Behind the Brew with Alicia Valenski

Welcome back to one of our newest interview series here at BeerSelfie, where we focus not so much on the beers themselves, but on the people behind those beers. Today, we’re chatting with someone who helps us craft beer lovers be mindful of what we’re consuming, and offset that by expending some energy. That person is none other than Alicia Valenski, one of the co-founders of Work For Your Beer.

BeerSelfie: Please introduce yourself, and how you find yourself a part of the Craft Beer community

Alicia Valenski: My name is Alicia Valenski, and I’m the co-founder of Work For Your Beer, the ultimate directory of interactive events happening at breweries, cideries, wineries, and more throughout the Southeast (and in the future, hopefully throughout the world!) I’ve worked in brewery marketing in a variety of capacities over the years, and I’m currently studying to become a Level 2 Cicerone!

BeerSelfie: Keeping us all engaged with our favorite breweries and with our cores – a great combo in my book. And wow, studying up on some serious beer knowledge! That’s today’s Alicia, though – how did your journey into craft beer get started?

Alicia Valenski: When I first moved to Charlotte, NC in the fall of 2015, I was working from home and didn’t know anybody in the city. I was like, “Okay, if you’re an adult and you don’t work in an office with coworkers, how do you make friends?” I searched through a calendar of local events and found a brewery that hosted a yoga class every Tuesday — for just $5, you got the class and a beer. I figured that would be a great event to go to in order to find a community of friends. And I was right, because going to that brewery yoga class was the first step toward founding Work For Your Beer, even if I didn’t know it at the time!

BeerSelfie: I think that’s something that many folks struggle with, whether they’ve relocated (for whatever reason) or have an extended stay somewhere due to their job. And hey, it’s a real-life (as opposed to just internet) community. Speaking of, what have you found to be the most enjoyable thing about craft beer and the community (online and IRL) that has grown around it?

Alicia Valenski: People who love craft beer just seems to be automatically bonded by that passion. You can be sitting next to a total stranger at the bar, but if you start talking about the beer you’re drinking and their eyes light up, you know you’ve just made a friend. There’s this warm, welcoming nature in the craft beer community that builds such strong relationships — it’s truly remarkable.

BeerSelfie: Though I’m coming to this from the watch world, I recognize what you’re saying. You’ve got something in common, and it’s that opening stepping stone in a conversation. Though, I dare say, beer may lend itself to talking more than a watch! Since you’ve joined the community, how have you seen it grow and/or change?

Alicia Valenski: Back when I started my “craft beer journey” in 2015, I encountered a lot of mansplaining when I approached the bartender to place my order. A lot of men told me what I would and wouldn’t like, without knowing anything about me or my palate. They laughed if I ordered an IPA. It was frustrating, being written off just for being a woman when I knew so much about beer and brewing. But at this point, I don’t experience that kind of exclusion anymore. In fact, more often than not, the men I meet in the brewery world seem thrilled when I want to talk about the ins and outs of each beer on the tap list, the set-up of their brewhouse, etc. Seeing that shift over the years — women being more welcome in the craft beer community — has been really encouraging.

BeerSelfie: I’m really glad to hear that things have moved in a positive direction in your experience. Frankly, we’ve all got a lot we can learn, so I think it’s great that we fellows are recognizing that and learning from folks no matter their gender. That’s something you see IRL, I’m sure, but I’m guessing it has an impact on the internet as well. How do you see social media playing into (and influencing) the craft beer “scene”?

Alicia Valenski: Social media plays a HUGE role in the craft beer scene! The Work For Your Beer community would never have grown so quickly without our Instagram profile in particular — the visual platform just allows you to tell such a clear story about what it means to be a part of our community of active beer lovers. But outside of our own profiles, we love that social media allows us to learn about beer releases in cities outside of our own. We use it to put together brewery bucket lists when we travel to new cities. We meet incredible, lovely people in the craft beer scene through social media that end up becoming friends of ours in real life. In my opinion, it’s a fantastic tool for educating and entertaining, as well as connecting with, your audience and your peers.

BeerSelfie: Yes, yes, 1000% yes. I’ve met some great people and been exposed to so many more beers (and breweries) than what I’d just find in my local shop. Not sure what to pick up? Just toss a question out there in your story, and I’m sure you’ll get some great recommendations. Speaking of recommendations, what is your one “Go To” brew?

Alicia Valenski: This is such a tough question! This varies for me based on so many factors — what I’m doing, my energy levels, the time of year, what I’m eating… But generally speaking, I’m all about the hops. Right now, one of my favorite brews is “Riverrun,” a fruity New England-style double IPA from Väsen Brewing Company in my city of Richmond, VA.

BeerSelfie: Yes, there are a lot of factors that go into that choice – and I can only imagine it can get more complicated when you’re going through the training that you are for the Cicerone! But, that also means you’re an expert – when you’ve got someone asking you for a recommendation, what’s the first one that comes to mind?

Alicia Valenski: If they’re just weaning into craft beer from domestic beers, I tell them to look for a lager on the tap list. If they’re just weaning into beer altogether, I typically suggest a wheat beer or something more approachable like a fruited white ale. If they’re already a craft beer lover and just looking for something weird and different, I usually point them toward the sours and wild ales available.

BeerSelfie: Ah, yes, sours. I’ve been bitten by those more than once, but I have found a few that are interesting. Still, they definitely feel like an acquired taste. So, let’s say sours are off the table, and you’re mixing up a sweet 6-pack for a trade – what’s going in the box that you’re sending

Alicia Valenski: Well, it’s the holidays and I like to drink local (duh), so:

BeerSelfie: Can’t say as I’ve had those, but I do recognize some of the breweries. And, is it just me, or do those last two seem like they’d combine to make some sort of horror film? But I digress – If you had one piece of advice to someone jumping into the craft beer community – in whatever capacity – what would it be?

Alicia Valenski: Be open to new things! Even if you’re absolutely SURE that you hate IPAs, if someone offers you a taster, just give it a sip or two. You might be surprised how your palate changes. The same goes for the activities hosted at breweries. Even if you’ve never done yoga before in your life and you’re certain that you’re not flexible, what’s the harm in just showing up for a class at the brewery and giving it a shot? Worst case scenario, you grab a beer after class. Best case scenario, you find an activity (and a group of people) you enjoy!

BeerSelfie: Ha! That sounds very much like the advice we give our kids when it comes to new things, new foods, and new experiences – try it, and you might like it! And, if you don’t, well, that’s something you’ve learned and you can work from that going forward. If you could have anyone come to one of your events, and share a beer with them, who would it be – and why?

Alicia Valenski: I’d have to say, Rhonda Kallman. She basically pioneered the craft beer industry when she co-founded Samuel Adams back in 1984, and I truly think of her as THE idol of any woman in the craft beer industry. And after decades at Samuel Adams, she founded her own distillery in Boston, too! She’s just such an entrepreneurial badass and I’d go bananas if I ever got to grab a beer with her in real life.

BeerSelfie: That makes total sense – and I would just love to be there and listen to your converse – I have a feeling I could learn a lot from both of you! Last, but not least – what’s in your glass today?

Alicia Valenski: I’m enjoying a Fireside Chat from 21st Amendment Brewery. Warms you up from the inside out on a chilly winter day!

And that, beer friends, marks the end of our chat with Alicia. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to talk with us, and I’d definitely recommend you check out what they’ve built. There are a lot of great events out there, and some great tees and tanks for your own workout (I’ve got one, and it’s super soft and has a great logo). Until next time – cheers!

Written by Patrick Kansa

Patrick is a big data developer and leader with a penchant for gadgets, books, watches, and beverages. You can find his work on WristWatchReviewKnapsack.News, and Slushpile ; you can find him on Twitter and Instagram as @PatrickWatches.

About the author

A big data developer and leader with a penchant for gadgets, books, watches and beverages. You can find my work on WristWatchReview, Knapsack.News, and Slushpile.

If you're on Twitter and/or Instagram, you'll find me there as @PatrickWatches.