Pursuing a Passion: Mentorship Program Fuels Participants

Share Post

Link to article
women working at bright tank back of house brewery

Maddie Fritz’s camera went dark during a virtual meeting for the Brewers Association’s Mentorship Program. Most would assume, in the age of Zoom meetings, that she might be eating or her internet connection had gotten shaky. Instead, Fritz couldn’t believe what she heard would happen after the mentorship program ended.

She was crying. Not from sadness, but jubilation.

Fritz, who works in marketing and sales for Potosi Brewery in Potosi, Wis., had just wrapped up the 12-week mentorship program when Brewers Association DEI project coordinator Alana Koenig-Busey explained how there would be funds after the program ended—to continue education in a brewing or related program, pursue level one and two of the Cicerone Certification Program, attend the Craft Brewers Conference with travel reimbursement, or build a resource library of Brewers Publications and Brewers Association resources.

“I was so overcome with emotion,” Fritz recalled. “I did not expect that at all. People wanted to invest in me as a person, not for their gain or to move me around like a pawn. I felt really beat down after roughly eight years in the industry, and this program has helped lift me back up.”

To understand why this meant so much to Fritz, you must understand her and her drive to “build a rocket that goes to the moon.”

Small Town, Big Dream

The population of a small town can sometimes coalesce into homogeneous thinking. Everyone knows one another. Some families have been around since anyone can remember.

Fritz is Potosi through and through. Her father was president of the Potosi Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is the sole owner of Potosi Brewery, established in 1852. Her great-grandfather worked at the brewery in 1933. But if you grew up in a small Midwest town where your family is well known and works at the one brewery in town, you may wonder if you’re doing your best and trying to find yourself outside the confines of a village with fewer than 700 people. With her closest industry peers miles and hours away from the small-town brewery, it can be somewhat difficult to grow and find opportunities to learn new things.

Fritz moved to Spain when she was younger to explore the world and better understand herself. She completed a study abroad there and found an internship in the northern part of the country. Fritz emailed any and every company in Spain, taking a role with a company she could barely find any information on. She thought, “I’m just going to go. This could be really bad,” but it was “one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had.” She would go back to Spain again before settling in Wisconsin and immersing herself in the craft brewing industry.

As with her experience in Spain, Fritz desires to expand her horizons in the brewing industry.

When she learned about the BA’s Mentorship Program, it sounded like a way to improve her sales and marketing skills and gain more confidence in her role. Fritz also applied to the mentorship program because she was beginning to feel stuck. Working in the industry felt like the same thing over and over again. How was she going to get to the next level? What was next?

She knew she had found what she was looking for in the Advancing Professionals track of the Mentorship Program.

Mentors Give Back

The BA Mentorship Program has successfully finished four cohorts. Selected participants complete a 12-week program with mentors from various parts of the industry. These professionals come from all over: Lakefront Brewing Co., Allagash Brewing, universities, private businesses, and more. Each has a specific skill set to help train participants in one of three tracks—Aspiring Professionals, Advancing Professionals, and Brewery Startup.

Brewery startup is one challenge for the Midwest, where laws prove difficult to parse.

“I think navigating the legal challenges of operating a brewery in the Midwest has been a big one,” Koenig-Busey said. “Recently, Illinois and Minnesota have enacted laws that have been a big help to craft brewers in those states.”

These changes include raising the cap on growler sales, more off-sale options, and more event licensing opportunities.

And luckily, mentors like Bob Morton of Lily’s Seafood Grill & Brewery in Royal Oak, Mich., have been through all of this before. Morton remembers when he began by learning from Lakefront co-founders Russ and Jim Klisch. The brothers’ guidance is a big part of what led Morton, who got into the industry in 1989, to become a mentor in the BA program.

“When I first opened the brewery down in Florida, I had an opportunity through the equipment manufacturers to spend almost a year being able to travel and go into probably half a dozen different breweries and just learn from brewers there,” Morton said. “I was in Milwaukee at the original Lakefront Brewery, as well as some others. That was incredibly helpful. I was a homebrewer before that. It was a big step between brewing at home and running a commercial brewpub.”

Morton remembers how helpful, giving, and willing to share information those brewers were. That stuck with him; he formed a philosophy of being in it together in the brewing industry. Morton believes the industry is strongest when everyone is doing their best, and if you’re capable, you should mentor to keep the momentum going. 

“I feel like it’s my duty and my pleasure to be able to do that,” Morton said.

The Michigan brewer didn’t just share knowledge during the mentorship program. Morton has stayed in touch with some mentees.

“I’m actually working with one of my mentees now who’s in the process of opening up a place,” he said, adding that he helped a mentee connect with someone about an opportunity that would help advance that progress. “I get a lot of satisfaction helping these people get up and running. And if we didn’t have that connection to the program, that connection may not have been made. And that all stems from the BA’s program.”

Ciaran Leask was a mentor in the Aspiring Professionals track and echoed the feeling of being connected.

“The connections I made with my mentees were really diverse,” Leask, who brews at Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, Mich., said. Each of the four mentees had different paths they wanted to pursue. One wanted to explore the Cicerone Certification Program after hearing about it for the first time.

“So we just started studying for the Cicerone Certified Beer Server exam together,” Leask said. “It was just a really concrete way to help them move forward… something that they could work toward without trying to become a professional brewer.”

Leask said that mentoring changes the mentor as well. There’s an eclectic mixture of people looking to learn and teach this new wave of industry professionals, which is invigorating.

“It’s a great eye-opener and a great refresher,” Leask said. “It was nice to dive back into topics I haven’t touched since going through brewing school, so that was really cool. It’s also a great way to make connections across the industry, across the entire country, as well as just your own state or in the Midwest.”

Mentees Find Their Way

December Lee joined the spring 2022 cohort of the program. The Fresh Coast Beer Works operations manager had been in the craft brewing industry for almost 10 years doing it all: waitressing, bartending, cellar work, and operations management.

Lee learned about marketing, leadership, and how to help push Fresh Coast to the next level. The goal was to grow and make more connections, and Lee made some in particular that stuck.

“Being a woman in the industry can be a little difficult at times,” Lee said. “Having the ability to connect… I was in the same cohort as a head brewer here in Traverse City. I work with all dudes all the time, so I got to connect with another female and have female mentors who kind of understood what it’s like and get really good feedback on any questions I had whatsoever.”

Fritz also has a long list of those who enriched her through this program. Her main goal was to gain insight into how others manage their sales, handle distribution, approach marketing efforts; gain confidence; and network.

Eric Meyer from Cahaba Brewing gave her new perspectives for facilitating communication across different departments. She learned that they keep a list of workers’ ideas so they are visible and people know their voices are heard. Plus, Cahaba is similar in size to Potosi, making the scale and implementation easier to understand.

Julie Rhodes of Not Your Hobby Marketing shared the concept of creating content in batches to save time.

Ben Morgan of Firestone Walker taught her about creating effective pitch decks for retailers.

“He drove home the importance of visuals and keeping it simple,” Fritz recalled. “I was having trouble selling in a display, and after I implemented his suggestion, the buyers started saying yes.”

She hasn’t completed a full 180-degree turn, but she said she’s approaching tasks in her role differently, like with what she learned from Morgan. She’s also more mindful of pursuing goals like attending THRIVE at the Craft Brewers Conference in Minneapolis.

“I feel like I have more tools in my toolbelt,” Fritz said.

Fritz is thinking about what is most important to her in the industry and where her focus should lie. Wisconsin is home, but Fritz lights up when she recalls her time in Spain or how Firestone Walker has an entire marketing team, whereas she’s a team of one in many ways.

There’s just so much possibility.

“I think there’s still a lot I want to learn; I just like learning,” Fritz said. “It definitely opened my eyes to opportunities and different ways of doing things.”

Louis Livingston-Garcia is a Wisconsin-based writer and photographer, sometimes guest brewer, and mass comm professional. He travels near (all across the nation) and far (all the way to New Zealand) with his wife to write about beer and the community it creates. You can follow his beer writing via Twitter at @LouisGarcia12.

CraftBeer.com is fully dedicated to small and independent U.S. breweries. We are published by the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s small and independent craft brewers. Stories and opinions shared on CraftBeer.com do not imply endorsement by or positions taken by the Brewers Association or its members.