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From blue lines to hop bines: the Sarah Casorso story, part 2

From the hockey bench to Bench Brewing...

Sarah Casorso holds a mash paddle in hop bines at Bench Brewing.
Erik Wollschlager

After finishing university and playing a season in Europe’s EWHL, Sarah Casorso knew she was destined for more. A chance to play among the best in the world lie on the other side of the continent. Could she make it work?

When worlds collide

The craft beer community came through for Casorso. Her friend who had introduced her to good brews offered her parents’ house in Ontario as a place to stay while she figured things out. So, she moved to St. Catherine’s and started researching Niagara College, which has one of North America’s most prestigious brewing programs. “It was difficult to get in; it’s super competitive and they only take 20 students per semester. A lot of those people had experience homebrewing or working at breweries; I had none of that,” she admitted.

“I went out looking for experience. I would have taken anything - working at a brewery as a server or whatever, just to get my foot in the door. I couldn’t find anything.”

She lucked upon a brewery opening in Port Dalhouise, St. Catherine’s. “I got their number from their Facebook page, and began speaking with the owner,” she explained. The brewery was months from opening, but the owner recognized Casorso’s passion and said they’d like to hire her.

Eventually, she was offered a partnership and the position of head brewer. “I didn’t even know all of the ingredients in beer,” she laughs. “I was like, ‘This is a great opportunity. I love hands-on work, and growing up in the summers, I did farmwork and landscaping. I knew a lot about things like irrigation; these skills transferred to brewing surprisingly well.”

“I took to it really fast. I went out and bought the Brewer’s Bible and just read everything I could. I did research and spoke with some people. I tried to brew a few brews. By the time we opened, I was the only one brewing, but I started to outgrow that a bit. I left in November of 2017.”

Moving up

It was a stressful time for the young pioneer. She and the Beauts were in the middle of working to defend their Isobel Cup championship, and she was looking for work to supplement the limited wages that women’s professional sports can offer.

Not long after that, she began her current career at Bench Brewing. “I was hired in December, and started January 2. I was hired as a brewer, but was then promoted to production administrator and maintenance officer. From there, I was promoted to lead brewer, and just a couple of weeks ago, I was promoted to head brewer.”

Erik Wollschlager

It’s been a whirlwind for Casorso, who has been a key figure with the brewery since it opened its doors mere weeks ago. The promotions, and the time it takes to do the job well, led to some indecision on her part as the spring became summer.

Finding Balance

“I was on the fence about coming back to hockey because my career here [at Bench] was starting to be amplified. Last season, I felt like I couldn’t give 100 percent to either brewing or to hockey,” she said. “Once players like Shannon Szabados signed, I knew I had to come back for one more year. It feels amazing to be a part of that - it’s such a cool experience to be playing with some of the best girls in the world. It’s really something to be proud of. Right now, I know we’re going to do something really awesome in Buffalo this year.”

With the season just around the corner, things are stilling moving forward at a rapid pace at Bench. The taproom is consistently busy, which means a lot of beer is being consumed, and that more needs to be brewed. Casorso says she enjoys the hard work and getting her hands dirty. It’s what she’s done all of her life.

“Work is really supportive, and is willing to give me the time I need to put into hockey. Craig and Ric have been great as well; they recognize that a lot of us have to have jobs in order to support ourselves.”

Paving the way

It’s difficult being on the leading edge of progress in two male-dominated fields. There is obviously a lot of pushback in the sporting world, which Sarah says she doesn’t mind. “You hear things like, ‘They’re not as strong,’ or ‘They’re not as fast,’ and I think...’Yeah, but I’m smarter,’” she asserts with a wide smile.

“The fight for equality is something I’ve carried with me my whole life. I want to be a trailblazer in fields that women ‘don’t belong’...I’ve never really looked at gender, or jobs that were for ‘males’ or ‘females.’ These were just fields that I was interested in.”

There are occasional issues in the brewing industry. She feels that sometimes, female brewers aren’t taken as seriously. “The brewing community is overwhelmingly male,” she states. “I think it’s something like 5 percent of them are women.

“Ultimately, I think people respect it, and no one has outwardly said anything negative, but I’m always a little self-conscious when you get that vibe - do they take me seriously as a brewer?”

For the most part, though, the community has been very friendly and very accepting of the brewer. She and her team at Bench have a gorgeous facility tucked neatly into the orchards and vineyards of Ontario, where they are brewing some fantastic beers. They specialize in sours because, “...it’s pretty uncharted in the industry - there is so much to discover! Between different fruits, different barrels, and hop varieties, the opportunity for new flavors are endless.”

Casorso can’t choose a favorite beer, but she certainly enjoys trying to discover what it might be. She says it changes with the season, and right now, fruity sours are the taste of the times. Certainly suitable for the warm summer.

Erik Wollschlager

Bench distributes across Ontario, so if you find yourself in a bottle shop, look for Citra Grove and Amarillo Grove in bottles. These fantastic sours blend perfectly with the hop varietals. They also offer cans of their Twenty Mile farmhouse ale and Ball’s Falls session IPA. Both are easy drinking and approachable - perfect for someone trying to experiment with craft beer.

Casorso has certainly had a lifetime of interesting experiences in her 26 years. She’s grateful for those that have helped her along the way. There is no question her hard work, persistence, and dedication have carried her to places she never would have imagined. She offered one final thought before she disappeared back into the brewhouse.

“Do what you love. Anyone is capable of anything.”

Sarah Casorso: Hockey Champion, Brewer of Incredible Beer, and Unknowing Lifecoach.