Cohen Norris isn’t the typical member of your brewery production team—she’s a woman. And while she appreciates standing out in a crowd, she’s working to pave the way to bring more women into the industry.
How does a young-twenty-something pivot from a potential career in medicine to sifting through hops? Below is a quick Q&A with the Back Bay staffer who recently brewed the newest IPA on tap: Not by Chance, a name she chose to reflect her very intentional career switch and love of brewing beer.
Q: Start from the beginning—when and why did you want a career in the beer industry?
A: When I got to James Madison, I knew I wanted to be in the science realm, and at that point I landed on medicine. It was the first, and really only, option that made sense for me. I stuck with that, and when I graduated, I became a medical scribe to get some experience. After a few months there, I realized medicine wasn’t for me.
But I stuck with my job and kept my eyes open for anything else that might interest me. At that point, I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do.
My dad stumbled on a newspaper article about the head brewer at Oozlefinch… who also happens to be a woman. Rachel’s [Edwards] academic background immediately reminded me of my own, so I reached out. I got to sit down with her and pick her brain about why she loved her job, and it was everything I was looking for. I remember sitting there thinking, “This might be it. I can really see myself doing this.”
Q: How did you wind up at Back Bay?
A: Back Bay put out information on an internship in brewing last summer, and I’ve been here ever since. I really love it. I love beer making; it’s very scientific, but there’s so much creative freedom. It’s a unique job, and it really aligns with my interests and strengths. My day is different every day, there’s no monotony. There’s a surprising amount of growth in beer—there’s always something to learn. It definitely keeps you coming back for more.
Q: What’s it like being part of such a small group of women in this industry?
A: I’m really glad to be in this position as a woman. I’m glad that I get to be part of making the minority a majority. It’s not so different from a biology classroom demographically speaking, honestly, but it’s good. I’m excited about women making more of a presence in the industry. We [as women] bring something unique to the table, a perspective that’s never been here before. From recipes to concepts, down to the science of it all, I really am excited to see how more women shape the future of beer.
Q: Tell me more about Not by Chance.
A: Josh [Back Bay’s owner] came to me and said, “The sky’s the limit.” It was overwhelming at first, because it was my first time creating a recipe, and I wanted it to be perfect but also memorable. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do something outrageous, but then I went with my gut and made something I love.
My love of beer started with IPAs, so I knew I wanted to pay homage to that. My initial attraction to any beer comes from its look, and I especially love a hazy IPA, so that was also a clear choice. The flavor balance was the more challenging part. IPAs are so often just bitter or just juicy. I wanted to strike a balance there. When I was picking the hops, I stuck to the ones that give more of a tropical flavor to really blend the best of both worlds.
Q: What’s something surprising about brewing beer?
A: Brewing beer is a lot more cleaning than brewing, something most people won’t know. We spend so much time cleaning. It’s critical to keep everything sanitary. Coming from a biology background, it seriously scratches my germ theory itch!
Q: The fact that you’ve stayed at Back Bay says a lot. Tell me why you’re still here.
A: Back Bay was one of my favorite breweries in the area before I even knew I wanted to get into beer. I loved the coziness of the Ocean Front location, and I still do! Working here has meant I get to do a lot—I’m not stuck under one job title. I get to be part of a lot of the different things that go into brewing. Being at a bigger brewery might mean being pigeon holed, so I’m grateful to be in a place where I can learn about every aspect of the brewing process.
Q: What other beer are you most excited for people to try this year?
A: The Mango Orange Crush is amazing—I can’t wait for it to come out. It’s a serious contender to the original.Order “Not By Chance” Today!