Abby Titcomb, 28, dropped out of art school and left her bartending job to fold beer cases for Three Floyds Brewing. Now she's the only woman on the small team of brewers and has made her mark with her own specialty beer, Das Kleine Schwarze Einhorn.
Interview by Brianna Wellen
Photographs by Ryan Lowry
I am from a really small town in northern Wisconsin: New Richmond. I went to the University of Minnesota for two years, then transferred to the Art Institute of Minnesota for photography. And then I just kind of got bored. I ended up absolutely hating photography—I’m not sure why that happened. I need to be challenged a lot. There was nothing doing that up there. I came down here for my birthday. I’d never been here, and I had so much fun that I was like, “Fuck it. I’ll move.” So I got to Chicago in August of 2007.
I was bartending, but I wanted to do something that produced something. I wanted to see my work. I was at dinner at the Bristol one night, trying to figure out my life, and I was like, “Holy shit. I love beer, I love talking about beer, I love drinking beer. Why don’t I make beer?” So I talked to a couple people in the industry, just wondering, where do I start, what do I do? They directed me toward Siebel Institute [of Technology], the brewing school. I actually got hired at Three Floyds in 2010 building boxes—making beer cases. They knew I went to Seibel, and they knew I had a passion for it. I moved over to the brewing side in January of 2011.
When I first started brewing, I thought, there aren’t many women doing this—people are definitely going to notice. I knew I wasn’t the first. This isn’t a new concept—women brewing—there have just been fewer. It’s the same job; you have the same exact ability as everybody else. I’m all for women and I’m really adamant about it, but at the same time, let’s not victimize ourselves. I never got any opposition that was like, “You can’t do this.” We absolutely should be celebrated, but I think good brewers in general should be celebrated. It’s never men vs. women; it’s not a battle.
I’ve never been involved in an industry where the people are so passionate about what they do. The drinkers are so involved and so in love with the beer. I had a little bit of an inkling of people who drink beer and love beer, but people love this shit to a point where it’s obsessive. We love you, thank you so much for loving us, but I’m sorry that we can’t make Zombie Dust every day. Don’t take it personally, we love you.
We all make every beer, but we’re given the opportunity to make “our beer” that we wanted to make personally. Mine was Das Kleine Schwarze Einhorn, the Little Black Unicorn. It’s a black lager schwarzbier. That’s the only one I really have claim to now, but I have a lot of ideas.
I love PBR. We get a lot of shit for it. I remember my first Dark Lord Day, I brought a six pack of PBR out of the cooler, and I was walking it into the office for the dudes who were running the shit downstairs and people were like yelling and jeering at me: “How dare you do this!” I was like, “Bitches, I work here.” Once you’re drinking all these nice beers, it’s nice to have a PBR to cleanse it. It is palate fatigue all the time.
My first Three Floyds beer was Gumballhead—still a really great one. Zombie Dust, I mean, that’s always selling out. We cannot make it fast enough. One that really stood out for me was Cimmerian Sabertooth Berzerker. It was badass. We used a bunch of different new hops that we were experimenting with. That beer was phenomenal, and I really hope we can bring it back.
You can take it seriously and do your best job, but don’t take it so seriously. I’m so proud of what we do and what we make, but at the end of the day it’s like, dudes, there are bigger problems in the world than running out of beer. People do ask me about home brewing and stuff like that, and it’s great to see ambition and creativity in these brews they want to do, like crazy IPAs and things with coconut in them. That’s awesome, but I also am a fan of keep it simple, keep it solid. Make a really good pale ale first, then you can experiment. ●