23 Feb Meet Deschutes Brewery’s Veronica Vega
Behind a set of swivel doors at a Bend institution, a whole lot of beer tasting goes on in the early morning hours. It might sound like a party that’s either gone on way too early or way too late, but for Veronica Vega, drinking beer first thing in the day is just part of her normal work routine.
As a member of the sensory panel at Deschutes Brewery, Vega assesses beer for quality and flavor. It’s her job to taste beer and then taste it some more—which may sound like a walk in the park, but is really more science experiment than leisure activity. Vega must analyze all sensory attributes found in each beer sample, which are then marked and scaled.
Once upon a time, most brewers were women—it was a product made at home in the kitchen, like bread. Then culture and industry shifted, and the job became the realm of men.
Today, once again, there are plenty of talented women like Vega who hold leadership roles in the field. “There are more women attending fermentation science classes than ever before,” she says. Vega credits many of her colleagues—both male and female—for serving as mentors and friends over the years, as well as providing a little extra muscle power when needed. “With production brewing, like lots of things, a strong work ethic is valued above all else,” she says. “When people see you trying your best, they are willing to step in and help when you need it—like when you are trying to push a 200-pound hop bale up onto the rollers, for instance.”
Vega has been with Deschutes Brewery for ten years, and is now the brewmaster of product development—quite a leap since her start as a tour guide. No longer a brewer herself, Vega now guides brewing at the pubs and also meets with the strategic planning team to discuss future opportunities for new beer releases. In addition, she collaborates with brewers on recipe ideas. “Recipes are very much a collaborative process,” she says. She might piece together a flavor inspired by a dish she liked, and then test it out with her coworkers. “It’s all very experiential and improvised.”
Vega’s first love was biology, which was her chosen major at Humboldt State University. After college and before she was called to beer, Veronica worked in the great outdoors for the National Park Service as a field technician. “I was responsible for monitoring certain species, such as owls. I love learning about the natural world,” she said. The power of nature is still part of her job. “Brewing is also very much a biological process, as yeast doesn’t behave the same all the time,” she explains. “It’s pretty much like meeting a new person—you need to see how it works with the environment you put it in.”
One of Vega’s all-time favorite experiences was with Beers Made By Walking, a program that works with brewers by taking them on nature hikes to help inspire beer making. “We partnered with local nonprofits focusing on natural resources, and went on hikes with the public,” she recalls. “We were very much inspired by the local area. The last beer I designed for that project was a black currant IPA. It was herbal, and a little tart.”
Of everything about her job, Vega names the people she works with as her favorite part. “I have been at the brewery for ten years and have worked with many fine folks in that time,” she says. “We have seen each other get married, have kids, and the kids keep growing. They are my family. I look at pictures of us from the early days—we look like babies! We are members of a big beer-making orchestra.”