In Community: Ophelia Flores-Carr, Brewer

In Community: Ophelia Flores-Carr
If you’ve been to Big Grove in the past five years, there’s a good chance that you’ve at least heard Ophelia Flores-Carr. Ophelia walks into a space and demands an audience – not just because of her flowing curls she’s been proudly growing for her wedding or because she’s able to project her voice in a way that would make an auctioneer jealous - but because, when you are in her brewery, she wants you to feel like you belong in the space. She wants you to feel like you have a community at Big Grove.
Hailing from Chicago, Ophelia found herself in Iowa City as a student at the University of Iowa. She lovingly jokes she came for school but stayed for the beer. After graduating with her degree in graphic design, she was working at a Montessori school when she joked with a parent, who she frequently chatted with about beer, that working at Big Grove would be her dream job. Naturally, this parent happened to know someone, Ophelia began as a hostess at Big Grove, and the rest is history.
I have the privilege to call Ophelia a close friend of mine and to call the Big Grove community my own. Ophelia exudes passion – not just for her craft, but for the people and the community that make Big Grove what it is today. She’s an easy person to befriend in that sense – her passion inspires those around her, and you can’t help but want to know everything she has to say about beer, the world, and just about everything in between. This campaign was born as the brainchild of Ophelia and I. One morning she was lamenting that she wished more people could see what she does and the work involved in her industry. That struck me as I really had no clue what her day-to-day job was like either. Then this idea snowballed into, “Wow, Revival has so many badass customers. I wish I could know what they all do.” Cue the dawning realization that Revival is turning 20 and the In Community campaign was born.
 I sat down to chat with Ophelia over, but what else? Some Big Grove Beers.
What does Big Grove bring to Iowa City that’s special?
Big Grove provides a space for people to create their own community. We are seen as a communal hangout spot, and we work with our community to cultivate that space around us. I think people utilize our space to come and create their own community. A lot of people hold events here, which has less to do with us and more to do with feeling like they can create their community in our space.
What has made you stay in both Iowa City and Big Grove?
 Definitely, partially, my fiancée. He actually is the one that introduced me to Big Grove. We went on our first date to Mosley’s and that went so well that he asked if I had heard of this new brewery and I hadn’t so we came here and it was magical. I’ve always had a passion for beer but when I got into this space, I told everyone I am going to learn everything there is to learn about this industry. Come November, I will have worked every job in the building, and I plan to keep it that way - to keep on learning and learning.
How did you come into the field of brewing and why is this the field you want to be in?
It’s really interesting talking about alcohol – it is a very divisive industry and product. In my family, my dad was very invested and interested in the craft movement in the early 2000s. He was exploring that for himself and with that came “Ophelia go get me a beer.” It started as just getting a beer, but then as he learned about the beer, he would ask me to smell it and ask what I smelled. He brought it into a space of learning, and I’ve always been interested in learning. It was something we did together – learn about the beer. From then on, I was spoiled. I wouldn’t be into domestics when I was in college. Then, I fell into my own habits of being interested in craft and ever since, I’ve been pursing that. My dad definitely started it and we still bond over it when I come home and we share this array of beer knowledge. It’s like a collection – you remember the beers you have, and you get to talk about them. Beer to me always comes back to community.
Why did you want to work in the beer industry & what do you want to bring to the field?
I love making community – I am an extrovert and I thrive where there are more people – the more the merrier. Working in this industry – there is no other place that draws people as much as beverages do. It’s as old as time – we’ve been drinking beer since the beginning of time, and I think we will drink beer until the end of time. I want to produce my own product that brings people together so I am learning all I can from one of the premiere breweries in Iowa if not the country.
What are you most passionate about in the work you do?
My current status in the brewery is a cellar woman. What that means is there is all these different factors in the brewery – I always say all of brewing is divided into three parts [Ophelia proudly notes she’s quite nerdy and this is a reference to Julius Cesar]. It’s the hot side, the cold side, and it’s packaging. I am the middle of the cold side. As a cellar woman I finish the beer essentially. So when you talk about hops, when you talk about fruit, when you talk about clarity – all of that comes down to my job title. Obviously, everyone along the way is helping, but we are the “key stone” of the brewery. I take a lot of pride in that space – we have to be on top of our game so that everyone else’s work can shine. If we aren’t doing our job well, everyone else’s falls apart. I love seeing people enjoy the beverage once it’s done and I can look at it and identify physically, “Yeah I did that – that person is enjoying their product because I did my job well.”
We, of course, were talking over beer – Ophelia drinking Big Grove’s famous Easy Eddy and myself enjoying their award winning, and my personal favorite, Citrus Surfer. *sips beer*
What’s your work environment?
Loud – really hot or really cold – and REALLY messy, by choice and necessity. We are making a product so it is a manufacturing area – there are chemicals and all that good stuff.
What’s your day to day?
I come in at 8AM - we start off with our sensory panel - we test every single product that comes through every day. What that means is that we’re taking about 6 ounces of beer, we’re smelling it, looking at it, making sure it’s ready to go in a can. After that, I set up the centrifuge [ Ophelia and the Big Grove team lovingly refer to the machine as Cynthia]. She and I get to work on clarifying the day’s beer – whatever that standard looks like. Then I will clean the tanks I need to clean, see if there’s any dry hopping that needs to be done - that means putting the aroma hops in that give the beer the smell and bitterness that you expect and/or fruit. Then I clean-up and have a beer at the end of the day.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
It is that I am 5’ 5”. Obviously, I work in a male dominated area, a lot of men are 5’10” and therefore the tanks are pretty tall. There have been things that, as a company, Big Grove has purchased so that I am safer while working. A lot of those items are ladders. I recognize everywhere else in the industry there is sexism, but I am super lucky that that doesn’t happen here- Big Grove is a great company and super supportive. That is a culture I take pride in maintaining.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Watching community being built around a product I helped create.
What do you wish people knew about your field?
I wish people knew how much cleaning we do. The key to a great beer is how clean your brewery is and it’s not like there’s dirt on the floor, we have to clean that up sort of thing. We are dealing with things we physically cannot see. We are dealing with microbes on that microscopic level. We are worried about something that day to day – maybe it looks clean to you – but you can’t physically tell there is a specific strain of bacteria or yeast that is growing that could harm the beer. When we’re talking about cleaning were talking about chemical cleaning, we’re talking about the outside of things, the inside of things. Because we’re cleaning, and typically a brewery is in a warehouse space, it gets really hot and then it gets really cold in the winter. We are not outside but we do deal with a lot of swings in weather and yet we’re still cleaning.
What’s something Unique you bring to Big Grove?
My dancing – I’m loud as hell. As demur as I seem in this interview, I’m actually extremely loud and boisterous. The guys in the back would definitely agree, before I came onto the team, it was more of a head down, “This is what we do workplace,” and when I got back there I was like, “No – when I walk in we’re going to sing songs and we’re going to dance for the centrifuge.” It’s got to be a fun environment – If I’m not having fun then I’m not living. I always call them curmudgeonly old men [Ophelia would like to note they are, in fact, not old but sometimes act like it].
How do you balance work & life?
My work / life balance probably doesn’t exist. It’s cliché but Big Grove is a family and we, at the Iowa City location, are super tight knit. I hang out with them outside of work - they’re invited to my wedding. It’s just part of the life that we work together but we also have fun together and we share in each other’s triumphs and downfalls. I think if I didn’t have that, I’d probably have a very detrimental work/life balance. But, other than that, I try to spend time with my dog, Simcoe [naturally, named after a type of hop]
How do you value yourself outside of work?
I value myself outside of work as someone who wants to be part of the community, who has a strong voice. That’s something I take into and out of my work because I do feel very supported and strengthened at work with my voice so therefore, I feel strong enough to also speak up and do things outside of work. I work with the non-profit Open Heartland; I spend time with my friends. I try to do my best in the community and to make it better than I came into it.
We have now moved on to our next round of beers – still thoroughly enjoying an Easy Eddy and Citrus Surfer.
Do you remember when you first went into Revival?
Yes & no. Like no, but yes. I had to have been in college and we were walking around the ped mall. The first time I remember being like, “Oh Revival has something I want,” and not just clothing or whatever - I remember that Frasier Fir candle. I am huge Christmas person. If I could live in Christmas wintertime all the time I would. I remember walking in during Christmastime and the Frasier Fir was out and it smelled like Christmas, and I was like “OH I must have this. This is only something I can get at Revival I must come BACK.”
Why do you think people find Revival to be such a destination / what is something unique about Revival?
I think people come into Revival not just because you can buy clothes there. I keep harping on community, but for me it’s obviously very important. I feel like Revival cultivates that with the people who are working day-to-day. So even I can’t financially purchase something at that time, I still enjoying going in to look around and talk to the people who are working there – seeing what’s new. I think it makes – it makes you feel super comfortable, especially as someone who works most of the time in basically a uniform of overalls. It’s interesting to have someone build my confidence up and be like, “Oh you would look really nice in this.” Or when you come out of the fitting room and someone seems genuine when they say, “Let’s try this instead.” It doesn’t feel fake or put on – it feels like they actually care about how you look and how you present outside of the store. I think that’s what makes Revival different from most places.
What keeps you coming back to Revival?
It’s the Frasier Fir. No, I’m kidding. I come back to Revival because I feel empowered when I walk in – as someone who doesn’t always feel the most femme – I feel empowered to feel however I want when I walk in the store. If that means I want to put on a pretty dress and then go out on a date, that’s one thing. Or I may be looking at things that might make me feel happy like apothecary, things I want to have in my home. It’s always an empowered feeling to present myself how I want to present myself.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
I’m a very ambitious person so I hope that all of you come to drink my beer at my brewery. But I also I hope I can foster a community of my own with whatever I’m doing. Whether that be a brewery, whether that be any other entrepreneurial endeavors, I just want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome.
What song gets you through the workday?
I’ve been really into Speed drive by Charlie XCX and Hallucinogenics by Matt Maeson. I am also loving some classic Lil Wayne or Kid Cudi – it’s really got to be something upbeat and fast paced because there’s a big chance if you’re watching our security cameras that I’ll be dancing while I’m waiting for something to finish.