Some of the most fascinating people in today’s culture are distinguished not just by their craft, but also by their passions. We call them the New Alphas.
In the thick of a craft beer bonanza, in which every dude seems to be fermenting in their garage, it’s refreshing to come across someone who actually knows what she’s doing. Meg Gill, the 29-year-old president and co-founder of Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles, has built a profitable, high-quality brand in an industry that’s disappointingly bereft of women.
A microbrewery with macro ambitions, Golden Road makes five core brands, three seasonal IPAs, and 30 draft-only specialties available at their pub in Los Angeles. In 2014, they produced a whopping 30,000 barrels, reaping over $10 million in revenue. The company’s prolificacy is matched only by its president’s: In addition to being the youngest female brewery owner in the world, Gill is a dedicated environmental activist and record-setting swimmer.
But let’s back up a moment. How exactly did Gill break into the boy’s club of breweries and earn a place on Forbes 30 Under 30: Food and Drink list? As it turns out, you can’t tell the story of her suds success without delving into her other passions.
Born in Chester, Virginia, Gill was the first person from her town to attend Yale, where she swam competitively. In her senior year, she completed the last leg of the freestyle relay in a remarkable 22.26 seconds, setting a new record in Ivy League swimming. After Yale, she accepted a sales position at Oskar Blues Brewing in Colorado, which might sound like a college grad’s dream job, but for Gill was just a way to support herself as the 2008 Olympic Trials approached. She explained to Imbibe magazine: “Even when I first got into the craft beer scene, selling beer was something I saw as a side gig. It was a means to earn additional money, so I could swim more.”
Soon, however, Gill was forced to reevaluate her athletic career. After surviving a devastating car crash, it wasn’t clear whether she would be able to swim professionally anymore. “Before, I thought of beer as a hobby so I could pay the bills and swim,” she says of the accident. “During my recovery, I couldn’t swim as much, and that’s when I fell in love with the business of beer.”
In 2009, she took a job at the struggling San Francisco brewery Speakeasy. There, she proposed a risky solution to the brand’s fiscal troubles: scale back. Instead of chasing new markets, they’d focus on establishing a dominant presence in their hometown. Gill withdrew Speakeasy from 18 states in 6 months, an experience she now considers a crash course in the business of going local.
Around this time, she met Tony Yanow, the owner of a well-known bar in Burbank, California. The two hit it off and founded Golden Road Brewing together in 2011. Leaving San Francisco behind, Gill set up shop in Los Angeles, where the craft beer scene was far less developed. So much less developed, in fact, that Golden Road became the only production brewery in town.
Since then, their aluminum canned beers have earned no shortage of praise for their taste and freshness—the frat boy sommeliers over at Beer Advocate are particularly fond of the Surfliner IPA with Coffee—but it’s the brewery’s commitment to sustainability and social equality that’s drawn national attention. At Golden Road, Gill is helping lead the charge for gender parity and eco-consciousness in the craft brew industry.
Gill sometimes bristles at the title of youngest female brewery owner in the world, but then she remembers that it “draws attention to a deficit we have in the beer industry: a lack of female leadership.” Despite the fact that the U.S. has more breweries today than at any point since the Civil War, women remain badly underrepresented in business. However, Gill says she’s noticed an uptick in women in the beer industry since she got her start.
And Gill is more than a symbol: she’s using her position to foster real change. After witnessing ocean pollution while surfing in Santa Monica, she was inspired to join the board of the non-profit environmental group Heal the Bay. Together with other eco-conscious businesses such as Whole Foods, Golden Road donates a portion of their profits toward environmental charity.
At the end of a long day of crusading, Gill still likes to dive in the pool to decompress. Following a moment of uncertainty after her crash, she returned to the sport with vigor, swimming competitively for The Olympic Club. A brewery executive as comfortable lapping up IPAs as she is lap swimming in a Olympic-sized pool? That's worth raising a glass to.