Kendra Penland : The Cool Aunt of Asheville Beer

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Kendra Penland : The Cool Aunt of Asheville Beer

  • Anita Riley

    Anita Riley is Certified Beer Server Cicerone and a student of Brewing, Distillation, and Fermentation at Rockingham Community College. She works as a Cellar Operator at Mystery...

Kendra Penland

In honor of Asheville Beer Week (May 26-June3), it is only too appropriate to talk about Kendra Penland, the Executive Director of the Asheville Brewers Alliance (ABA). The ABA produces Asheville Beer Week along with the Asheville Beer Week Committee. As the first ever full-time Executive Director of The ABA, Kendra Penland has a lot on her plate. As stated on the ABA’s website: “The Alliance was formed in February 2009 as a trade and membership organization dedicated to promoting Western North Carolina craft beer and breweries. The ABA’s primary mission is to exchange knowledge and support among members for the betterment and enrichment of the beer community.”

What does that mean for Kendra? She spends a lot of her time making sure that people across the country and around the world know that Asheville, North Carolina is the best place in the world for craft beer.  Kendra says:

I work with local, state, national, and international media outlets to make sure that the stories that often get overlooked are being told. For instance, the ABA recently won a Solar Champion Award from the Solar Energy Industry Association due to the number of breweries within the ABA using solar for some or all of their energy needs. We also host several events for the public, such as our AVL Beer Expo, our Beer City Festival, and AVL Beer Week events. Outside of that, we offer several educational and professional development opportunities for our brewery members.

She continues, "We recently worked with a domestic and sexual violence prevention organization to provide trainings in breweries and taprooms for their staff to learn about preventing drug facilitated sexual assault (DFSA). They were taught how to recognize the warning signs, how to recognize the difference between someone who has been drugged and someone who has had one too many drinks, how to call the police without causing a scene, and how to protect potential evidence. Not every brewery has the time or the resources to train their staff to this degree. We are able to take that burden off of them, but still provide their employees with the tools they need to make their taprooms safe and successful.”

Kendra has done a lot of different things in her career, and she uses skills she’s acquired in each position she’s held to strengthen her work with the ABA. She’s been a bar and restaurant manager, a beer and wine consultant, regional marketing director for the McDonald’s Corporation, worked with various political campaigns, and managed Asheville’s City Manager’s Office. Kendra says of herself:

 “I move faster than the speed of government, though. That was a frustration for me, and I’m sure for them. I just don’t really slow down a lot. I just want to be useful. I want to have a positive impact. I need to love what I’m doing, and as long as I do, then you’re not going to find someone who will work harder. I think about my work all the time, and I keep finding new ways to be innovative and creative.

I think that’s why I like being outdoors so much. There is an inexplicable link between outdoor recreation and the craft beer industry. We work hard and play hard. There are a lot of visionaries and forward thinkers in craft beer. I don’t think I’ve seen quite the same amount of simply being present across the board in any other industry that I see in craft beer. It’s pretty cool. I love showing off my city and the guys and gals in this industry. I’m so proud of what each one of them are doing. It’s not motherly so much as…auntly? It’s like I’m the cool aunt of Asheville Beer!”

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Never truer words have been spoken. Outside of her remarkable work the ABA, Kendra plays on two soccer teams—one co-ed and one women’s team. She’s also a former jazz singer with a killer voice and a love for karaoke. She’s toying with the idea of performing again with a band. She is also an amazing host who loves to entertain, and a doting mom to two boys that are the center of her world. Somehow she also manages to be an advocate for social justice whenever and however possible. Much of her work in this arena is done throughout her daily life as she sees opportunities to support the people in her life. She’s also written an essay that was featured in the book Why Black Lives Matter (Too), a book that benefits The Sentencing Project, and is available online at most major book retailers. 

“I’m aware that if my skin were darker, then I would have had different experiences in my life. Yes, I’m a minority in that I’m a woman, but I’m a straight woman who is white, and that comes with certain privileges. That doesn’t mean that my life is perfect or easy because it’s not, but because of those things there are certain challenges that I don’t have to face. If I can advocate for those who DO have to face those challenges, or if I can educate people like me to be more equitable, fair, and compassionate, then I’ll do that. People are tired of having to fight for respect or basic human dignity. I try to take that on myself so that they don’t have to. I ask myself how I can use my privilege to support what others are doing, not only for the Black Lives Matter movement, but for the LGBTQ community as well. I don’t tell people of color or members of the LGBTQ community what they need to do. I just let them know that I’m there for them, and when other people use hurtful language, then I address it as matter of fact, unemotional, and straight forward as I can.”

As for the obstacles that Kendra faces in her own life, she confesses that she’s had to deal with chauvinism where ever she’s gone, but that she’s never felt more supported and appreciated than she has experienced in her work with the ABA. At least once a week someone in the beer community reaches out to tell her that they appreciate her work with and for them. When it does come up nowadays, it’s not coming from the brewers or the associate members that Kendra works to support. It’s usually coming from someone who is outside the beer industry.

Kendra and the Asheville Brewers Alliance have a strong future ahead of them. Under Kendra’s leadership, the organization is growing rapidly as more breweries pop up across the region and as more related businesses join as associate members. Membership has jumped from 48 members in 2015 to 180 today! This has created an opportunity for the ABA to be more supportive to the community it represents. Kendra would like to be able to bring in more staff to accommodate needs that she sees, but struggles to address as one person. She’d very much like to be able to work closely with the community college brewing programs to dialog about what training needs currently aren’t being taught, and to work in concert with the North Carolina Brewers Guild to support their work to advocate for legislation that would make doing business easier and more successful in North Carolina.

For more information about the ABA go here.

For more information on Asheville Beer week and all the events happening around town go here.