The Nation’s First Woman Brewmaster

Three weeks and counting from the Kalama Harbor Lodge grand opening! In the meantime, here’s another great Kalama story for you …

Madeleine “Mellie” Pullman learned how to operate a brewery right in Kalama, on her way to being the nation’s first woman brewmaster.

From a large family in Chicago, Mellie had earned a graduate degree in engineering and worked in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles in the early 1980s. While on a skiing vacation in Park City, she happened to meet Greg Schirf, who was in the early stages of planning a brewery. Mellie saw the business plan and – being “nosy” (some might say curious) – asked Schirf, “Who’s going to be your brewer?” When he told her his plan was to train one, she said to him, “Well, I could do this!” Her experience to this point? Mellie had made beer at home a few times.

However, she boasted a strong family connection to beer. Her father’s side of the family had all worked for Wisconsin’s Schlitz Brewing in its heyday, and eventually made up the entire board of directors (which, Mellie points out with a laugh, led to the brewery giant’s downfall, due in part because of family’s bickering and some decisions).

In August 1986, Mellie was dispatched by Greg Schirf to Kalama, WA, to train at Hart Brewing Company (later renamed Pyramid Breweries), one of the first craft breweries in the Northwest. Greg had come to know Hart’s husband-and-wife team, Tom Baune and Beth Hartwell, through mutual friends. Tom was the brewer while Beth handled the business side of things at their original storefront location on Kalama’s North First Street. Mellie also bunked at Beth and Tom’s home for the duration of her internship.

Learning the nuts and bolts of operating a brewery was not an easy process, Mellie recalled. There were long hours in the brewery working with Tom, with whom she shared an inclination toward “duct-tape technology.” Her duties also involved hustling for supplies and working with the Pacific Northwest’s brewing community to steer beer lovers to quality, small-batch brews.

When there was downtime, she made the most of it, with field trips to Portland for jazz and dinners out, summer night swims and adventures in the surrounding countryside. There also were many wonderful dinners with Tom, Beth and their toddler, Sterling.

Once back in Park City, working with Greg to start up Wasatch Brewery, Mellie continued to consult with Tom by phone for advice. Upon Wasatch’s opening later in 1986, it became Utah’s first brewery since Prohibition. And along with that, the young, nosy engineer had shifted careers to become the first female brewmaster of the contemporary era.

Mellie stayed with Wasatch Brewery for three years, then had a short stint as the brewmaster at Hops Brewpub in Phoenix, AZ. She then went back to school and earned her doctorate at the University of Utah in 1997.

Pullman went from being in business making beer to teaching others the business of making beer, as an associate professor of operations management at Portland State University’s School of Business.

In 2016, she co-authored Craft Beverage Business Management, a textbook on starting and running operations for brewing, distilling and cider making, with legendary Oregon brewer John Harris, a veteran of the industry and owner of Portland’s Ecliptic Brewing. In a fun coincidence, Harris had his beginnings as a brewer in the tiny back room of McMenamins Hillsdale Brewery & Public House in Portland, at the same time Mellie was making beer – and history – at Wasatch Brewery in Park City. And those are exactly the kinds of continuums that we love and appreciate throughout McMenamins.

 

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