Tapping Into A Fresh Perspective

With relatively few women producers in the craft beer world, Hannah Lee has had to exhibit a tremendous amount of grit to achieve what she’s accomplished in her line of work. But for this co-owner and head brewer of Waypost Brewing Co., it's precisely that level of determination and her unwavering passion for craft beer making that has garnered both national and international recognition for her small farmhouse brewery. Called out as a must-visit Southwest Michigan destination in Condé Nast Traveler’s “20 Best Places to Go in 2020” and earning a gold medal for its Waypost Saison at the 2021 Great American Beer Festival competition, Waypost Brewing Co. is proof that overcoming barriers can lead to spectacular results.

Focusing on traditional farmhouse styles and craft lagers, Waypost Brewing Co. opened its doors in September 2018, although the seed had been planted long before. With roots stemming from the winemaking world, both Hannah and her partner, Chuck Steinhardt, longed to find a distinctive location for their craft brewery—somewhere that would inspire them creatively and be reflected in their product, much in the way the concept of terroir is central to the craft of winemaking. Their ideal location turned out to be what was formerly known as Earl’s Berry Farm in Fennville, a 58-acre farm yielding predominantly blueberries, as well as strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

Of all the places to start a brewery, why did you choose this specific area?

Chuck and I found this area by accident, to be honest. After our first visit, we were immediately drawn here. It’s a hub for so many creative makers and talented people who really care about the community they’re making together. We really loved that it’s the kind of place where you end up asking, “Who made this?” rather than “Where did you buy this?” To know that a person created the furniture or the bowl you’re using or that they tended orchards and turned it into a craft beverage is something that we really connect with. That it started as a vision, was wrought by hand, and then shared with others is an ethos that we intentionally strive for at Waypost.

Did you find, as one of only a few women in this industry, that you had to overcome any obstacles or perceptions that your male counterparts would not have had to endure?

Oh, for sure! Not just as a woman but also as a person of color in a very homogeneously white male industry. There is significant representation of women in the craft beer industry, but the proportion of those women in production roles is relatively low. There are certainly barriers in this industry, primarily systemic, and I suspect what all women entrepreneurs face in general—difficulties in securing funding, negotiating contracts, project oversight, and managing teams. There have been many times when I have perceived differential treatment because of who I am/what I look like.

I always think it’s such a contradiction that we’re at a point in the craft beer industry where there is such impressive diversity on the shelves. You can find just about any beer imaginable, and yet, the diversity of the folks in the taprooms, those brewing the beer, or making the brewery decisions still leaves something to be desired. Over the past year, I have been encouraged by meaningful discussions about discrimination within the industry and calls for equity. I hope it will lead to lasting change.

Have you had the opportunity to mentor any other aspiring female brewers? Are there any words of advice you’d give to another woman pursuing this career path?

I would say that I have “worked with” rather than “mentored” other aspiring women in the same way that I call myself a “brewer” and not a “brewmaster.” I don’t like the finite feeling those words imply since I feel like I’m still learning and endeavor to always be learning. My advice is that to succeed in this industry, you need a lot of passion and a lot of grit. It’s important to be both open-minded and sure-footed. You need to be willing to learn from those around you but not allow them to direct your course. Practice non-attachment because, at the end of the day, it’s just beer. Oh, and don’t ever take an unpaid internship!

There are a lot of fantastic craft breweries in the area. What is it about Waypost that makes it unique?

We define Waypost as a farmhouse brewery, and our beers are a reflection of this truly unique place and the people who make it. Being a tender fruit farm in the Fruit Belt of Michigan, we are lucky to have such an abundance of high-quality, ultra-fresh ingredients to brew with. And if there’s something we want but don’t grow ourselves, we know there’s a neighbor who does!

Our farm provides more than just fruit to the finished product. As a brewer, I feel it necessary to note this. We are fortunate to pull truly delicious water from our well. While hops, grain, and other ingredients are important, water is the foundation of it all. (Beer is 95% water, after all!) We use the naturally occurring mineral profile of the water without changing or stripping it down. Seasonal shifts are welcome and worked with, as they express where the product was made.

Out of all the various flavor profiles your brewery offers, what’s the one beer you feel everyone who walks through your door should try?

Saison is my true love. It’s the quintessential farmhouse-style beer. It’s a Franco-Belgian style, traditionally brewed to be enjoyed by farmhands after a hard day’s work. This is a light-bodied, highly effervescent, dry, food-friendly beer. It’s a great jumping-off point for those just getting into craft beer and a wonderful option for wine drinkers who don’t yet love a malt-forward style. It’s the pinot grigio of the beer world due to its versatility and lovability. And yet, it can also be appreciated by the craftiest of craft beer fans.

If you had friends visiting the area for the first time, what would be your recommended must-do activities or places to go?

I highly recommend Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions. Their pastry is impeccable, and their menu is so fresh, seasonal, and carefully prepared. Missy is an award-winning chef, and her partner Ryan is a farmer who provides the produce for the café as well as their provisions shop next door. We have a lot in common, and we love that there is another young, independent, family-run business that is all about creating things that authentically express the beauty and abundance of this unique place.

Photo Credit: Maiko Media

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