She started out thinking she’d be a biologist, but along the way Brennan Westby became fascinated with one particular biological reaction — yeast and its ability to turn grain into that golden elixir we all know as beer.
That started a little brewing hobby while she was in college, making fun beers from commercial kits with girlfriends.
Now brewing has become a serious career for Brennan, that’s also seriously fun and flexible. She’s is the newest master brewer to join the ranks of the Cowboy State brewmasters. She’s operating in Cheyenne’s newest brewery scene, Westby Edge Brewing Company, owned by her parents, Darin and Misha Westby.
Brennan has found a particularly welcoming society among Wyoming’s master brewers. In fact, they helped her through a rather stressful beginning. Her brewing system arrived in “a million pieces,” with absolutely no instructions included.
Brennan called the company, who assured her there were instructions contained on a flash drive inside the two control panels that came with the system.
Brennan eventually found the control panels, but there was no flash drive.
Here’s A Magnifying Glass
Eventually, the company emailed her the contents of the flash drive, which turned out to be teeny-tiny images of the way the system should look once set up. It was like a shiny, silvery, space-age city. It was beautiful. But there were no instructions. There weren’t even numbers to suggest which piece should connect to what piece, or where.
Her father, Darin Westby, half joking and half serious, printed all the tiny images out for her and then handed her a magnifying glass.
“No joke, I really used that magnifying glass,” Brennan said, now able to laugh about what felt a bit like a catastrophe at the time. Fortunately, members of Wyoming’s master brewing community rallied to help her get everything put together quickly and correctly.
“Brian Campbell, the old CEO of Melvin before they merged, came down for like a week to help me get up and going and make sure my system was functioning,” Westby said. “I think he was a little floored that that’s what they’d sent me, but he really helped me figure out the way stuff should flow, which was priceless.”
Her mentor at Blue Raven Brewery in Cheyenne also came over to help check everything out, ensuring everything was set up inside a week for her very first beer run.
Making Memories In Amber
Brennan chose a Mexican-style amber and a mild IPA for the first two beers on her system.
The IPA was a practical choice. They’re having a moment right now in the craft-brewing scene, and seemingly everyone wants to drink them.
The amber was more sentimental, though. She selected it in honor of her mother, who took brewing classes with her and is her brewing assistant. Ambers were also one of the first beers she could brew consistently when brewing was just a hobby.
“Our recipe is just a little bit crisper,” Brennan said. “It’s not quite as sweet, but it still has body.”
Those first two beers helped Brennan work out some of the kinks that hadn’t been apparent with her new system. Like the fact it was designed to be a 10-barrel system, not seven.
That resulted in a little extra beer than expected, and some beer that had to be dumped.
That could have been a very bad thing — ratios not being as expected, but the quality turned out well enough to serve at least some of the beer. Much to the enjoyment of customers, who are following along with Brennan’s steady progress as a beginning master brewer.
Women still make up only 23 percent of brewery owners, with just 2 percent completely female-owned, according to a 2021 audit by the Brewers Association.
The lack of women in the master brewing scene is something Brennan still finds puzzling. To her, the brewing industry has been so friendly and welcoming. She would recommend it to anyone.
In fact, she’s surprised more women aren’t looking at it as a serious career option. It’s so accommodating to people who might need a schedule that bends around family.
“I got my degree in biology in 2018,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “And then I had my son, and he had a lot of health issues. So, I was really looking for a job that had some flexibility.”
As she was job-hunting, she didn’t find many situations that fit that need. Even then, though, it took a friend at Blue Raven, who was a master brewer, to get her thinking beyond beer as a hobby, and as a serious career that just happens to be flexible and fun, too.
That friend even agreed to help her get the 1,000 hours of experience that she would need to complete her master brewer’s license. That was a true lightbulb moment.
“I just saw this great opportunity to try a different field of science,” Brennan said.
A Microscope Is On The Way
In fact, Brennan has not let go of her scientific bent. She dreams of one day opening a beer science lab in Cheyenne, which could help breweries solve problems with their beer. As she spoke of the idea, she was unconsciously rubbing her hands and smiling with glee.
“I’m going to be looking into an isomer microscope,” she said. “I love that there is a lab aspect to this.”
A microscope may not be the first thing that comes to mind as a tool in the beer brewing kit, but Brennan loves peering in on her yeast to see what it’s doing, whether it’s healthy, and whether she’s got the right populations doing the right work in her beer.
She can also tell all sorts of things about her beer with laboratory tests like specific gravity, as well as peeking in the microscope at her yeast colonies.
“There’s this whole other side to brewing that a lot of people don’t see,” Brennan told Cowboy State Daily. “And there are these people who are QC managers who just, they’re able to catch mistakes and stuff like that. There’s a lot to brewing that I would like to get out there and show people besides just moving 55-pound bags and cleaning for hours and hours.”
Cleaning, she added, is the single most time-consuming aspect of brewing beer. It’s extremely important that every piece of the system is 100 percent clean.
Brennan hopes to continue her scientific education in all areas that touch on beer making, so she can continue a deep dive into the fascinating chemistry and biology of beer.
She’s been getting lots of encouragement along the way from customers at Westby Edge, who are anxious to taste her next brew.
“I really appreciate that people are letting me, you know, try again, and they’re coming back and some of them are going outside of their comfort zone to try my IPA, since it’s the only one I have on tap right now,” Brennan said.
Fans won’t have to wait long. Brennan has a stout on the way, as well as a blonde, to join her IPA and her amber ale.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.