Welcome to Yakima Valley Hop's Brewer's Spotlight!
A series from Yakima Valley Hops, featuring a new brewery monthly.
Our March Spotlight is with the owners and brewers of Pura Vida Brewery!
Eileen Ruiz & Rhaiza Casiano
By Kelly Tombleson our Customer Service and Sales Rep at Yakima Valley Hops.
When I tell people I work in the hop and beer industry, I typically hear responses like,
"That's so awesome, work must be so fun!"
"Cool, do you just drink beer all day?"
...or, "Can you hook me up with brewing supplies?" And not that these statements don't have truth to them, but it's not all fun and games. Especially being a woman in this and I quote "Mans world".
I love beer and beer culture, but I have been met with resistance at times.
At work, I am shielded by a phone line or computer screen 90% of the time, and don't have to deal with the face-to-face awkwardness when asked some slightly frustrating questions. Yes, I can hold my own and talk hops. Yes, I can lift that 44-pound box of hops on my own. Yes, I do like IPA's and hoppy beers. And no, I do not want your number. By the way, I can also drive a stick shift, if anyone wants to know.
Writing about all of this, I couldn't help but think, "Jeez, I get grief from people (usually men) almost daily". And again, I'm behind a computer screen and I'm able to roll my eyes when asked if I know the difference between a IPA and an Pale Ale.
But what about those rockstar breweries that are owned and operated by women? I assume they are hit with skepticism at every turn and with every decision made.
So in light of Women's History month, I thought of two very brave, smart, and beautiful ladies at Pura Vida Brewery in Puerto Rico. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Elieen and Rhaiza yet (keyword being 'yet' -- in case my boss reads this) but I have every intention of telling y'all everything I know about Pura Vida. Why? Because not only are they brewing, selling, and doing all of the heavy liftings, they're doing it all themselves - JUST THESE TWO LADIES! Yes, that's right, there are just TWO women running the show down in beautiful Puerto Rico.
After interviewing these ladies they have not only impressed us here at Yakima Valley Hops, but they have also inspired us to continue growing our passion in the beer industry. Not only is the future female... but I agree with the quote by the great James Brown "This may be a mans world, but it wouldn't be nothing... NOTHING without a woman or a girl."
Below you can read how awesome Elieen and Rhaiza are...
How would you describe your company's culture?
As our name says, "Pura Vida"... that's the expression that best describes our company's culture. It's the phrase itself: PURE LIFE. We define those words as a connection with ourselves, our personality, and the way we live, translating them into our company values:
- Respect - for all living creatures. We are an inclusive company, and as Latina women, we dream every day of a better, more empathic, egalitarian, and kind world, so it is very important to have it fully present in our work environment.
- Teamwork - combine all the individual strengths and knowledge to pursue collaborations and explore new ideas, exploiting the potential of each teammate.
- Innovation - keep pace with new marketing techniques, brewing technologies, and raw materials, satisfying customers' needs and their visions.
- Social Responsibility - collaborate with non-profit organizations to create an impact in our local community, as well as spread awareness about minority groups and their environment.
- The two intertwined circles: two besties... Rhaiza and Eileen.
- The large circle: one idea (craft beers).
- The tree trunk: the momentum of a tree to anchor itself to its land and expand the branches up to the sky.
What are some things that you want the YVH community to know about Pura Vida?
We are both from Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico (the southwest coast!), a beautiful town where you can find lots of amazing beaches, mountains, and traditional food. We are so proud of this project and we want everybody to taste and live the experience that we as a whole have to offer. Having said that, Pura Vida Brewery will fully support our local producers and small businesses. We would like to incorporate at least one ingredient harvested here into each of our beers. Hyggelig Amber Ale, for example, has 100% pure local honey from Yauco, Puerto Rico. Other ingredients that we find ourselves experimenting with are cacao, spices, dried flowers, and tropical fruits and seeds.
What are some challenges you have faced or are currently facing as a female brewer?
As female brewers, we faced insecurities in general due to our gender, our professional backgrounds, and some people's perceptions of our different roles in this industry. But at the end of the day, we decided to shake that off and keep going no matter what. Why? Because it is very challenging for women to present themselves in this world and we want to change that. As an example, we have received tons of questions about how we are going to manage all the physical work at the brewery and if we are only going to make "girly" beers (like fruity and low in alcohol beers), or questions doubting our abilities based on our young age. So yes, many comments cause insecurities, but at the same time, it is the fuel to continue with our vision, goals, and be better along the way. So far, here in Puerto Rico the craft beer movement is dominated by men, but we know there are a lot of women behind it, and we are here to keep representing and raise the glass with them.
What are your favorite hops to brew with? Bittering? Flavor? Aroma?
We love IPAs, ambers, and dark beers; but in terms of hops, we completely fall in love with EVERYTHING related to bittering. We like tropical flavors and aromas, which is why sweet citrus, orange, and grapefruit are on our top list. That's why Amarillo is one of our favorites and was included in our flagship beer, Hyggelig Amber Ale. Also, we really enjoy El Dorado and Rakau, because of their juiciness and bold flavors when used for dry hopping.
How has your company been affected since the earthquake/COVID-19?
We have been affected completely. Back in December 2019, we were in a very good position to restart operations after a year of renovations for an increase in our production capacity, but January came and we were hit by an earthquake and its aftershocks. Unfortunately, they destroyed nearby communities, caused unstable mental health, and a lot of uncertainty for everyone. After that, the COVID-19 arrived on the Island, immersing ourselves in a lockdown. To be honest, it caused an ultra-heavy atmosphere, surrounded by fear and more uncertainty than before. Then the questions came: "what are we going to do? What would happen with our plan?" With the quarantine, everything was closed. So, after processing all that, we had to re-evaluate our course of action from the original plan and reinvent ourselves... From the thought of only packing and distributing kegs to bars and restaurants around Puerto Rico, to making the decision to include retailing directly from the brewery to customers in to-go cans/crowlers. (YAY!!!!!!) We are still working on it, but the release will be VERY soon!
Lastly, our doors will be reopening soon and we are thrilled about that. We are here with a big smile ready to collaborate, share ideas, experiences, and toast for the good things coming our way, so feel free to write and visit us whenever you like. You will be more than welcome!
I am so honored to have shed some light on these two beautiful souls and their journey in the brewing world. We have a short video below where Rhaiza dives a little deeper in talking about her take on being a woman brewer. Make sure to check them out on social media, or if you are ever in Puerto Rico stop in for that Hyggeling Amber Ale.
Cheers and Happy Brewing!
- Kelly Tombleson