GRAND RAPIDS – Once upon a time, gender roles were very clearly divided—women gathered, men hunted. Later, women tended to the home while men toiled in the fields or factories. And once upon a time, part of the duties in the home included brewing beer. Women brewed for farmhands, for families, for themselves. When beer brewing moved out of the home and into the workplace, women relinquished the role of brewer but times, as they say, are changing.
Since July 2015, Gabi Palmer has been the head brewer at Grand Rapids’s Schmohz Brewery. Schmohz opened in December 2004 and has the unique distinction of including graduates of Michigan Tech in almost every facet of the operation, including Palmer.
After graduating from Michigan Tech with a degree in Mechanical Design, Palmer’s career went “all over place.” She worked in computer-aided drafting at Ford and then freelanced for about 10 years.
“I traveled all over the world until I ended up back in Michigan,” said Palmer. “I worked for a [large, corporate cable company] until I realized that I would rather live in a box than work there one more day.” That realization led her to a job with Adventures in Homebrewing.
Palmer enjoyed the job.
“After I’d worked there awhile, some friends suggested that I should submit my resume to breweries. In fact, they threatened to get nasty with me if I didn’t!”
Having been a homebrewer since 1995, Palmer got to work on her resume and gave it to a friend at Ford, who gave it to her coworker, Jim Schwerin.
Turns out that Schwerin not only has a full-time job at Ford Motor Company, but he also co-owns Schmohz with his wife, Laurie. This is what people do for beer, folks—they work all week and then drive to Grand Rapids on the weekends to brew beer at their brewpub.
About a month later, the Schwerins decided that they wanted to add an assistant brewer and Jim Schwerin knew he wanted Palmer.
“We would bottle on Fridays, brew on Saturdays, clean up on Sunday,” Palmer said. “Jim was the head brewer, and I was his assistant. Then he added more responsibilities to my job and I got a promotion to ‘brewer.’ At the end of July, he came up to me and said he was thinking about having me take over all of the brewing responsibilities.” Palmer didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge.
Palmer said that everyone in the industry has been “awesome, especially in Grand Rapids.Everyone has been friendly and welcoming.”
Palmer is a member of the trade group, Fermenta, which supports women who are involved in the craft beverage industry.
“I landed at the right spot and I couldn’t ask for a better place,” said Palmer. “My hand is in the beer from the brewing to the carbonation to transferring to bottling to labeling.I’m involved from the very beginning until it goes out the door.”
For those who want to follow in her footsteps, she added, “You will put in a lot of hours, and you are going to be wet and sticky, and 90% of the job is cleaning tanks and kegs, but what a job it is! I don’t know of any other place where I could have this kind of experience!”
Palmer’s creativity has been rewarded in the beers she brews.
“They’ve never said no to any idea I’ve had,” Gabi said. Some of her favorites are the Zombie Pumpkin Ale, Stumbling Monk Belgian PA, Gingerbread Brown Ale, and the Jack of Spades Indian Black Ale.
The Schwerins agree.
“She has been a godsend,” Laurie Schwerin said. “She has made our lives so much easier…we will do anything to keep her happy!”
Once upon a time, gender roles were divided and women stopped being the brewers. But now, women like Gabi Palmer are brewing up beer along with the men, and we will all live happily ever after.