Falling in Love with Mountains and Beer

Published in Edible Asheville, November 2021

Leah Rainis, Executive Director of Asheville Brewers Alliance, A.A.S., Brewing, Distillation and Fermentation (2018)

Long before Leah Rainis moved to Asheville in 2016, she had fallen in love with craft beer. But it wasn’t just the beer she admired; it was the brewers in the production facilities, the bartenders and barbacks in the taprooms, and the loyal fans who clamored for the latest offerings who drew her to the industry she is now working to strengthen and build.

It started in the early 2000s, when Rainis was studying marketing at Emerson College in Boston. She took a part-time job at a popular bottle shop called Marty’s, which offered an impressive selection of craft beers. In between running the register and stocking the shelves, Rainis started to explore the offerings of New England’s microbreweries and quickly became a fan. 

After graduating Emerson, Rainis took a job with a Boston-based investment firm, where she worked for nearly a decade but continued to foster her interest in craft beer. She attended beer dinners and bottle shares, and sought out brewery tours in her downtime. When she moved to Austin in 2014, she found a natural fit as a bartender in the taproom of a local microbrewery. Her time in Austin didn’t last long, but her love of the craft beer industry did. 

Rainis and her husband moved to Asheville in 2016, and Rainis quickly enrolled in the Craft Beverage Institute of the Southeast at A-B Tech Community College, where she transformed her passion and interest into a promising new career. 

“I knew Asheville had mountains and beer, and so I knew we’d like it,” Rainis says. “But I don’t think anything could’ve prepared me for how robust the industry is here.” 

The Craft Beverage Institute of the Southeast offers a two-year associate degree in brewing, distillation and fermentation—with the goal of preparing its students for various careers in these industries. It was here that Rainis gained insight into the complexity of the craft beer business, enrolling in courses that taught her the science of beer production, in addition to topics like inventory management and legal issues. 

During one school-sponsored visit to Asheville’s Highland Brewing Co., Rainis and her classmates got a lesson in supply management and “that’s when I realized there’s room in this industry for Type A-organized personalities like me,” Rainis says. 

While still enrolled at A-B Tech, Rainis took a few different jobs at Catawba Brewing Co.—first as a bartender in the brewery’s South Slope tasting room, then as an intern at its Morganton facility, and finally as a brewhouse data analyst. 

After graduating in 2018, Rainis accepted a job as a brewer at Sanctuary Brewing in Hendersonville, now known as Oklawaha Brewing Co. Her time at Sanctuary was key to learning the core part of the industry, but Rainis soon realized that the relatively solitary life of a brewer didn’t suit her—and that she craved more camaraderie and social interactions. So when offered a job at the Asheville Brewers Alliance in 2019, she jumped at the chance to interact with the members and then was thrilled when she was offered the job of executive director in 2020. 

With about 45 brewery members, the Asheville Brewers Alliance works to promote beers produced in Western North Carolina and facilitates knowledge and support between the makers. While the pandemic was tough on the industry, the ABA played a valuable role in helping to guide local breweries around the challenges. Going forward, Rainis hopes the alliance will continue to offer valuable resources to its members and become a stronger advocate for independent beer makers. 

“Beer people are my people,” Rainis says. “While I definitely like the beer, I mostly like the stories and interacting with others. That’s what led me to A-B Tech and prepared me for what I do now.” 

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