After a successful professional hockey career playing with the Buffalo Beauts, Sarah Casorso followed her instincts and started a new journey in beer. Cheerful, motivated, and down to earth, Casorso has found a home and vocation she enjoys as the Head Brewer at Bench Brewing Company. With two years of brewing in Ontario under her belt, Casorso is paving the way for women in the beer industry. When did you know you wanted a career in beer? For me it started after I moved back from Austria, having played hockey there for a season after university.
I moved out to Niagara in September of 2016 where I started my professional hockey career in Buffalo. Given my family’s farming and grape growing background and where I was living in Ontario’s wine country, a job in the wine industry was still on my mind. But given the rise of craft beer, I thought that growing hops might also be a good idea, so when I was applying for jobs I also considered roles that might help me learn more about beer. During my search, I was actually offered two jobs at the same time. One was at a big wine company and the other was at a small start-up brewery as the Head Brewer – only two weeks after I had moved to Ontario! At this point, I didn’t even know what all the ingredients were in beer! I chose the beer opportunity because I love how accessible it is and I love the challenge that comes with learning something new. And was there ever a lot to learn! Once I tasted that first beer that I had made with my own two hands, I was hooked. It was right then that I knew I wanted to make a career in beer.
What types of beer do you brew at Bench? Where do the influences for the beer come from? At Bench, we brew a variety of styles, but are really influenced by the traditional Belgian farmhouse styles. What’s really interesting about us is that we are really two breweries in one. One side of our brewery is dedicated to ‘clean’ beers that use brewers’ yeasts like Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The other side of the brewery is dedicated to what is known as ‘funk beers’. They are called funk beers because they use wild yeast and bacteria cultures that give the beer earthy, complex, and tart notes. Here’s where we really get to take advantage of all the great local fruit in our surrounding area, as well as barrels sourced exclusively from our neighbouring wineries in the Twenty Valley. So far, our fruit sours like our Plum Grove and Cherry Grove have been big hits, and we can’t wait to release some of the interesting beers we have been aging in barrels. How did you come to work at the Bench Brewing Company? I just happened to stumble upon the Ball’s Falls Session IPA and it quickly became my go-to beer. I dove into learning a little bit more about Bench and their whole philosophy completely resonated with me. Local, community driven, accessible beer. What are some of the unique aspects of the Bench Brewing Company? Growlers are available all the time for any beer on tap. We fill and seam the lid of the cans right in front of you. Our 1L cans are a great way to have beer that will last longer. We are unique in that sense as we are the only brewery in the area doing that. What are the benefits of a brewery in Niagara? First, we’re humbled to be in such a supportive community. The Town of Lincoln has completely embraced us. We’re also in the golden region for fresh fruit, amazing vineyards, and incredible wine barrels! We are lucky to have great friends in the surrounding farmers and wineries that share our passion and our vision for quality craftsmanship.
How do you feel about being a pioneer for women in the industry? I find it very motivating. I think diversity in brewing is now starting to become a highly talked about topic. There was never anything in my life that I viewed as being “a man’s job or a woman’s job.” I would just ask myself “am I capable of doing that?” I think more and more women are joining the beer industry because it is growing and evolving fast. Therefore, interest is higher and it’s becoming more accessible as new breweries are opening meaning more jobs are available. Traditionally, I think people saw beer as a man’s drink and the work to make it as not very glamorous. I believe craft beer is open and inclusive, so it’s starting to shift the beer culture overall. What advice do you have for women in business? My advice to women out there would be to take risks and show your confidence. Don’t look at gender but rather look at the value you bring and how you can keep learning and growing. Try new things, enjoy what you do and learn something new everyday.
What do you like best about your job? We have such a great team of people here. I love coming to work everyday knowing everyone is there for the right reasons and to help us succeed. Being able to have a beer at the end of the day together doesn’t hurt either! What are some of the challenges? Being that we are a start-up brewery and have a brand-new facility, we’re still learning.
Much like anything, some days don’t always go exactly as planned, and there never seems to be enough time to accomplish everything you want to. But at the same time, that’s what makes it all fun and exciting. We have a hard-working team that is up for the challenge and supports each other at every turn.
The great jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” This was the challenge I