Judy Ashworth joins Steve Jaxon, Mark Carpenter and Herlinda Heras today on Brew Ha Ha. She was a legendary and influential Bay Area publican for many years and has known Mark Carpenter since the 1970s. A publican is a person who owns and operates a pub or bar. The term is more in use in Britain but it is also American. Mark tells about how Judy took over a little bar in Sinole, California, that served the major brewers but she also began bringing in beer from all the micro-brewers in the area. Unfortunately it burned down, which made the news because there were a lot of local reporters who drank beer there. Nevertheless she persisted! She rebuilt with plenty of help from friends and the rest is glorious history.
When people asked her what is her favorite beer, she has been answering “I hope it hasn’t been brewed yet.” She is very proud and excited about the beer Renaissance in America and especially in the Bay Area. Today, where she lives, there are at least five pubs near her that serve craft beer. Judy also organized promotional events like a brewer’s fashion show. Mark Carpenter and a friend went to the show decked out in costumes they bought in the Mission district in San Francisco (imagine something hippie and funky, we’re sorry we have no pictures). They used to also put on a Crawfish party once a year.
All the people in the brewing community at the time knew each other and would see each other socially at Judy’s events. Her Christmas Ale was also the centerpiece of her December holiday parties.
Judy says that being a publican means knowing how to shoot pool and play darts. But when she started in the business she was a single mom who had no experience in beer. She says she was in the right place at the right time, after working in various other jobs, she didn’t like the corporate world. She decided to build a business for herself at the age of 37. Judy never worked for anyone else after that. She did it in order to be able to spend more time with her children. Her business partner sold it to her and she paid it off over some time. “I was forty when my whole life changed.” She learned about beer from the brewers, including every detail, like temperature, type of glass, how to pour, etc. She was explaining to people how to enjoy beer.
The Beverage People
The Beverage People is a Santa Rosa company that has provided home brewers with everything they need since 1981. They have materials and advice for making beer, wine, cheese, olives and much more, at home.
In the early years, says Judy, many women would say they didn’t like beer, but she thought it could be because all they ever tasted was a bit of warm Bud from a friend’s glass. She would introduce women to other beers, such as dark beers, which are easier to drink than lagers. Once, she served a beer to Fritz Maytag, which he liked, and he didn’t realize it was Liberty Ale. Then he said, this is the reason why he started brewing it.
When her place burned down, right before Christmas in 1987, people assembled there to mourn, and Mark and his friend brought beer over. She didn’t have fire insurance and had to rebuild the business with help from a fund-raiser. All the micro-breweries knew they had to support her because she was the only one teaching people about beer. She had a lot of music at her pub and all the musicians donated their time. All the breweries brought special beers. Someone brought a grundy (which is an old brew kettle). It raised a lot of money and got her back in business. Her brother was a woodworker who rebuilt the whole bar in the old fashioned style, in mahogany from Honduras.
Today Judy Ashworth feels like a proud grandma of the beer business. She has even taught on beer education cruises in Europe. She has been a national beer judge and was on the board of directors of the Great American Beer Festival.