Here at Summit Brewing Company, we’re always growing and changing. Whether it’s incorporating experimental ingredients in our brews, expanding on our beer line-up or finding new ways to give back to our community, we pride ourselves in our continual learning.
A huge part of this is the talent that makes up our Summit team. And over the last few years, we’ve been building out a stellar brew squad. Not only do they each bring a masterful knowledge of beer to the table, but they also have an insatiable desire to learn.
So, we’d like to introduce you to the members of our awesome Summit brewing team. With International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day (and International Women’s Day) coming up on March 8, we thought it would be perfect to start with our one-and-only female brewer – Melissa Rainville.
Rainville, who’s been with Summit for almost two years, gave us some insight into just how her love for this craft beverage turned into a career.
Let’s start at the beginning what made you want to get into the brewing industry?
Just for a frame of reference, I got into the industry when craft beer was still rare. Locally, there were fewer than 10 breweries and brewpubs in the state of Minnesota back in 2008. It was an invigorating time that felt as though it was filled with promise and possibility.
Brewing checks a lot of boxes for me. I have a huge appreciation for systemic and methodical process. I love when I can fall into the rhythm of a thing and have it feel familiar and comfortable. The brewing process is like that. With recipe development, I get to stretch my creative muscles. When I’m drafting a recipe, it’s like I’m painting except with flavor and that is so much fun! I don’t excel in extremely repetitive situations, so working in a position that has me brewing different beers every day, changing up between brewing, cellar work and doing filtration helps me to keep my head in the game and stay focused.
Also, in my youth I was a bit of a tomboy. I was the sort of kid to be playing with Tonka trucks, digging up worms and bringing home snakes in my pocket. The general physicality of and potential for getting grubby inherent in this line of work was never much of a deterrent for me.
By the way you explain the different facets of being a brewer, it sounds like there would be a lot of differentiation day-to-day. Seems like a great fit! Keeping on theme of beginnings, what was the first beer you had that made you want to learn more about the beverage?
It might sound like I’m pandering because I work here now, but I can attest to this as truth: I cut my beer-appreciating teeth on Summit Extra Pale Ale. EPA was the beer that opened up the possibility to me that beer could be interesting, complex and something other than the light, straw-colored, forgettable liquid that you pour down your neck at house parties with a keg in the bathtub. EPA showed me what beer was capable of. Beer could have depth and character. Beer could have pronounced floral and citrusy aromas. Beer could be beautiful and inviting. Twenty years ago, this was wild and riveting information for me.
Once that door was cracked open, I kicked it clear off its hinges. I was clamoring to try new-to-market and new-to-me breweries and brands. I was excited to learn about beer styles, the breadth and depth of which was staggering. It took a few years of exploring the world of craft beer as a consumer for me to realize that, I could actually make beer, too. I have always been a DIYer and am exhilarated by creating. I knit, sew, garden and dabble in woodworking, so tackling homebrewing was definitely going to be right in my wheelhouse.
That’s awesome! How great that it came full circle that you could work where your inspiration first started! So, what would you say was the first beer you ever had?
If photos from my childhood are any indication, I likely swiped a gulp out of an uncle’s Schmidt can while he was unaware.
I mean, didn’t we all? It’s great that your connections to the craft beer world are so local Minnesota. Were you able to study beer here too? Where did you get your certifications?
I was able to come away with a handful of credits of brewing related coursework in my time at the University of Minnesota while I was majoring in Horticulture. It wasn’t until after I had a few years in the industry that I gained any brewing-specific education. I have attended the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA) Brewing and Malting Science Course, and their Brewery Engineering & Utilities Course. I’ve earned a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing & Distilling (IBD) and am currently studying to take the exams for their Diploma in Brewing.
Congratulations on all the work you’ve done and all that you’ve accomplished so far! It’s great that you’re still passionate about the craft to continue learning more. So, outside of Summit, what beer to do you think helped define the craft?
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Hands down. Without question. The brewing industry in the U.S. would not be what it is today without that beer.
There are so many people that would agree with that statement! Turning back to Summit, how do you feel Summit has helped define craft beer?
Long before I worked here, I always associated two things with Summit: quality and consistency. Anytime I have been out at a bar in the last 20 years I have known unequivocally that I could rely on a Summit draught. I don’t like surprises, especially consumable ones. If I ordered a Summit I knew I was going to get a beer that was fresh and true to style. An EPA was going to be a proper English Pale Ale. A Great Northern Porter was going to be roasty, smooth and exactly as it ought to be. Since 1986, this brewery has succeeded on a foundation of authenticity and commitment to quality. It’s why I wanted to work here.
Those are two things we pride ourselves here at Summit, so it always is great to see that translates beyond our brewery walls. What is your favorite Summit beer?
Summit Keller Pils! Our Keller Pils is truly world class. We’ve brought home hardware from both the World Beer Cup® and Great American Beer Festival® with this beer during my tenure, and with good reason. It’s a beautiful golden-hued German-style Pilsner with an enticing floral aroma, a refreshing lemon-citrus zip, and I love it like I love my comfy pants.
It’s definitely a great brew! So, why do you love working at Summit?
First and foremost, it is an honor and a privilege to brew Summit beers. The fact that I wake up in the morning and that’s what I get to go do for a living blows my mind. I am grateful every day I get to help craft the beers that made me fall in love with craft beer. Summit Winter Ale, Keller Pils, EPA, Summit Oatmeal Stout, they all have such a direct line to my heart. Playing a role in their creation makes me feel connected to something greater than myself.
Secondly, the team I get to work with in the brewery specifically, and in the company as a whole. Summit has collected an incredible group of individuals that I feel blessed to be surrounded by. We all work well together, support one another and make damn fine beer at the same time.
It’s so important to be surrounded by individuals you respect, appreciate and admire and Summit definitely does a great job of curating a wonderful team across the board. Moving onto the looking at the brewing industry more broadly, what are some challenges you feel the industry faces?
The industry has a diversity problem. It is leaps and bounds better than it was when I first got into the industry, but it absolutely has a long way to go. This goes for the people working in the industry’s ranks AND consumers. Significantly more active effort needs to be made to make craft beer and the industry inclusive and accessible to BIPOC, the LGBTQ+ community, and women.
That speaks to the next question quite well. Given your vantage point as a woman, what are some challenges women face in the brewing world?
Honestly, being taken seriously is a big one. Whether by vendors who don’t believe you are the person they need to be talking to to pitch their product, or consumers who’ve “never heard of such a thing” as a woman brewer at a beer fest. There’s a lot of deeply engrained assumptions about what women are capable of amongst the general populous.
International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day that’s coming up on March 8. Have you participated in IWCB before? What made you want to participate this year?
I lead an IWD collab brew in Duluth with Lissa Maki from Barley’s Angels Duluth/Superior when I was working at Hoops Brewing back in 2018. I wanted to participate this year, because it had proved to be a great opportunity for connection between women in the industry locally, and is a huge opportunity for outreach to women in the wider community. Anything that motivates, invigorates or inspires other women to view this industry as accessible and open to them, I am here to support. Representation matters and if you don’t see people who look like you participating or being otherwise active around an industry or community, it’s really difficult to envision how you yourself might be able to play a role in that industry or community. I’m participating in this collab brew to say, “Hey, I’m out here doing this brewing thing! Other ladies, you may enjoy this, too!” I’m grateful to have been invited to sit in with the women of the North Shore brewing scene at Bent Paddlethis weekend. If you’re in the neighborhood, come give me a high five!