Although the craft brewing industry remains overwhelmingly white and majority male, there is a growing number of women and people of color making their presence felt in the industry, especially over the last 5-10 years. About a month ago, Giant Jones Brewery, an independent, woman-owned, certified organic craft brewery on Madison’s near east side that is heavily involved in its community, welcomed Mari Zoran to their team.
“Unfortunately, in the craft beer industry, it’s still pretty rare that you find women who are owning and operating and doing craft beer, much less doing everything at the brewery, which I think is awesome. I’m just excited to be on this all-women team,” Zoran tells Madison365. “Giant Jones is doing great things and they make great beer. I do like that. They’re the only certified organic brewery in the state. That’s really cool. And the fact that they do, you know, think about the community, and give back when they can … I think that’s really important, too.”
Born in Honduras, and raised in Middleton, Zoran is very familiar with the Madison area and that will definitely help her as the business sales and marketing assistant for Giant Jones. In November, she officially joined Giant Jones Brewery co-owners — Jessica Jones and Erika Jones — to form an all-women brewing trio.
Zoran went to UW-Madison for her undergraduate studies and her interest in beer was a surprise to her because her previous preferred drink was vodka tonics.
“My first interest in beer came kind of because of my husband,” remembered Zoran. “When I met him, I was a vodka girl, and just drinking my vodka tonics. And he was always ordering beer. And I remember I asked him, ‘what do you like about it?’ And he had homebrew, and just went on and on. But just the way he was talking about the beer, I was like,’ oh, that sounds really interesting.’”
Her interest in beer increased when Zoran and her husband moved to Prague for a year to teach English. When they moved back to the U.S., she started looking for opportunities to work in breweries and landed a position at a restaurant in Middleton.
“When we lived in Prague, they have so much beer and just little brewpubs just about almost on every corner,” said Zoran. “Every few blocks, there’s like a little neighborhood brewpub. I would say, being in Prague and just drinking the beer there, that’s kind of when I really fell in love with beer. When we moved back here, I was just kind of at a loss. I didn’t know what I was going to do, what I wanted to do, or what I could do. I was applying for all sorts of jobs, just all over and I decided to apply for a job at a restaurant called Craftsman Table & Tap, which is in Middleton.”
Zoran eventually became the bar manager and oversaw all the beer events. Through this position, she connected with beer representatives from local and regional breweries. After working there, she worked at Karben4 Brewing on the east side of Madison. Her position involved working in-person events. Unfortunately, she was laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During her time away from work, she spent time thinking about where she wanted to go with her career. Then the co-owners of Giant Jones Brewery — Jessica Jones and Erika Jones — reached out to her about working with them.
“I was thinking and I decided I wanted to find a job, ideally a local business, small business,” said Zoran. “It would be great if it was a business that was run by women. And it would be great if it was a business that gave back to the community. I got a lovely message from Erica and Jessica this summer. They just sent me a message asking how I was doing, and they were wondering what I was up to. They wanted me to come in and chat with them, they said my name kept coming up.
“And they were talking about the future of Giant Jones. I was so shocked. So immediately, of course, I told them I would meet them for a beer,” Zoran added. “And we met a couple times and chatted for a while. I mean, I knew, right away, when I walked into the brewery that first time, I was like, ‘Oh, I want to work here. I want to work with these two. I hope they feel the same way.’”
Giant Jones Brewery is heavily involved with the Madison community. They are currently working with Freedom Inc. on their Black is Beautiful beer, which is aimed at raising awareness of the injustices that many people of color face daily. They also are donating 3 percent of their monthly sales to Freedom Inc. through June 2022. This beer is a mixture of the deep caramel of Crystal 120, the rich brown of chocolate malt and the profound complexity of black malt. Giant Jones’ community engagement was one of the aspects that drew Zoran to the company. She talked about how much she loves working with women in the beer industry and how important their work is.
“This last month of working with them, didn’t seem like work,” said Zoran. “It just feels like I’m gonna go hang out with my girlfriends, have fun, and laugh and obviously get stuff done. It’s just a really fun environment. And I realized, when I had all that time to think during COVID, I really do enjoy working with women and for women, and especially a woman-owned business.”
To learn more about Giant Jones Brewery, their beer and their community work in Madison, click here.