Above: Asa Stone at Sidetrack Brewery. Photograph by Minesh Bacrania.
ASA STONE THIRSTS for knowledge. When graduating from high school in Hitachi, Japan, she didn’t want to study just one thing, as college students there must. “I was interested in psychology, but psychology depends on anthropology, and anthropology is also influenced by political science, environmental science, and I wanted to learn English,” she says. So she moved to the U.S., where the culture and science of beer also began to fascinate her. Now she’s a master of all the aforementioned. She holds a PhD in psychology and is New Mexico’s only advanced cicerone—basically a beer sommelier. As a Presidential Fellow on sabbatical from teaching full-time at Central New Mexico Community College, in Albuquerque, she’s working with a team to study ways to better teach soft skills that industry and machines cannot perform, like effective communication, empathy, teamwork, and leadership. Stone also researches how climate change affects Belgium’s culturally essential lambic ales (spoiler alert: It’s not good) and teaches “Beer and Society” in CNM’s Brewing and Beverage Management program. At home, she is brewing a saison.
I’m the type of person who likes to know what, why, and how. So when I became interested in craft beer, I learned just how incredibly integrated beer is to a civilization.
Initially people thought it was the opposite—that civilization and settlement happened first and, as a result, brewing of alcoholic beverages started. They are discovering archaeological evidence that, no, alcoholic beverages came first, and that motivated people to settle.
I think it became an anchor point for socialization, really. They became interested in settling down and creating a community.
People are talking about how brewpubs are the next park. It’s where family and friends go to sit down and enjoy each other’s company. Even in ancient times, having a place to go at the end of chores or activities, settle in and have something to share—that really had an impact on the way we think and the way our brain develops, too.
IPA has become really popular. There’s more and more diversity within IPA. Even in the past few years, hazy, juicy New England IPAs have become so popular that now they’re an official style for judging.
Some others are announcing brut IPA, as in bone dry. Some people are adding enzymes to break down residual sugar, so it’s completely dry, just like champagne.
The pendulum is shifting back to crisp flavors, so lager is becoming more and more popular. American interpretations of traditional styles coming from Europe have been gaining traction, including spontaneously fermented ales. It tastes like an intersection of beer, wine, and cider.
Beer is defined as an alcoholic beverage brewed with those four fundamental ingredients—as long as we have that, I would say, we have a capability to be creative, to add some fermentable sugar in a different way, or add fruits and spices. Pushing the envelope so we continue to evolve and experiment what beer could be is interesting.
My favorite beer is the one that pairs with the moment that I am in.
My favorite place is Sidetrack Brewing, in downtown Albuquerque. It’s hyperlocal, and the only place you can have their beer. They don’t distribute. They also have rotating cask beer, which you don’t get elsewhere in the state. The owners are wonderful and such avid contributors to our community. The brewer used to be an architect. You can see the aesthetic—it’s such a nice homey, cozy place that you can read a book if you want to, or you can strike up conversations with a stranger.
When it comes to the future of work, those fundamental skills that are typically taught in a classroom, like mathematics, are things that could be computerized or automated. So how can we foster what is uniquely human about us to have a cutting edge in the workforce? That is my job.
When we say that a person is empathetic, what do we see in that person? If we can translate that conceptual characteristic into observable behavior, we will be able to teach that.
I feel really lucky to have this sandbox to connect all the different dots.
SEE FOR YOURSELF
Sidetrack is open daily. Pull up a stool and you just might meet Stone.