Photos by Kelsey Williams
About four and a half years ago, Kristiann Garrett, co-owner of Devil’s Canyon Brewery with her husband Chris, was at the brewery finding it a bit more difficult to get through the day than normal. Sudden sharp pains had woken her early that morning and kept interrupting her daily activities at increasingly frequent intervals. By 3 p.m. she finally took a rare moment to lie down and grab a nap on the brewery couch, but was woken to help sell a gift card to a waiting customer.
At 6 pm, she looked at Chris. 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 would almost give 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,” recalls Garrett, “but what he did know was, ‘I need my medicine,’ and what he meant was beer.” Chuckling she adds, “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”
As a former personal trainer, Garrett said, “My clients would ask me, ‘do I have to give up beer?’” “It’s about balance,” she added, “Have a beer, walk around the track.”
Still, with her love of beer, she said she never expected to get into the brewing business.
As a child, Garrett grew up just down the road in Cupertino, and moved to Vancouver at 16. Her 18 years of ballet when she was younger, while seemingly a lifetime ago for her she says, still shows its mark in her 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, finally 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 did run into her older brother’s college roommate, Chris Garrett, at the time a homebrewer that 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, it seems it took a little longer.
From Prague, Garrett agreed to move to Costa Rica, where for six month she helped a friend open a bar, until a few weddings finally brought her back to the Bay Area. Little did she know at the time that her own relationship and wedding would keep her there.
Garrett’s bartending and managing days are evident when she maneuvers a tap. With Millie perched on her hip, Garret 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 at 38, her movements are deliberate and graceful, but her style is casual. Her uniform today 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 four year old.
“Is it Beer Friday,” Millie asks.
“Yeah, bud, It is Beer Friday,” Garrett responds with a smile.
It’s the monthly event put on by the brewery in what amounts to the backyard of their warehouse space in the back of a business park. Everyone was busy setting up the two bars; the caterers were prepping their food; and the band was arriving to set up inside.
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 making sure the reporter got to try their Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale that Garrett had mentioned earlier as being “probably the best beer she’s ever had.”
Garrett then gathered up Millie to take her home to the sitter, although Millie would have hardly been the only preschooler to stick around at Beer Friday. As the people started to show around 6 p.m., strollers and baby backpacks were not uncommon accessories.
Early on in Beer Fridays, Garrett said, “It really is families; 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.
Everyone who works at Devil’s Canyon is used to kids though. Since she was five days old Millie has been a fixture in the place. As a baby her crib sat just behind the desks in the only office, Garrett said. Now, in Garrett’s own office– they had a wall installed– 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.”
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 in 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 adds, “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 mommying the brewers, she is responsible for taking care of tax paperwork, licensing, dealing with other brewers that use their equipment, event planning, the brewery’s charitable donations, as well as picking up any extra slack. 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 ten-year anniversary, Garrett is still a “woman of many hats” as she puts it and running the business is still a seven day a week job. Still, she explained, 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 the valley. Originally the brewery, was a very small operation, more of an elaborate hobby, but with the “dotbomb,” Garrett said, “We were like, ‘ok, 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.
While she said that she is encouraged by the rise of women in brewing she would like to see less of the more chauvinistic beer labels in the male centric beer universe. Her view of craft beer, she says 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.”