Portland’s First Female Head Brewer Talks Fermentation, Culinary School, and Anheuser-Busch

10 Barrel Brewing's Whitney Burnside has climbed to beer ladder from Laurelwood to Upright to Elysian to Pelican. Now, she talks about her biggest challenge yet.

By Marty Patail March 2, 2015 Published in the March 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

Whitney Burnside, 27 // Head Brewer, 10 Barrel Brewing

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.”

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