One of the first things to know about a can of beer is how much creativity has been poured into it. Every beer tells a story, and every brewer is a storyteller. And Naked Brewing Company’s new Head Brewer, Hannah Gohde, “is a really good storyteller,” says Co-Owner Shawn Dulee. “I love the liquid we’re putting into cans.” She also loves the label art that invites beer drinkers into the stories Gohde tells. “People do drink with their eyes,” Dulee says.
Brewing is a creative process from start to finish and Gohde, who keeps a running list of potential names for new beers, finds inspiration in all sorts of places. The Naked Brewing Co. beer that will be in the 2021 Kennett Winterfest cases, for example, began with a company-wide brainstorming session between Dulee, Gohde, and Founder and Co-Owner Jim Crossland. They decided to brew a beer in their “cat series” of hazy IPAs that also pays homage to Kennett as the mushroom capital—hence the name “Cat-a-Pillar.” “Patrons can expect a fluffy and full-flavored hazy double dry hopped IPA,” Gohde says. “At Naked Brewing we’re all about making solid liquid and having fun—two things this beer celebrates.”
The concept for the Cat-a-Pillar label art, which features “a cat grooving on a mushroom,” is “Woodstock-psychedelic-Alice-in-Wonderland-esque,” says Gohde. Dulee and Gohde laugh as they describe the process of communicating these associations with Gabi Ellis, one of their two phenomenally talented female artists. With design skills and insights belying her age, Gabby is just 18 years old and a student at the Moore College of Art. Dulee and Gohde realized they couldn’t take familiarity with Woodstock, for example, for granted. A few iterations later, though, and Gabby had created a vibrant and beguiling design that draws the beer drinker into the story the liquid inside the can completes. In other words, sometimes judging a beer by its label is perfectly appropriate.
Telling these kinds of stories is relatively new for Naked Brewing, who not so long ago were focused on serving their mostly traditional style beers on tap to crowds of thirsty locals in their Huntingdon Valley taproom. Their second taproom, in Bristol, was slated to open in mid-March 2020. After numerous COVID-related delays, they opened the new space in July. Twenty-five percent occupancy in their main taproom translates to 15 people, and only 11 in Bristol. These limitations served as a catalyst, Dulee says, to diversify and do packaged products. “Growlers and crowlers are options, but they have a shorter shelf life and we have less control over the quality,” she says. “So we quickly decided to start canning.” That’s where Gohde comes in.
Like many brewers, Gohde, a Hershey native, started out homebrewing. She was first introduced to the close-knit Philadelphia brewing community through a job at Keystone Homebrew Supply. Although she knew she wanted to be involved in some facet of production, she was full of self-doubt when she was offered a full-time position as a brewer at Free Will Brewing in 2015. This talented and well-educated young woman, who has since won a competitive scholarship through the Pink Boots Society and received numerous accolades for her brewing, remembers asking, “Are you sure?” All she needed was this kind of opportunity to learn and grow. At the same time, the industry itself was growing and changing in response to new legislation that allowed brewers to sell beer for consumption on their premises. The market for crowlers, and then cans, began to take off.
Five years later, after a brewing accident in which her arm was crushed under a large compressed-gas cylinder, it took two different surgeries and a year of recuperation, physical therapy, and determined hard work before Gohde could get back on the brew deck to resume this very physical labor. “I’d been on medical leave, pre-gaming for being stuck at home when the pandemic hit,” she jokes. But she was ready to get back—and Dulee was ready to take Naked Brewing in a new direction.
When Dulee, a longtime friend, asked her to come on board as Head Brewer at Naked Brewing last July, Gohde says she had “only a slight hesitation” to mix work with friendship. “We have a similar thought process about what we want to go into a can,” she says, and she also appreciates that they can both be honest and straightforward with one another without hurt feelings. Of all the beer styles Gohde loves, cream ale is her favorite. So when Dulee told her that the only beer she’d need to keep on tap was Naked Brewing’s number-one selling cream ale, and the rest was up to her creativity, she knew it was meant to be. Their shared passion is “to make great liquid, get it in people’s hands—and be good people.”
Dulee and Gohde first connected through the Pink Boots Society, an international organization whose aim is to elevate women in the beer industry through education. The Philadelphia chapter, which is one of the largest and most active in the country, is led by Erin Wallace—owner of the Devil’s Den and the new Retail Operations Manager at Upper Reach Meadery (whose mead is also included in the Kennett Winterfest). These kinds of connections exemplify the invaluable networking and support the organization fosters, but the scholarships the society offers to women for all sorts of courses are also vitally important. “There’s always something to learn,” Dulee says. She’s happy to see the increasing crossovers in the industry, too, including those who work with all kinds of fermentables.
Dulee’s story is similarly inspiring. She’s worked in the industry since she was in her twenties. “I was always a beer snob,” she says with a smile. After running a bar in South Jersey for a number of years, she made the decision to stay home to raise her kids. She worked part-time in the Naked Brewing taproom for a time, “But I like to get my hands dirty and fix things,” she says, and so she left Naked Brewing to work at Saint Benjamin Brewing Company. “I worked with phenomenal brewers and learned so much. I was in production, doing grunt work, washing kegs. I loved working with them and didn’t want to leave.” But sometimes the magic in the brew has a way of bringing people to new opportunities. Through a fuzzy series of unintentional texts one night, she ended up back at Naked Brewing.
With the tough restrictions that COVID has imposed, it’s more important than ever to be a lean and effective multi-tasking team—and in such a small team, each member has numerous opportunities to exercise their complementary skills and expertise. Crossland, who fitted the entire outfit and is able to fix anything, also has a full-time job outside the brewery. “We all wear lots of hats—and they’re all invisible,” Gohde says. “Shawn runs so much of the business, she has about seven different titles.” Everything is a hands-on collaborative effort. Crossland and Dulee, for example, do all the canning. “We don’t have a fancy set-up—it’s a very labor-intensive process,” Gohde says. Dulee smiles as she describes how bittersweet it was to see all the cans of the amazing stouts that Gohde had brewed for Valentine’s Day literally fly off the shelves. “It was such an accomplishment to get them all done and to see them there, lined up and finished. It felt like Christmas morning—after working so hard to set everything up, the kids come in and it’s like it never happened.”
While Naked Brewing holds fast to its distinctives and commitment to quality, economy of scale can also be a challenge for a small operation. “We use only high-quality, all-natural ingredients to make unique beers,” Gohde says, “but using only real fruit puree, for example, is costly when we’re not buying huge quantities.”
There are other pressures, too. “We have to constantly have something new in IPAs to keep people engaged. We have to figure out how to balance, within our capacity, having beer for our long-time supporters of 11 years but also having beer that’s hype-worthy enough to draw people from outside our ten-mile radius.” Cans, she says, offer a huge marketing opportunity to tell the stories of their beers to people who may never have heard of Naked Brewing.
“Someday,” Gohde says, “I want to be known as a brewer—not as a female brewer. We don’t talk about ‘female’ doctors, attorneys, or teachers.” Until we’re there, Gohde and Dulee say, they’ll keep being loud and getting louder—and they’ll keep fostering an inclusive environment for all in the industry. Not only do women in beer exist, but they’re making great beer and gaining more and more well-deserved recognition. Gohde and Dulee are also in good company in the Kennett Winterfest cases. The Fegley’s Brew Works team, for example, includes Brewing Director Kayla Brogna and Brewer Danielle Brunner. The Upper Reach Meadery team includes Business Manager Brandalynn Armstrong, Co-owner Erin Crockett, Retail Operations Manager Erin Wallace, and Logistics Liaison Erin Prebil.
Dulee says the amount of beer Gohde has brewed since July is “mind boggling,” but far more important than the scale is the quality of the beer and the opportunities 2020 has offered to make sure that the stories their beers tell are inclusive. Gohde is grateful to work in this unique brewery where a majority of production and staff is female. “I’m very lucky to be in such an inclusive and respectful environment,” she says, “where we’re working both within our own organization and with consumers to listen, learn, and put into place ways we can all be more inclusive.”
“With our name, it’s easy to be tongue-in-cheek—and even to offend people,” Dulee says. “But we don’t want to do that.” A perfect example of that intentionality, and of the process of working towards inclusivity, is a Naked Brewing beer that was once called “Highly Inappropriate.”
In this case, it was the art that started to tell the story. Gabi, the young artist who designed the Cat-a-Pillar label, created a beautiful piece of art—of a person. “It’s androgynous, and with the colors she used it’s impossible to decide race or make any other kind of judgment except that it’s a person,” says Gohde. “We decided this is everything that is appropriate—and so we changed the name to ‘Highly Appropriate.’” These subtle nuances serve, sometimes even at a subconscious level, to tell stories that change minds and hearts. Highly Appropriate is part of a series, and the pineapple and passionfruit colors on the labels accentuate this artwork in different ways, helping to tell a larger story of equity, inclusiveness, and welcome—a story that has only just begun.
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