“What was our gravity on that?” I hear 70-year-old Nancy Noll yell down to our brewer, Patio, as I walk into our pub brewery. If I didn’t know any better, I would think Nancy had been part of the Three Creeks Brewing team for years. Recently, Nancy’s beer was selected as the best in show at the Sisters Home Brew Fest, earning her a chance to brew her recipe that she has been working on for more than a year.
Nancy Noll was born in Ohio. She decided to uproot her life and move to the West Coast, where she continued to pursue her family business in finance, but in San Francisco, where it was all peace, love and freedom. She ventured up to Northern California, where she lived for 40 years, but was then drawn to Central Oregon for her love of snowboarding and skiing. During her time between Nor Cal and Sun River, Nancy discovered the art of beer brewing, and just so happened to be innately good at it.
After spending the morning watching Nancy and Patio brew, I got to sit down with Nancy and ask her a few questions about her life and the beer that is getting acclaim across Northern California and Central Oregon.
Tell me about yourself
I grew up all over the East Coast. After leaving art school, I worked as a photographer, and eventually got involved in our family investment business. When I was 26, I bought a piece of raw land in Humboldt County, California. I paid less for that acreage than what a new car costs today!
What drew you to San Francisco and how did you end up in Humboldt?
I’m gay and if you were gay at that point in time, you needed to be on the West Coast. There was no way to be gay in Milwaukee or Cleveland. I had a friend living out in San Francisco and she said, “Come out, it’s great and fun and you can be free to be whoever you are!”
I wanted a better life. I eventually packed up my life and became a hippie in the early 70’s in San Francisco. It was great.
At some point, I wanted to get out of the city. In 1972 my sister tragically passed and we had always wanted to buy land together. I pursued that dream and ended up finding property in Humboldt County.
What did you do in Humboldt?
I lived there for almost 40 years, homesteading and working in my family’s business. I moved off of my property in 2008. At that time, my mother, who lived in Hawaii was aging and I wanted to spend more time with her. The property was a lot of responsibility and it felt like the right time to move on, so I ended up selling the property and moving to Arcata.
During the time I was living in Humboldt. I started spending the winters in Sun River, Oregon.
What made you choose Sun River?
I wanted to come up in the winters to ski and snowboard. I rented a house there and fell in love with the area. In 1990, I ended up buying a lot and building a house. I was the only house on the block at the time.
How have you seen Central Oregon change since then?
It’s grown, but good things have come out of that. A lot of people that have come from other places have contributed to the culture here. There may be more traffic, but there’s also more music, art and breweries flourishing. The people here are very warm and friendly.
You mentioned that non-profits are a big part of your life, which actually got you into brewing
One of the better things that I’ve done in my whole life, was when I co-founded an organization called Humboldt Community Breast Health Project in Arcata. We started out with a desk and a file cabinet.
So how did you go from starting non-profits to brewing?
I used to be a big wine drinker. It started to give me a headache – too many friends and topped off glasses. With beer it’s easier to track how much I’m drinking!
I used to carpool with a guy up to the mountain who was a beer drinker and he kept trying to get me to drink beer. Finally one day I said yes and that kind of got me started. I got interested in beer and drinking beer. This was in 2012. I think around 2013, I went to the Humboldt Home Brew Fest. It was a charity for Engineers Without Borders.
Wait, so you started drinking beer in 2012 and by 2013, you were already brewing?
Yes, I’m an extremist, whatever I do, I do.
How did you learn how to brew?
Well this Home Brew Fest was my inspiration. I won a silent auction and I got a kit with a kettle and extract, essentially a brew kit. And then after that, I just kept getting recipes and making beer. I also joined the Humboldt Home Brew Club, and the people who run the Humboldt Beer Works, were very helpful also.
Are you saying that you’re self taught?
Yes. About a year later, a member of Humboldt Home Brewers helped me go from extract brew to all grain. Then I started doing all grain brewing which is a step up from extract brewing. It just kept getting more and more fun. I joined the Central Oregon Home Brewers Organization. The guys who own the Brew Shop in Bend have helped so much. I’ll call from California asking, “What the hell am I doing?” and they always help. They’re great.
I’m still learning. Last fall I took some classes at Central Oregon Community College where I learned a lot. The instructors really know about beer and get it across in a way students’ can understand. They also have tasting classes to learn about beer. Their program, and every one of their teachers, is a great asset to the community.
I feel grateful to the whole brewing community here. From the brew masters to the home brewers, everyone is very kind, and helpful. They’re always willing to share information – and beer!
Tell me about the competition that landed you a day of brewing at Three Creeks Brewing Company
It was the Sisters Home Brew Fest, which was to raise money for Parks and Rec. They needed home brewers and that’s why I entered. I’m not interested in entering competitions, but I am into non-profits. I believe in giving back.
But this is funny, okay. I drove out there by myself. I had my beer and I’m thinking to myself, “What if somebody spits it out? What if someone hates it? I’d feel so good if somebody put just one coin in my jar.”
To win this thing was pretty unbelievable. But the recipe didn’t come over night. I’ve been working on it for a year.
Tell me about your beer
Okay my beer, Nasty Woman IPA, is a hop monster! To me, it’s a really smooth, tasty IPA. It’s not very astringent; it’s got a lot of flavor and aroma. The two main hops in the recipe are Citra, which is a citrusy hop, and then it’s dry hopped with Mosaic.
How do you make it?
I heat the mash water on my stove. I climb up on the counter. Once I get the right temperature, I pour it into this cooler. I have to lift it up and get it in. I dump my grain into there. I close the top and put a sweatshirt over the cooler to keep it warm. I stir it every 20 minutes. Once the mash is done, I heat up more water for the sparge on the stove. Then I run it into my kettle on the floor which is on a rug that’s upside down so I can drag it into my laundry room. I have two doors in there and a vent and that’s where I do my boil and add my hops. When I cool it down, I run water from my cooler into my washing machine. Being from California, we don’t waste water. Then I have a bathroom in my house that’s very easy to control the temperature. I keep the heater at 68 and I let it ferment in there for a couple of weeks.
And why Nasty Woman IPA?
I heard a woman get called nasty for expressing her opinion. If a nasty woman is bold, intelligent, and has self-esteem, then I’m a nasty woman. It’s sarcastic, but hat’s why it’s called Nasty Woman IPA.
Three Creeks Brewing Company is proud to present Nancy Noll; An independent woman in brewing that loves beer and the art of crafting her own taste! #BlazeYourTrail
Nasty Woman IPA is currently on tap at Three Creeks Brewing Company is Sisters, OR.
* Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the official policy or position of Three Creeks Brewing Company.