We’ve hired the fabulous, talented and beer-obsessed Ali Dedianko to take the helm of our malty, hoppy, yeasty festival that is London Beer Week (March 13-19 2017). We grabbed a quick pint and chatted about her favourite beers and where she sees our beer industry going.
Ali Dedianko is one of those rare Americans who manages to be wonderfully sassy without the volume on full blast, which is good news for us as we’re talking about her new job in hushed tones over a pint. Her hire is our worst kept secret, partly because the DrinkUp team are useless at secrets but mostly because we’re simply too excited to have her on board. For the record Ali is great at keeping secrets.
“I really do like all beer,” she insists, adjusting to her first interview on what has been a personal passion for years. And she can’t wait to tell me her favourite brews, which include Wu Gang Chops the Tree by London’s Pressure Drop brewery (it’s got loads of flavour and is only 3.8% she gushes), Siren’s breakfast stout Broken Dream (Ali’s tasting notes: super dark, so delicious, coffee, chocolate, really yum), Tank Pilsener Urquell (a perfect example of a delicious lager done really well and our current beverage of choice), and a saison by Brooklyn Brewery - Sorachi Ace (named for a Japanese hop which she described as incredibly moreish).
Beer wasn’t always Ali’s raison d’être however – that used to be premium vodka in her role with Belvedere and is in fact where I first met her, four years ago in a freezing cold Polish rye field talking about crops and grains and distillation. Now she’s swapped that for hops and fermentation, although the crops and grains part is still useful, Ali has her sights set high.
“I want to make beer approachable to everyone,” she says. “People always ask me about being a woman in drinks and I’ve always hated that question, because it makes an issue out of being male or female, and when I look at beer I think it is so often perceived as something women don’t like or drink – because beer often gets gendered. Wine and cocktails are now loved by both men and women but with beer it feels like male territory. It doesn’t need to be pink and fruity to get me to love it, nor the rest of the female population. I want to demystify beer in general.”
Told you she was kick-arse. But we’ve got ahead of ourselves already, bubbling over with future plans. Let’s rewind.
Ali started off waiting tables back in Baltimore – famed for its crab shacks and the film Hairspray – where her interest peaked in the restaurant’s smoke-filled bar over questionable drinks such as Slippery Nipples and Woo Woos. But if the drink names were a little uncouth, she certainly thought the bartenders looked cool.
“I moved to New York for university when I was 18 and got a job cocktail waitressing. It quickly dawned on me that the bartenders were earning more money so I left to work behind the bar at a classic dive bar in the East Village. I was a good student but I might have been better had I not been working till 4am each night.”
Studying Spanish, Italian and Russian at NYU (let’s add whiz-kid on to her list of qualifications) Ali had her first very illegal – she was still under 21 at this stage – sips of beer and shots of booze while running the venue. As we’re an 18+ nation I’m sure we won’t hold this against her.
From there she graduated university and instead of heading into a career of languages she progressed from dive bars to cocktail bars and even worked in an original Prohibition era speakeasy. Bucking the trend of a ‘real job’ Ali laughs about thinking she was a baller with her ample tips and a tattooed boyfriend. So that’s an accolade of wild child to add to whizz-kid and kick-arse beer lover.
“I got my job with Belvedere in a cocktail competition – not a normal one, mind you. It was a four month process where the winner landed a year-long contract to travel the world as an ambassador. I made a video of myself in a bubble bath of Belvedere and then competed in the final. Hannah (our esteemed DrinkUp.London founder) was one of the judges! So I quit my job in bars after eight years and went to work in vodka. I didn’t set out and intend to work in booze but I’ve never actually known anything else. This was before chefs were celebrities and people were paid to represent brands, it wasn’t something I knew could be a job. I mean any job is a job but at least with hospitality you’re selling a good time as opposed to anything else.”
Growing up Ali was raised in a family of beer lovers but it took her a little longer to fall for the amber liquid.
“My mum is a big beer lover and when I told her once I didn’t like it she said I can’t believe a daughter of mine wouldn’t like beer. But after working in cocktails for years I wanted something refreshing and now I love the stuff. I find it thirst quenching and there are just so many flavours, there is a beer for every occasion.”
With that last sentence we’ve finished our pints, and I haven’t even asked her about her plans for keg parties, taproom tours or taking charge of our very first Beer Edit at the Oval Space next year. Guess you’ll have to wait for those beer-laced plans to hatch.