If you’ve stopped in at Solemn Oath’s taproom or attended one of their off-the-wall events, you’ve probably met Erin Lowder. While technically the brewery’s General Manager, she wears a lot of hats. She manages the taproom, orders supplies, handles the artwork direction, updates the website, plans events, helps with labeling, creates the merch… pretty much everything except making the beer.
Like many beer folks, Erin came to industry from another passion and almost by accident. After graduating from Columbia in fashion design and working retail jobs, a friend of hers dragged her to Solemn Oath’s first event. She met one of the owners and, with a Bell’s Two Hearted in hand, proceeded to vent about her shitty job. “Apparently they needed someone to come on part time in the taproom. One thing led to another, they tracked me down afterwards and offered me the job."
She even has a scar from her first day. "I had never poured a beer or filled a growler or anything. The growler hose used to be a very tight fit and you’d have to jam it in there and you couldn’t get it out. So I was trying to get it off and my hand smacked down on the grate really hard. I remember thinking that it hurt but I didn’t think to look… and I took the growler to the guy that had ordered it and he goes, “Uh, miss.” I was bleeding down my arm. He ran out to his car to get a band aid and now every time he comes in he says, “Remember me? The band aid guy!” It was pretty sad and funny.
We sat down to chat over Stiegl Goldbrau Lagers at the Map Room.
What Are You Drinking?
Stiegl Goldbrau. I’ve been drinking a ton of lagers recently, now that it’s hot outside. I like a crisp lager. It’s really refreshing. And they usually have it on tap here at the Map Room. I love my IPAs and hops but when the weather gets hot, I tend to like a cold, crisp lager.
What’s Something We Can’t Google About You?
The first time I ever made out with somebody was on camera. I used to act when I was younger. I was an extra in movies and this is one that I’ve never seen, I don’t know what happened with it… Basically, there was a party scene and I had to sit on a chair with another extra with beer bottles filled with ginger ale, and kiss repeatedly. Then the director would be like, “Can you put your arm here?” and give all these commands and I was shaking. I was in shock I think. I was kind of shy when I was younger and acting was my outlet so when they shouted “action” I just went for it. I don’t know if I ever want to see that. Hopefully I didn’t make the cut.
How Do You Explain Your Job To Your Mother?
I basically tell people that I wear many hats and am involved in pretty much all aspects of the business. Yes, I do drink a significant amount of beer, and yes, I have access to it anytime of day but I learned very quickly that if I want to have a productive day, I can’t do that.
When I started there part time, my Mom was like, “Why are you commuting over an hour to be a bartender? Why don’t you just do that down the road?” She didn’t really understand the bigger picture, and the culture within Solemn Oath and the industry in general. That’s something I learned about pretty much right away. Our regulars and the other breweries and the Windy City reps would come in and I quickly learned that there’s a lot more to it. That was hard to explain to my mother in the beginning. My parents were domestic drinkers, Miller Lite and Heineken. As I learned about the process, I would explain it to them and they gained more respect for Solemn Oath and the industry and now they’re totally into craft beer. They come into Solemn Oath at minimum, once a week. Father’s Day is Sunday and my Mom’s already called me like five times to request certain beers for me to bring.
What’s So Exciting About The Beer Industry?
There’s always something new to learn. I just became a Certified Cicerone last year which I was excited about. And I’d like to start studying to become a Master Cicerone… we’ll see. There are only a few women. There are only a few, period. There’s always more to learn and it’s exciting that there are endless possibilities and so many ways to be creative. Whether it’s with a wacky event or a weird piece of merch or doing a spin on a traditional style — we’re always keeping people on their toes.
What’s So Frustrating About The Beer Industry?
We’ve grown a lot but we’re selling 100% of our product still, even after this expansion where we’ve doubled capacity. It’s an awesome thing, but it’s also frustrating. As soon as the beer is ready, it’s sold. We’ve had a lot of great people that started with us in the beginning and have been with us for years and not being able to provide them with other opportunities for growth can be frustrating. We want them to stick with us. I don’t see them leaving anytime soon but we’re still very small. We have 17 people working for us now. There’s only so much growth that can happen so quickly.