Sylvie Wilkinson caught up with Natalya Watson, the new big name in beer, about writing, podcasting and how her crafty approach to the East London scene champions inclusivity and positivity.
The beer industry isn’t always seen as the most welcoming space for women. For decades, misogyny and loving a bloody good pint went hand in hand – if quick-witted punchlines could exclude women and include beer, all the better. These days we are in on the joke, and it has gone stale. Today, women are shaping and defining the beer industry the world over. The scene has undergone such growth and change that it moves towards being somewhere we can all feel welcome.
Natalya Watson has lived in East London for five years, where she has breathed new life into the beer industry and made a name for herself as a dynamic beer educator. Her brand and business, Beer with Nat, has allowed her to write a book, start a podcast, host tastings and create her own Virtual Beer School. Nat spent her younger years living in Bangor, Northern Ireland, before her family relocated to California when she was eight. Her Northern Irish identity has shaped her love of beer: ‘Drinking, pubs and bars are an inherent part of our culture. I always remember it being a part of my life and being very comfortable in this environment.’
Although pubs have always had positive associations for Nat, she didn’t consider beer as a career path until much later in her life. After studying microbiology at UCLA then public health at UC Berkeley, some would describe her route into beer as unconventional. Nat doesn’t see it this way. ‘Looking back, I definitely see there’s a thread I’ve been pulling the whole time at each different step of my career […] having that background in science has been super helpful for my role now.’
The irony of switching from public health to promoting beer is not lost on her: ‘I do wonder what the public health school thinks of me,’ she laughs, ‘but I always include a public health message in my work. In my mind, the more people learn about beer, the less they abuse it. It’s about quality over quantity – beer is made with care, to be consumed with care.’
After graduating, Nat moved to New York City where friends helped develop her interest in beer. At this point, she began to see a career in beer as a real possibility and made the decision to relocate to London and pursue her ambitions. London was a place she could get her foot in the door, given that the beer scene was less established in the States. In 2015, she made the move to Bethnal Green where she hit the ground running by getting a job at the iconic Mother Kelly’s taproom and bottle shop. Here, she was able to develop her knowledge and became immersed in the local beer community.
Natalya Watson: ‘I want women to see that there’s a place for them in beer’
East London offers the perfect environment for Nat’s beer brand to grow: ‘I love living in Bethnal Green. We’ve got The Kings Arms nearby bringing in a lot of interesting European styles. We’ve got so many great breweries too, BOXCAR, Old Street, Five Points. We’re really lucky.’
In the end, Nat only worked full-time at Mother Kelly’s for four months: ‘A wonderful organisation of women in beer called the Crafty Beer Girls were having a meeting at Mother Kelly’s, and through them I found out about a job opportunity at Duvel.’ To her surprise, Nat got the job and became their UK marketing manager. Working for such a well-respected, historical brewery gave her the confidence to branch out and start her own business: ‘I ended up being there for three and a half years before I got the confidence to go out on my own. The Duvel team gave me so much support.’
At this point, the Beer With Nat brand was born, through which Nat has been no stranger to spinning plates: ‘Every time someone asks me for a bio I think, ‘How many times am I going to have to rewrite this?’ I primarily see myself as a beer educator […] I also have my podcast, which was a passion project to highlight all the amazing women who work in beer who I felt weren’t getting the recognition they deserved.’
Nat’s book, Beer: Taste the Evolution in 50 Styles, came out in March 2020, and her Virtual Beer School continues to gain popularity: ‘Leading the class helps other women feel more comfortable in taking it. I’m working on finding a way to create some sort of scholarship to make sure I’ve got a diverse group of students.’
The next live course of Nat’s Virtual Beer School will be starting in April/May, and anyone with an interest in beer is encouraged to sign up. Contact Nat on social media for more information.
Nat’s dedication to the UK beer scene is infectious. Her knowledge is clearly vast, yet her attitude lacks even a drop of snobbery. At the moment, she’s especially enjoying beers from Duration Brewing in Norfolk, but is always looking for the latest beer to sample.
Through hard work and belief in her own abilities, Nat has been able to develop her own unique voice in an everchanging industry. It is easy to imagine beer enthusiasts as jittery men who will not rest until you’ve been corrected for mispronouncing ‘Schwarzbier’. For Nat, this image is outdated and could do with being debunked. ‘It’s interesting that there’s this perception that beer is a very male dominated space […] this hasn’t been my experience. I always felt that I’ve found lots of other women who enjoyed beer as much as me, and I want to tell that story.’
By Sylvie Wilkinson
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