The newest batch of young guns in Colorado's brewing industry wear pink boots
Westword: What is your brewing experience?
Natalie Lesko: Homebrewer since June 2010. Hired into production at Funkwerks in March 2012 and began brewing in August. In addition to brewing, I have the privilege of developing cellaring and quality-control processes. I really look forward to contributing and growing more with the company and am ecstatic that we were named the Best Small Brewing Company and Best Small Brewing Company Team this year at the GABF.
What is your brewing education and regular education?
Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, Colorado State University. During my undergraduate career, I was able to enroll in the Brewing Science and Technology class taught by Dr. Jack Avens. His course opened so many doors for me and I gained a true appreciation of the brewing industry through shadowing several brewers in Fort Collins and Boulder. I made it my mission to be hired into the brewhouse at a brewery, because I knew that it was what I was meant to do. After graduating, I worked in a lab in the biochemistry department at CSU with Saccharomyces cerevisiae (commonly known as brewer's yeast) until I was offered a job at Funkwerks.
What do you like about brewing?
I am a scientist and engineer at heart, so I absolutely love being able to apply that to my work every day. I also thrive where there is an opportunity for growth and challenge. I am the type of person that loves to be challenged by work and very rarely say "I can't do that" or let someone tell me that I can't do something. One of the things I love most about brewing, though, is the sense of camaraderie in the industry. There is always an opportunity to learn and collaborate with others, and I find comfort in knowing that it will probably always be that way.
What's the most challenging/rewarding parts of being a woman in the brewhouse?
It is extremely rewarding to be able to contribute to such a small brewery. We only have eleven employees at Funkwerks, four in the brewhouse. I get to have my hands on every portion of the brewing process -- from milling and brewing all the way through cellaring and packaging. I really care about every beer that is produced here and it is incredible how much every member of the Funkwerks family devotes to the process.
The only challenge I have seen so far is in dealing with individuals outside of Funkwerks who are still under the impression that women are not knowledgeable on the subject of beer and can't brew. However, I have always been the type of person to take something like that as a challenge, and I cannot emphasize enough how lucky I am that my bosses and coworkers have so much faith and trust in me. They have never questioned my physical or mental capabilities in the brewhouse and I will always be grateful for that. I am 5' 1" and 115 pounds and am honored to be part of the Best Small Brewing Company Team of the year. I don't have a problem lifting 55 pound bags of grain. If something needs to be done, I will find a way to do it. Women can and will continue to brew, that's the way it is.
Favorite beer styles to drink and brew?
Belgian beers have won my heart all around. I will always enjoy both drinking and brewing saisons, but am excited about how awesome and funky some of our other yeast strains are. I really love a lot of the esters and phenolics they produce, making a lot of beers very complex.
What is your ultimate goal in the industry?
Ultimately, I want to make sure that I am continually challenged, learning and growing. Right now, I see myself continuing to grow and contribute to Funkwerks. It is the best job I have ever had and can honestly say that I put my heart and soul into every aspect of the brewery that I am a part of. I see a lot of opportunity for myself there in the future, especially since it is still a young brewery.