By Gail Oberst
If you’ve ever been down and out, take a lesson in tenacity from Piper Gladwill, one of Fort George’s brewers. Life hits that might have discouraged most women only spurred Gladwill to get up and chase her dreams.
She was born in the Los Angeles area and lived there until she was in 7th grade, when her parents moved her family to Amity, just south of McMinnville.
She attended the Japanese Immersion School in Sheridan, earning her GED at 16 years old before attending Chemeketa Community College classes in business. She took her education to Subway, working for 8 1/2 years – 5 years of which she worked as a general manager. Along the way, she had three children. But financial security came to an end when her Subway franchise owners sold the business. Without a job and nowhere to go, she took her children to Astoria to live with family.
“I worked at odd jobs for a while, but then I discovered homebrewing,” Gladwill said. It was a bright spot during a dark period. “I really loved it.”
One day, a line cook/waitress job opened up at Fort George Brewery, and she applied, still an enthusiastic homebrewer. “I still remember the interview. ‘You’re over-qualified for this job,’ Jack Harris told me,” said Gladwill. She took that as a challenge.
About a year after taking the job, Fort George began to expand, and Harris suggested he was first willing to hire and train from within. It took several months, but Gladwill finally convinced Harris to hire her in the brewery as a cellarman. “It was a pay cut. There were not as many tips.” Keg-washing, racking, cleaning, attending beer festivals on weekends – it was all hard work – but Gladwill was determined. “I never felt like I couldn’t do my job,” she said. She also didn’t let Harris forget that she wanted to brew, and then one day, it happened. She was trained on Fort George’s Sweet Virginia system – an 8 1/2 –barrel system named for the state where it was built. The first beer she made was the Belgian-style Quick Wit . “It’s still one of my favorite beers to make,” she said.
Four years later, Gladwill is still happily working at Fort George. Life is good: Recently, she was able to purchase her own home. When Fort George lost its head brewer, Spencer Gotter, Gladwill helped fill in until Matt Licata took over earlier this year. She has expanded her brewing knowledge through the years taking yeast classes, hop, grain and other technical courses to improve her skills. “I want to know more than the basics,” she said.
Has it been tough working in a man’s world? “Most of us have known each other for six years. We all get along. I have fun,” she said.
Her advice to women who want to work in brewing? “Be persistent. If you want it and you know you want it, let them know. It’s a man’s industry, but it’s taking a good turn right now.”
Fort George Brewery
(a) 1483 Duane St, Astoria
Owner: Chris Nemlowill and Jack Harris
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.