- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2016

DENVER | Triplets Jennifer, Jessica and Jill Emich — known colloquially as “The Blissful Sisters” — came into the Great American Beer Festival competition at the weekend a double minority — not only as female owners of a brewery, but one that retails heavily in gluten-free beers.

And yet as more and more beer aficionados grapple with celiac disease and other gluten-intolerant conditions, the market for the Emich sisters, owners of Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place in Boulder, Colorado, is growing.

“As a gluten-intolerant person I wouldn’t have a ‘gluten-removed’ beer, I would only have a gluten-free because I don’t want to get sick,” said Jennifer Emich. “And I do know GABF only looks at gluten-free beer; they don’t accept gluten-removed.”

“I think it’s finally getting the respect it deserves because it isn’t easy to brew gluten-free beer,” sister Jill chimes in. “But people are starting to pay attention because there’s so many that need it or can only drink it.”

The Emich sisters, New Jersey natives, all attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. When they bought a restaurant space together in Boulder in 2011, they weren’t precisely sure what to do with the brewery space in the back of the property. Big offers were coming in from bidders, leading the ladies to say “wait a minute.”

“We didn’t actually have experience in the brewing industry [but] we saw how many offers there were,” said “big sister” Jessica, who is four and eight minutes older, respectively, than her twins. “One day my sisters and I got into a huddle, and we said, ‘Should we try this?’”

The space had the advantage of coming with a house brewer: Mike Kasian, who had been the brewmeister of the property’s previous brewhouse. With gluten not an option for what the Emich sisters wanted for their sud products, Mr. Kasian began experimenting with sorghum and other grains to keep the new elixirs gluten-free.

“The way I thought of it was we’re going to take this sorghum-based beer and use certain kinds of things to mask that character, without making it an IPA or dry hopping it,” he said. “My angle was let’s make it taste like beer or one [that is] outstanding with different character. Adding chicory helped a little bit. It definitely helped with the malt character that I’m trying to bring to the forefront.”

“Our first year at GABF, I felt like Mike was getting teased a little bit” about his gluten-free brews, Jill said. “Then the second year, when we won our award, they were like wow.

“When you think about it, it’s actually harder to win a gluten-free category because you’re just starting from nothing. If you’re brewing an IPA or certain type of ale, you know what your ingredients are going to be, but when you do a gluten-free beer, you’re starting with nothing.”

Their flagship Ahimsa Gluten Free Ale previously won bronze for Gluten Free Beer at GABF 2014.

“I don’t think that my way is the right way, or the only way,” Mr. Kasian said. “I change beers ever so slightly; that’s part of the art and craft of brewing. When we medaled, that was affirmation.”

The Emich sisters have been together, they like to say, “since the womb,” and have worked together for years as a family unit. In a male-dominated industry such as craft beer, a support system is key to the ups and downs of an ever-more-competitive marketplace — but one that is increasingly eschewing the boys club paradigm of its founding.

“It can be hard sometimes, but there’s such an unconditional love and trust between us,” Jill said. “We’re mirrors to each other, literally and figuratively. We definitely know how to push each other’s buttons, so we’re navigating that too. Chaos is our comfort,” she said with a chuckle.

“Because we’re all so committed to the business, that means we are committed to each other,” added Jessica.

“Our mom was one of 12 in a big classic Italian Catholic family,” said Jennifer. “So we were always surrounded by a lot of family. So we’re just used to being together.”

And yet old-school prejudices remain. Jill relates how, when she and Mr. Kasian first attended beer events together, industry experts and colleagues would only talk to him and ignore his boss entirely.

“I think it took us a little bit longer to” be accepted by the industry,” Jill said. “I feel like that’s changed somewhat. What we do is really own the fact that we’re women in beer. We definitely bring the feminine quality into the beer.

“I feel like we’re getting the recognition, and people know that we came here to play. So now it’s stepping up to the plate and making beer that people want to drink.”

While Shine’s gluten-free entries didn’t take home any medals this weekend, the Emich sisters’ crusade to have their wares taken as seriously as their male colleagues continues as the craft beer industry expands as never before.

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