You may not have heard of Averie Swanson.
But whoever makes your favorite beer is probably quite familiar with Averie Swanson.
Swanson, 32, has enjoyed one of the swifter rises during craft beer’s ascendance of the last decade. In a mere four years, she catapulted from volunteering at Jester King, a renowned Austin, Texas, brewery, to becoming its head brewer.
As Swanson oversaw production of the elegant sour, wild and funky beers made at Jester King’s 165-acre farmhouse operation, she became the epitome of a brewers’ brewer: judging competitions, speaking at conferences and fielding seemingly endless calls and questions.
But beer industry fame started to feel heavy. So did 60-to-70-hour work weeks. So did modern craft beer culture: the collecting, the line-standing, the intensity of fandom that seemed rooted in acquiring beer as much or more than enjoying it.
So Swanson blew it all up. She quit Jester King in late 2018, packed her things and moved to Chicago.
“A lot of people said I was an idiot for leaving what was arguably the best job in beer,” Swanson said. “I was the face of that brewery and had tons of people reach out for advice, anywhere from cellarmen trying to figure things out (about fermentation) to people starting breweries to women having issues because they weren’t being treated fairly. I was fortunate to be in a position where people thought I had insight that might be helpful.”
But Swanson decided she’d reached a ceiling at Jester King — which included a small ownership stake that she retains — and after living her entire life in Texas, she was ready for what was next.
What’s next is Chicago’s gain as much as it is Austin’s loss: Keeping Together, a project based at Half Acre’s Lincoln Avenue brewery, where Swanson makes a small amount of Belgian-style beer wholly on her own terms and with little pressure for commercial success.
Swanson prefers commercial success, of course. But without bank loans, investors, a lease or much equipment needed to launch Keeping Together, she focuses on what moves her: beer, and how it ties into enjoyment and healthy communities.
Her first beer, released this month, underscores the intention: The Art of Holding Space is a Belgian-style table beer that’s a mere 3 percent alcohol. Like the best table beers, The Art of Holding Space is a deep and satisfying well of flavors despite its meager alcohol: bright and lemony, earthy and refreshing.
It’s exactly the kind of beer to share with friends across hours of chatting, whether with food or on its own. Which is the point.
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