Sandra Murphy didn’t expect to be a trailblazer, or a brewer for that matter.
Yet, as the acknowledged first female head brewer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Murphy, 39, has blazed – or poured – a trail. In January, she joined Fort Brewery & Pizza as head brewer for the 25,000-square-foot brewery and restaurant at 2737 Tillar St. That followed her three-year stint at Panther Island Brewing.
She has a passion for beer and brewing. Murphy is more than happy to share that joy she finds in beer, particularly those that are her creation.
“I like pouring at festivals because it’s immediate, and you can see their immediate face when they take a sip,” she said.
Murphy’s initial involvement with beer began about 10 years ago when her now husband, Michael, made her a six-pack of craft beer for one of their first dates. That was apparently a go-to move on his part, and it worked.
Three years later, Murphy’s husband decided to learn how to homebrew so he could barrel-age beer at home. Murphy told her husband she wanted a rose water orange blossom saison, basically a fruity pale ale.
“He told me if I wanted to make that beer, I was going to be a part of making it, and I got hooked and forgot about bread-making,” she said.
The worst moment in her life propelled Murphy forward in her career. In 2018, she decided to fully pursue her passion for brewing following the loss of her 10-year-old daughter in a car crash.
“I miss her every day, but it inspired me, because life is short, and you should just take that leap of faith whenever it’s offered to you,” she said.
At that point, she decided she was done reading about brewing.
Murphy started working as a beer tender – basically a beer-focused bartender – at Panther Island Brewing and was given the opportunity to start brewing on their pilot system. From there, she worked her way up to head brewer.
Pink Boots, a nonprofit organization that promotes women in the brewing and distilling industries, notified Murphy she was the first female head brewer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the modern era. According to a 2019 survey from the Brewers Association, only about 7.5% of brewery employees with the title of brewer are women.
Women face challenges in the brewing industry, said Ellen Sherrill, president of the Pink Boots Society.
“We are inevitably a minority, and we often encounter discrimination based on cultural assumptions that we do not know as much about beer as equivalent men in the business, or that we can’t do the physical work necessary for some positions in the industry,” she said. “Sexism and harassment unfortunately are widespread and can serve as serious barriers.”
Murphy became part of the Pink Boots organization and also helped found the local chapter of Girls Pint Out, an organization that spreads the message that not just men drink beer. That followed an experience she had early on in her beer journey.
“I was talked down to at an establishment, and I kind of wanted to get the message out that women drink beer, and it’s not always the fruity pink-colored beer,” she said. “We drink IPAs and we drink big barrel-aged stouts, and I wanted to kind of bring awareness that women drink beer, too. We’re not just wine drinkers.”
Along with the brew team at Fort Brewery, Murphy will participate in the Brave Noise brew collaborative a project that works to create a safe and discrimination-free beer industry.
“By brewing this beer, Fort Brewery is standing in solidarity with those who shared their stories about their mistreatment within the industry,” said Corrie Watson, proprietor of Fort Brewery.
Murphy’s version of the Brave Noise Hazy Pale Ale is a 4.5 alcohol-by-volume Hazy Pale Ale, double dry hopped with Sabro and Mosaic. She said the result offers a pale soft haze with notes of pineapple, coconut, mango, guava and orange.
All proceeds from the sale of the Brave Noise Hazy Pale Ale at Fort Brewery will benefit The Ladder Alliance, a Fort Worth-based nonprofit that empowers women of domestic violence and low-income women.
All beer now on draft at Fort Brewery is Murphy’s personal creation. The current lineup includes Cherry Limeade Berliner Weisse, Grey Eagle, Clara, Ocho, Los Muertos, Mojito Seltzer and Strawberry Rhubarb Seltzer. Murphy’s Brave Noise Hazy Pale Ale debuted on May 5 during the venue’s Cinco de Mayo event.
Murphy’s leadership style focuses most on leading by example.
“I’m not someone that yells at people,” she said. “I’m going to be in the trenches with you, and I’m not going to ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t be willing to get my hands dirty and do myself.”
She finds that to be the most effective way to be a leader.
“If the people you’re working with feel like they’re a part of the team instead of a hierarchy situation, I think that just works best,” she said.
As for others, men and women, looking to join the brewing industry, she has some plain-spoken advice.
“Be prepared for hard work and long hours,” she said. “It’s not sitting around drinking beer and having a good time all the time. It’s dirty and messy, and everything is heavy, and you end up covered in beer most days.”
But, if like Murphy, you have a passion for it, she says to do it.
“It’s creative and it’s science, and you problem-solve on the fly,” she said.
“I can appreciate the beauty and the history of it, so I like to think that I’m a part of that long tradition. I took a leap, and it’s the best thing I ever did,” she said.
Born in Kansas, she grew up in Wisconsin until her family moved to Texas her sophomore year in high school.
She and husband, Mike, live in Burleson and have three children,
two sons – ages 18 and 7 — and a daughter who died in 2018.
Murphy became a certified beer server through the Cicerone program in 2018 and received a specialist badge for brewing ingredients and processes, and keeping and serving beer. She will sit for the certified Cicerone test this fall, which assesses the individual’s knowledge of beer and beer service as well as competence in assessing beer quality and identity by taste. Murphy is also a provisional beer judge certification program judge.
She was a homemaker for several years, then became a content monitor in education before joining Panther Island Brewing to begin her current career.
She is a member of the local chapter of Pink Boots, an organization that encourages women in the brewing and distilling industries through education, and helped found the local chapter of Girls Pint Out, an organization that supports women who brew and drink beer.
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“I’m a big proponent of leading by example.”
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“It was more that I saw how most effective leaders managed and I emulated that. I just found that in most cases actions speak louder than words.”