Last year, when news broke that Bend-based 10 Barrel Brewing would open a Northwest Portland outpost in 2015, beer geeks rejoiced. But the best news was yet to come: 10 Barrel had hired Whitney Burnside as the company’s—and the city’s—first female head brewer.
After graduating from culinary school in 2008, Burnside commandeered the cheese course at the Herbfarm, a farm-to-table restaurant in wine-centric Woodinville, Washington. That blossoming interest in fermentation eventually led her to home-brewing. Soon, she was concocting new recipes in the kitchen after work, adding unusual herbs and ingredients from the restaurant’s garden to her free-ranging formulas. “I love cooking and I love baking,” she says. “But I never had that click like I did with brewing. The craft of brewing—it’s like building a recipe.”
In 2010, Portland’s Laurelwood Brewing brought Burnside on as an intern, and she soon earned a promotion to a part-time position. From there, her career reads like a weekend itinerary of the Northwest’s best breweries: Upright in Portland, then Elysian in Seattle, Pelican in Pacific City.
Though 10 Barrel, a scrappy outfit known largely for its reliable Apocalypse IPA, was bought by macrogiant Anheuser-Busch last November, Burnside isn’t concerned about a loss of authenticity. “I have a blank canvas at 10 Barrel to create really fun beers,” she says. “At Pelican, I created a lot of great beers that were true to style. I love doing that, but I didn’t have as much play as I wanted.” Ideas are already swirling: she’s eager to try out genmaicha, for instance, a Japanese mixture of green tea and brown rice. But it’s not just a matter of adding stuff to the pot to see what works. “I look at beer from a different perspective since I trained as a chef,” she says. “I try to make flavors meld in the same way we do food.”