South Carolina has no shortage of women in beer. There are women like brewery co-owners Sara Gayle McConnell at Tradesmen, Morgan Westbrook of Westbrook Brewery, and Jaime Tenny of COAST, the latter of whom we all should kneel down and thank for helping this state Pop the damn Cap. We have other female brew leaders too, like Frothy Beard apprentice Macey Martin, who has worked with beer club Brewsters, to teach women how to brew beer at various breweries. But one thing this state doesn't have in any of its 40-plus breweries is a female head brewer — until now. Allow me to introduce Tanael Escartin, Palmetto Brewing's new director of operations, brewmaster, and certified brew engineer.
If that title sounds intimidating, hold on to your pints, that's just the start. Wait until you see her resume.
A Venezuelan native, Escartin is not only a brewmaster, she's a chemical engineer who got her start at Venezuela's biggest brewery, Empresas Polar. The Anhueser-Busch of the South American country, Polar controls 85 percent of the beer market in Venezuela, and it was there that Escartin's passion for chemistry caught the attention of the business's bigwigs.
"I was selected from all the brewers because they saw something in me that told them that I could make it as a good brewer and they sent me to study," says Escartin. With a Polar scholarship, she enrolled in Berlin, Germany's prestigious Technische Universität brew engineer course where she was just one of three women in the program. After completing the five year degree in four, thanks to her previous chemical engineering credits, Escartin returned to Venezuela to complete a nine-year contract with Polar.
"It was my dream job," she says. But life outside of the brewery wasn't so dreamy. "The political situation and economical situation wasn't good. I started thinking about my parents, too. It's difficult to find medicines there. I started looking for opportunities," she says. A friend from university had a consulting job out of Germany that worked with U.S. brewers, so she reached out. "Two weeks later, I had a job," she says.
That job was with Palmetto Brewing where Escartin started in April. She's now been tasked with taking the 23-year-old brewery and shifting it into a new location and new era while also developing a new line of limited edition draft-only brews.
"I've already brewed two beers," she says. "Three actually." Hi-Red is Escartin's first. A red IPA, it has the slightest hint of hibiscus flavor. Nero is next. The black IPA is currently fermenting. And her third is a black lager called Maize to Black, which will be in the market in two weeks, and is inspired by Mexican street corn.
"It's a bit of a departure for Palmetto because it's upping the crazy," says Collin Clark, Palmetto's tasting room manager and certified cicerone. "Moving forward, the goal, and Tana will be integral to it, is to have a limited series in addition to the core brands." Escartin will be the creative brains behind upgrading Palmetto's craft beer cred.
But while Escartin's love of craft beer is palpable — the look on her face as I take a satisfying sip of Hi-Red says it all — her interest in brewing developed over time rather than before she entered the industry.
"As a chemical engineer I had these two options: work in the oil industry or beer and beverage industry," she says. "I got both jobs and my father told me, 'I think the oil industry is going to be substituted at some point with energy efficient and more natural mediums. But beer, people are going to drink beer forever, so I think the beer industry is where you wanna go.'"
It turned out to be the right choice, even when she had to face down some male chauvinism.
"There's always that thought that women can't brew. It's there. It happens," she says. "But the guys here are great, so I didn't find any of that here. At the brewery at home, it happened once in a while with some guys." But for any potential naysayers out there, Escartin isn't worried. "I'm pretty involved in the process. I do the hard work like actually brewing, shoveling the spent grains, dumping malt bags, so they know I'm passionate about it. I'm able to do it like them. I prepared myself for that. I set my goals pretty high."