There’s not much that will keep Kristiann Garrett, co-owner of Belmont’s Devil’s Canyon Brewery, from the beer-brewing job that she loves — not even the birth of her child.
Four and a half years ago, when Garrett was nine months pregnant, she went to the brewery despite having unusually sharp pains in her abdomen – the early stages of labor. By 3 p.m. she finally took a rare moment to lie down and grab a nap on the brewery couch, but a staff member work her up, needing help selling a gift card.
Three hours later, Garrett looked at her husband Chris, with whom she owns the brewery. It was time to go to the hospital; their daughter was definitely on the way. Five days later, Millie Garrett, made her debut appearance at the brewery.
In some ways, it’s not surprising that Garrett almost gave birth in a brewery. Beer is in her blood, literally. Her maiden name, Dienstbier, means “beer service” in Czech, and her great-grandfather once worked in the Pilsner Urquell brewery.
“He didn’t know much English,” Garrett recalled, “But what he did know was, ‘I need my medicine,’ and what he meant was beer.” Chuckling, she added, “And he lived until he was 98 years old, so…”
Like her great-grandfather, Garrett has always had a respect for the healing powers of good beer. “Beer is food,” she says. “It has all sorts of nutrients in it.”
Before working at the brewery, Garrett was a personal trainer. “My clients would ask me, ‘do I have to give up beer?’” she said. She told them, “It’s about balance. Have a beer, [then] walk around the track.”
Despite her love of beer, Garrett said she never expected to get into the brewing business.
As a child, Garrett grew up just down the road from Devil’s Canyon Brewery, in Cupertino. She moved to Vancouver at 16. She was a ballet dancer for 18 years, and though she says it seems like a lifetime ago, she still has a strong, slender posture.
She attended the University of Portland, where she graduated with a degree in secondary education and social studies. After college, a one-month fellowship teaching English as a foreign language took her to Prague, the land of her great-grandfather, where the national beverage happens to be beer. One month turned into two-and-a-half years of managing a sports bar and teaching English.
Just before she left for Prague, however, Kristiann Dienstbier ran into her older brother’s college roommate, Chris Garrett, at the time a homebrewer who picked up the skill in college because, as Kristiann puts it, “It was cheaper to make good beer himself.”
According to Chris, that was the moment he knew there was something special about this girl. For Kristiann, the attraction took a little longer.
After Prague, she agreed to move to Costa Rica, where she spent six months helping a friend open a bar. A few weddings brought her back to the Bay Area. Little did she know at the time, her reconnection with Chris and their own eventual wedding would keep her there.
Garrett’s bartending experience is evident when she maneuvers a tap. With Millie perched on her hip, she grabs a pint glass in her free hand, deftly angles it under the tap, and pours herself a little of Devil’s Canyon’s newest special brew, a classic Saison. Now 38, her movements are deliberate and graceful, but her style is casual. Her uniform consists of jeans, white Adidas sneakers and a zip-up jacket with a pink collar — functional and well-suited to keeping up with a brewery business and an energetic 4 year old.
“Is it Beer Friday?” Millie asks.
“Yeah, Bud. It is Beer Friday,” Garrett responds with a smile.
Beer Friday is the monthly event the brewery hosts in the backyard of its warehouse space. Devil’s Canyon staff set up two bars, bring in catered food and hosts a live band.
Garrett, still with Millie on her hip, managed to knock out a few managing details — helping the bartender figure out how to keep track of the beer club members, joking with the guitar player about his new, rose-embroidered cowboy shirt, and giving out a few samples of Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale that she claims is “probably the best beer she’s ever had.”
Millie then went home to a babysitter, although she would have been in good company if she had stayed. As people began arriving at Beer Friday at 6 p.m., strollers and baby backpacks were common accessories.
“It really is families,” Garrett said. “You get kids dancing to the band, you get everybody.”
Later on, she said, the crowd shifts over as the kids leave and the younger adults move in, but in the early hours, Beer Friday appears much like a community block party.
Garrett fosters this family atmosphere. Since Millie was five days old, Garrett has made her a fixture at Devil’s Canyon. When Millie was a baby, her crib sat just behind the desks in the only office, Garrett said. Now, Garrett has her own office — she and Chris created it by installing a wall — and the room is covered with Disney princesses. There is a play kitchen, several boxes of blocks and toys and Millie’s own computer. With Garrett’s work computer and Millie’s computer side by side, it looks like Devil’s Canyon’s Brew Mom has a very small assistant.
“Everyone knows,” Garrett said smiling, “Language, curb it [when Millie’s here].”
Garrett explained that she has even become a bit of a mom to everyone in the brewery. She said she advocates for everyone to quit smoking, take breaks on long days, and get a good night’s sleep as opposed to a good night of drinking if she knows they have a busy day following.
“One of our employees calls me Mama K, and he calls Chris, Papa C,” Garrett said chuckling. “We are all a little family; we have to be.” She added, “We’re all sharing space, and it is small, so we all really need to get along.”
Garrett’s duties at the brewery, however, extend beyond parenting the brewers. She is responsible for taking care of tax paperwork, licensing, dealing with other brewers who use their equipment, event planning, and the brewery’s charitable donations, to name a few. For a while, she was the brewery’s “Root Beer Queen,” brewing batches of Devil’s Canyon’s now extremely popular, kid-friendly product.
In the early days, Garrett said, she would help out with the brewing, move kegs, and work behind the bar with Millie in one arm, pouring beer with the other. Now, nearing the brewery’s 10-year anniversary, Garrett is still a “woman of many hats” as she puts it. Running the business is still a seven-day-a-week job. Still, she said, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Before they decided to open Devil’s Canyon, Garrett had been working as a U.S. history teacher at Woodside High School, and Chris had been working in the tech industry in Silicon Valley. Originally, the brewery was a very small operation — more the Garretts’ elaborate hobby — but with the “dotbomb,” Garrett said, “We were like, ‘Okay, here we go. Full-steam ahead in the beer business.”
“I thank god for beer because teaching high school was not easy,” Garrett laughs.
Now, as one of a growing number of women getting into the craft beer business, Garrett said she doesn’t really see herself as a woman in the beer industry, but as a woman in the Devil’s Canyon industry.
She is encouraged by the rise of women in brewing, and she would like to see fewer chauvinistic beer labels and names that characterize the male-centric beer universe. Still, her view of craft beer, she said, is more centered on her own Devil’s Canyon family and community.
“It’s just beer and good people, and it’s an amazing crowd we’ve pulled together here,” Garrett said.
Kelsey Williams is a regular contributor for a local craft beer news blog BayAreaCraftBeer.com.