A Punky Brewster: A Day with Heather McReynolds, Sixpoint Brewing Manager

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Oh, to be a brewer–days spent stirring bubbling, fragrant vats, nights perched over pints of your own creation. Sound like living the dream? For many, it does. Brewing beer on a professional scale is seen as the ultimate aspiration for hoards of enthusiasts, from award-winning homebrewers to rookie hobbyists and even discerning drinkers. But for Sixpoint Brewing Manager Heather McReynolds, it’s just another day at the office.

The 30-year-old native of Gainesville, Florida has been working in the industry in some form for almost a decade. After a few years of successful homebrewing, McReynolds got her commercial start in 2011 at The Cannon Brewpub in Columbus, Georgia. She trekked up to Red Hook in 2012 when Sixpoint offered her a spot on the core brewing team. Just two years later, she was promoted to her current role as brewing manager. With her infectious laugh and strawberry blonde hair falling past her shoulders, McReynolds doesn’t exactly fit the image of the burly, bearded and be-flanneled brewer. Yet, standing at just 5-feet tall, she’s become one of the most powerful women in craft beer–a powerhouse at Sixpoint, confidently guiding the massively popular brewery’s ship day-in and day-out.

What’s a typical day like for this accomplished brewer? McReynolds took some time out of her busy schedule to hash it out with me over beers at Bed-Stuy’s craft den Glorietta Baldy.

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8:00AM – Coffee, Bananas & Beer
McReynolds’s workday begins hours before most of us can even stomach the thought of smelling beer. “I get up as late as I can. I am NOT a morning person,” she tells me. “I don’t know why brewers always start so early. Sometimes we’re there at 7:30.”

By 8am, her signature pink boots are on before she steps into the brewhouse. She’s already answered a dozen or so emails on the train ride over — requests for limited release firkins, orders for key ingredients like grain and hops, reports from the business team. It’s a good thing there’s plenty of coffee to get her going.

“We have a cozy relationship with a few local roasters that keep us in good coffee,” she says thankfully. Despite their international reach, Sixpoint remains committed to maintaining partnerships with Brooklyn-based and artisanal companies and sources beans from Gorilla Coffee and Stumptown’s Red Hook roastery for several of their recipes. “In the summer, Stumptown will even drop off a keg of cold brew for the brewery. It’s a pretty awesome perk.”

Armed with a cup of coffee and a banana — the light breakfast that inspired Sixpoint’s experimental “Your Place or Mine?,” a coffee-infused Hefeweizen collaboratively brewed with 508 Gastrobrewery’s Chris Cuzme for last month’s Beer 4 Beasts — Heather hits the floor. First stop is the almighty white board, where she meticulously charts out the day’s tasks, delegating duties to her fellow brewers and checking off what they’ve already covered. It might seem mundane, but Sixpoint is a tightly run operation–in a brewhouse packed to capacity, coordinating every little move matters, and the slightest setback can have huge ramifications.

“The thing that makes us very Brooklyn, is that we have no space,” she says. Large-scale brewing in such a small building is a tricky process, one that forces the four-person brewing team into the kind of intuitive dance routine performed by bartenders and barbacks stuck behind narrow bars. “Brew day is so time-sensitive–anything that delays you even a little can screw up the entire day.”

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12:30PM – Lunch Time
With all that pressure, Heather always looks forward to some mid-day hang time with her staff. “We try to make it a point to eat lunch together as much as we can,” she explains. Lunch isn’t just a break in the workday — it’s also a chance to catch up with the staff in Sixpoint’s state-of-the-art Hospitality Room, which features a big picnic table, a few booths and a gourmet kitchen. “We’re all pretty tight. I actually get mad when people are on their phones — I want to chat about everyone’s day and get feedback on how things are going.”

On the menu? Fairway sandwiches, Rocky’s for pizza and sandwiches, Calexico tacos, Mazzat on Columbia for falafel (“Only 4 bucks, man!”), Mark’s Pizzeria in Red Hook and lots of snacks delivered from Fresh Direct. Despite the fancy digs, Heather reports that little cooking is actually done at the brewery. “We use the kitchen mostly for prepping ingredients for beer,” she says.

2:00PM – Pint Planning
After lunch, McReynolds starts in on one of the most important facets of her job: researching new recipes. While the rest of the team is downstairs boiling wort and hosing down tanks, she’s hard at work coming up with the next big Sixpoint offering — no easy task in a rapidly growing craft market.

“There’s a part of me that feels bad when I’m at the computer and the guys in the brewery are busting their asses, because I know how that feels,” she admits. “But I like to research my recipes thoroughly, and that takes time.”

Brewing is an art, and a big part of achieving greatness is considering all aspects of a particular beer’s deployment. Jeff Gorlechen, Sixpoint co-founder and longtime events guru, recently requested a new beer for a six night Deer Tick Christmas show sponsorship at Brooklyn Bowl. Heather walked me through her creative process.

“Honestly, I’ve never heard of Deer Tick or been to Brooklyn Bowl, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it,” she says. “One of the biggest components is the venue. it’s so important to see where your beer is being consumed — if you know the space, your job is half done. I also need to listen to the band and get a sense of their music. I’ve been wanting to make something festive but not in a classic Christmas beer sense–something with champagne yeast, maybe, but all those factors are really going to shape it.”

Heather doesn’t pay too much attention to style trends or the latest and greatest beers on the market. Instead, she looks holistically at the brew, focusing on available ingredients, interesting flavor profiles, historical recipes and imagined environments. “I don’t know if I want to say my beers are more authentic, but I do put a lot of effort in getting things just right,” she says. “I’m not a particularly trendy person, but I know what I like and I think a lot of people are like that. If it’s a good beer, people are going to know it’s a good beer. I’m most concerned with making good beer.”

New York City has no shortage of good beer these days, and the growing industry provides a source of constant inspiration for McReynolds. “In the past two years, so many awesome new breweries have come up,” she says. “This is what I’ve always wanted — to be part of this really awesome beer culture here in NYC, even though we’re making beer in the smallest of spaces.”

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5:00 – Beer O’Clock
After an afternoon spent writing recipes, leading meetings, accepting deliveries, stocking inventory and dodging the B61 on a loaded forklift, it’s high time for a cold one. The day winds down around 5PM, when the staff can finally enjoy the fruits of their labor poured from one of three onsite keggerators.

“We’ll usually have a beer and sit around and talk. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day,” says Heather. “Which sometimes makes it hard to leave, like, ‘Well, I’ll just have a few beers here…’”

But leave they must. As an active member of the New York craft community, Sixpoint is almost always sponsoring an event somewhere around the city, and McReynolds proudly attends as many as she possibly can.

“I like going out,” she says, quickly dismissing the idea that she might being too tired to party after such a long day. “I started at a brewpub, so I miss the regular interaction of seeing people drinking my beer. I like to talk to the bar owners and bartenders and see the places where people are pouring. It makes a big difference.”

So, the next time you spot a pint-sized redhead clad in a Sixpoint t-shirt out at your local pub, buy that woman a beer. She definitely earned it.

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