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...
It’s no secret that WNC’s economy is closely linked with the beer industry. Asheville has sprung up as a brewing center on a national scale thanks to Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium putting down roots here and calling it “home.” While tourism is still the driving force for our regional economy, beer tourism is no small player in that category. But don’t take my word for it. When it comes to numbers and beer, Audra Gaiziunas knows a thing or two about a thing or two.
Audra cut her teeth in the beer industry with a little brewery called Dogfish Head seven years ago. “I was working as a pricing consultant for Caterpillar, selling machinery such as skid steer loaders, mini excavators, and backhoes. In short, it was the kismet of the right place, right time, right skillset, and right personality type.
"I, along with 276 other accountants, applied for the Controller position at Dogfish Head. After two phone interviews, I was one of two people flown up to Delaware for the final round of interviewing, and lo and behold, I got it. To this day I thank Sam and Mariah Calagione for taking a chance on a gal who had no beery numbers experience. They opened a huge door for me.
"I was drawn to brewing due to its culture and lifestyle. I felt I could be myself without compromise in this industry. I could work hard, create awesome spreadsheets, and improve our processes while sporting pink hair, listening to techno, and shooting rubberbands at my coworkers. Work hard and play hard. I'm very highly extroverted, so being in front of a computer all day just wouldn't work out for me.
Nothing traditional has ever really worked out for me...at least I'm consistent when it comes to that. I abhor the status quo and am always looking to improve things. Thus, I grasped the opportunity to improve the operational infrastructure of a brewery, an area I noticed immediately as a weakness in our industry.
Since then, she’s moved on to offer a variety of financial services to breweries across the country from her home base in Asheville. “I own Brewed For Her Ledger, which is my own consultancy. I work with both startup and existing breweries and cideries by writing and vetting business plans and pro formas, implementing financial and inventory management software, designing custom-tailored charts of accounts, training owners and staff on bookkeeping and process flow, conducting valuations on existing breweries, and acting as a project manager throughout buildouts and expansions. I also conduct operational audits, observing how information flows through the brewery and ultimately lands on the financial statements, seeking out and eliminating inefficiencies, omissions, and inaccuracies.
"I'm a basically a one-stop shop offering c-suite (CEO/COO/CFO) services on a fractional basis at a rate startup and small breweries can afford,” said Audra. She has worked with breweries in our area such as The Wedge, Bhramari, Green Man, Asheville Brewing, Frog Level, and Heinzelmännchen as well as several breweries in Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro.
Audra is also the national treasurer for The Pink Boots Society, a professional group for women in the brewing industry, as well as Mountain Ale and Lager Tasters (MALT), a homebrew club in Asheville. When we spoke, Audra had just gotten back to Asheville for the weekend. She’s been flying to Baton Rouge, LA every week to serve as the interim CEO of Tin Roof Brewing Company while they are undergoing expansion. Tin Roof was recently granted the opportunity to create the first officially licensed beer for LSU.
I wanted to know what excites Audra about the Asheville beer economy. “People ask me all the time about the Asheville Beer Bubble. We certainly haven’t reached anything like that yet. As long as you can create something new or provide a new experience, there is unlimited potential for growth in this industry. The only limit is your imagination. As long as you can provide a sense of place tied to a local community, the possibilities are endless.”
She went on to mention the education that North Carolina offers to people entering the brewing industry. AB Tech, NC State, ASU, Rockingham Community College, Blue Ridge Community College, and Nash Community College all offer professional training with a variety of focuses within the field. “These education programs are raising awareness of Asheville and North Carolina in general on a national level. Companies want to be here because they know we can provide skilled employees.”
In addition to a skilled labor force, Audra points to NC’s friendly legislation and even more friendly legislation coming down the pike soon as another example of how we are drawing new business to our area either through east coast expansions of established breweries or by entrepreneurs choosing to open a brewery in their neighborhood.
With all of this growth, Audra and Brewed for Her Ledger have no shortage of work. I asked her what she sees down the road for herself and her business. “I'd love to add a few people to my team in the areas of bookkeeping and financial project management as I continue taking on larger, more involved roles at growing breweries. Who knows what's next after that? I'm not much a planner. I'm more of a journey versus destination gal.
"As the craft beer industry continues to evolve, the services I offer will as well. Currently I'm focused more on conducting a greater number of brewery valuations for acquisitions and exits, but who knows what will happen after that? The surprises are all part of the fun.”
To help her reach these goals, Brewed for Her Ledger has just been chosen as one of seventeen businesses to participate in the fourth cohort of ScaleUp WNC, which provides intensive growth strategy development and implementation assistance to businesses in the Mountain Biz Works area.
To learn more about Audra and Brewed for Her Ledger visit http://www.brewedforherledger.com/
To learn more about ScaleUp WNC visit http://www.mountainbizworks.org/business-planning-start-ups-entrepreneur-classes-coaching/scaleupwnc/