She's a familiar face at Wren House. But this Phoenix artist is more than a 'beertender'
Julia Gonzalez fell in love with photography as a sophomore at Hamilton High School in Chandler. A student art show opened her eyes to the world of taking pictures, developing film and printing photos in the silver lab.
"I never put down my camera all through high school," Gonzalez says.
After working on her student yearbook as photo editor for two years, she applied to study photography at Arizona State University. While in college, Gonzalez started working at Royal Coffee Bar in the Biltmore Fashion Park.
"Being a barista was always a part time job for me," she says. But it led her down a path to serving craft beverages, meeting customers and cultivating community with her regulars.
Gonzalez later switched from barista to "beertender," and for the last three years she's poured pints at Wren House Brewing Company near central Phoenix. Over time the part time job became a passion as working for the small business helped Gonzalez remain a part of Phoenix's creative community.
"One of my art professors told me, as an artist, you are going to do so many jobs in your lifetime," Gonzalez says. "I’m not the type of person that could sit at a desk and stare at a computer forever. But at the bar, you never know who you are going to meet and become really good friends with or who you are going to impact."
How she got her start in the beer industry
Gonzalez transitioned from serving coffee to beer in 2017. Through a friend of her sister, Gonzalez found out Wren House was looking to hire a few new bartenders. The coffee shop where she worked had recently changed ownership, and she was looking for a new adventure.
After getting the job, Gonzalez says she had a lot to learn.
"I had zero bar experience and I knew nothing about beer," she says, laughing.
So her crash course in the world of craft beer began. She tasted everything Wren House produced — taking particular note of the local ingredients brewer Preston Theony often features in his beers and Wren House's collaborations with other local makers, such as Noble Bread, Pa'La and Press Coffee.
And she sought out beers from breweries near and far. Through those tastings Gonzalez says her palate evolved. She began to love IPAs, a category of beer she never liked before, and is still learning to love new styles.
"Before I never thought I would enjoy sours and farmhouse ales but I am addicted to them right now," she says. "You start to develop a palate for it and that’s where that curiosity and the beer knowledge comes in."
Her education is never ending at Wren House, Gonzalez says. Despite the company's small size, the brewers are constantly creating new recipes and working with different processes and ingredients that Gonzalez has to learn and be able to explain to customers.
'More women are getting involved in beer'
As a woman working in the often male-dominated field of craft beer, Gonzalez says sometimes customers doubt her knowledge. She combats this in two ways, either by disproving their doubts by answering their questions, or if she genuinely doesn't know, asking Wren House's brewers.
Facing "intimidating" environments is a challenge Gonzalez has taken on in both of her jobs, as a woman in beer and a woman working in technology, she says. Outside of tending bar at Wren House, she also works in operations for Apple.
At Apple, the scales for equal opportunities for jobs and growth are becoming more balanced, Gonzalez says. But with craft beer, there's a lot of room for growth.
Gonzalez says she was excited to see a big step forward for women in the metro Phoenix craft beer scene when Greenwood Brewing opened in downtown Phoenix.
"Those brewers are women and most of the bartenders are women. I think it’s so empowering to have that be part of your community and your culture," Gonzalez says.
'Rock star' behind the bar: Making craft cocktails empowered this Phoenix bartender
At Wren House, the majority of the staff is men, Gonzalez says. But as the brewery recently expanded to include a production facility in Prescott, Gonzalez hopes to see more women take jobs with the company.
"More and more women are getting involved in beer and I think that’s amazing," Gonzalez says.
Here's her vision to build community in Phoenix
Gonzalez has split her time between working in coffee and beer and working part time at Apple, first in sales and later operations, since college.
She also worked at Standard Wax for two years, making candles for the Tempe-based company. At that job, she helped with Phoenix Flea, a large downtown Phoenix pop-up market where local makers sell art, clothes, food and crafts.
"That opened up my eyes to how tight the Phoenix community is with makers and small businesses," Gonzalez says. "I developed so many friendships just from doing Phoenix Flea a couple years in a row. I felt the support from all the makers, they all want you to succeed."
In 2016, Gonzalez acted upon her entrepreneurial spirit and opened her own coffee business, selling bottled cold brew at pop-up events around the Valley. She has since put that business, called Yeah Coffee, on pause. But whether through her cold brew business or opening her own coffee shop, it's something she dreams of getting back to one day.
"I always been such a dreamer and I love the type of community that comes with coffee," Gonzalez says. "The thought of creating that type of environment, a place where people can come and meet their friends and have a really great cup of coffee, have lots of plants around you, great natural light. That was always my vision."
Those dreams are long term, Gonzalez says. Until then, she's looking forward to getting back to some of her favorite activities stopped by the pandemic.
She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and loves to travel, exploring the breweries, bars and cafes of new places. She misses visiting art museums, going to concerts and other ways of connecting to the community.
But most of all, Gonzalez says she can't wait for the day she can welcome customers into the bar at Wren House and chat with her regulars again.
Gonzalez thrives off personal connections, which she cultivates as she pours customers pints from behind the bar or captures a snippet of someone's personality from behind a camera lens.
"When taking portraits, people tend to be a little shy around the camera, so I just start off talking to them, finding out what are the things that they’re into and kind of just easing off a little bit," she says. "When you get a candid shot, their personality just comes through, and I love capturing that."