brewing, and Adams aims to read a chapter a day while she waits. (A Harry Potter tattoo, a symbol from later in the series, peeked out from the bottom of her T-shirt sleeve, too.)
Other times breaks are more impromptu. Preyer pulled out his phone, showing Adams a video his wife sent of their daughter dancing while the two waited for the wort to hit the right temperature. Sometimes they listen to music as they work, while other times Adams quietly stacks empty kegs upside down and hoses them down while Preyer monitors the brew 20 yards away.
Often they break the silence by suggesting ridiculous names for future beers, riffing off each other’s ideas.
Adams isn’t the only woman working on the brewing side of things in the Triad, but she’s one of a very small handful (though the pool here is admittedly pretty small, comprised in a few cases of one-person teams). She’s also only 23 — 24 in May — a fact that she relishes.
Working in a brewery inspires her to want to homebrew, which would give her the chance to experiment and develop her own recipes. Preyer has been supportive, offering the use of some of the brewery’s smaller-batch equipment, and for now she’s just thankful to be working on this side of the wall at all, gaining valuable experience that will serve her later.
Brew days typically take eight to 10 hours, and this day, like her first day, Adams helped Preyer make a batch of the brewery’s blonde ale. She’s more likely to reach for their gose personally, but her taste is all over the map, more about specific beers than styles.
Two nights later, Adams was back behind the bar, pulling pints for customers who stared over her head as Calder Preyer’s Tar Heels fought their way to another tournament round victory. This time Adams was cleaner, not caked in what looks like oatmeal, but her expression was the same: all business.
See more photos of a brew day at Preyer at triad-city-beat.com.