The Women Who Brew Las Vegas: Meet Wyndee Forrest

Part two in a series on the women who have risen to the top of Nevada’s burgeoning brewery industry

Humans have been drinking beer or similar drinks for several thousand years, but many do not realize early brewers were mainly women, making beer as one of their normal household tasks. However, by the 18th century the brewing business gradually became a man’s job and women were relegated to roles as barmaids, pub operators, bottlers or secretaries for breweries.

Over time beer also came to be viewed as a man’s drink. Now with the craft beer renaissance and the realization and acceptance that beer can be enjoyed by all, more and more women choose beer as their drink of choice. They are also entering the beer business as brewers and brewery owner/operators.

In this series, we delve into the backgrounds of local women—two co-owner/operators, a head brewer, a brewer, an assistant brewer and a brewery assistant. These accomplished women are leaving their mark on the beer industry in Southern Nevada in occupations integral to the brewing business. Discover the paths that led them to this field and the significant contributions they have made and continue to make.

CraftHaus Brewery Co-owner Wyndee Forrest—From Dance Stage to Tasting Room Floor

From her background, you might expect Wyndee Forrest to be progressing in a career related to her first passion: dance. The California native started dancing when she was four years old. At the age of 12, she modeled for clothing catalogs and attained her first professional position on the Nickelodeon “Kids Incorporated” show.

All through high school she worked as a dancer in the parades at Disneyland and after graduating worked with Nia Peeples on the Arsenio Hall-produced “The Party Machine” TV show. She also became a pro cheerleader for the NBA Sacramento Kings. While working as an entertainer on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, she met a co-worker: her future husband, Dave Forrest, who was managing the children’s programs.

After the couple married, they spent a year in Australia and New Zealand and then moved to Las Vegas to complete their degrees at UNLV. While earning a degree in entertainment management, Wyndee landed her first public relations (PR) job working with Celine Dion and then at a boutique PR firm. Little did she know at the time that she would put her marketing education and experience to use as a small business owner.

Nevada Congresswoman Susie Lee with Wyndee Forrest / Courtesy of CraftHaus

Path to Opening a Brewery

The small business would come about after the Forrests took a three-week graduation celebration trip throughout Europe and experienced beers and a beer culture that appealed to them. They noticed how pub patrons would actually talk to each other and make new friends while enjoying their beer.

After diving into home brewing for four years, Dave won a trip to Sierra Nevada Brewing’s Beer Camp in Chico, CA, an immersive experience covering craft beer culture and how a brewery operates. Upon his return, the couple briefly thought about moving to Chico, but eventually the decision was made to begin taking steps to open their own brewery in Southern Nevada.

Dave and Wyndee Forrest / Courtesy of CraftHaus

“I wasn’t scared, I was driven because it’s our passion. If you envision it, it will materialize.”

Wyndee Forrest, regarding such a huge life-changing move

After four years of making contacts and building friendships with established brewery owners and gaining invaluable insights through their mentorships, the dream of a new brewery began to materialize. But a huge roadblock stood in their way. The licensing for breweries in Henderson had only two options: one with non-gaming and no tasting room or with tasting room and gaming and with a price tag of $60,000. But neither choice fit their vision of a tasting room with a community atmosphere like they’d experienced in Europe.

So, not being one to let a problem stand in her way, Wyndee was instrumental in convincing the City of Henderson to add a new category for non-gaming with a tasting room. It also came with a much smaller initiation fee of $10,000. Such a move soon led to several other breweries opening in Henderson and also in the Arts District after the City of Las Vegas adopted a similar licensing category. It’s not a stretch to call Wyndee a brewing pioneer for the changes she helped initiate that changed the scope of the local brewing industry.

Opening of CraftHaus in the Arts District / Courtesy of CraftHaus

With the new license category in place Wyndee and Dave moved forward and in 2014 opened their CraftHaus Brewery in the evolving Henderson Booze District. One large factor in locating the brewery here was the friendship they had grown with the late George Racz, owner of the Las Vegas Distillery. Racz was a pioneer himself who opened Southern Nevada’s first distillery and helped get the business district’s zoning amended to allow tasting rooms.

The name and décor of CraftHaus both reflect the inspiring trip to Europe that began the Forrests’ journey to create their own brewery. The tasting room has several coo coo clocks, long communal tables and several board games to occupy customers rather than those mind-numbing, noisy gaming machines.

Favorite Beers

A beer that after tasting was her “aha moment” as she discovered the kind of beer she likes best, was experienced during that momentous trip to Europe—the Belgian Saison Dupont. One of CraftHaus’ core beers is their Evocation Saison, which mirrors the flavors found in that “aha moment” beer. Another of her favorite beer styles is Czech Pilsner, exemplified by clean and crisp flavors, which is also represented in their CraftHaus Czech Please Pilsner.

Details and Challenges of the Work

Since opening CraftHaus Brewery in 2014 the business has flourished, greatly expanded capacity and survived a pandemic. It now also includes an additional tasting room in the Downtown Las Vegas Arts District. She claims she doesn’t have a typical work day, and as a business owner wears many hats and likes that she is not stuck in one discipline. While her job is primarily the marketing, branding, public relations and social media outreach, she is also tasked with managing the Henderson tasting room. This means doing some less desirable tasks like number crunching and making spreadsheets.

Women in an Industry Dominated by Men

Being a woman in an industry historically dominated by men has led to a few challenges. On occasions salespeople making their pitches have spoken exclusively to her husband instead of including or looking at her.

Wyndee continues to be a champion for women and for the local beer industry. CraftHaus was the only brewery in the state to employ a female head brewer for the first four years it was in operation. Wyndee explains, “I’m excited that we are partnering with the UNLV Hospitality College to provide a real-life working lab for students to see firsthand how a brewery operates. This will help in educating and exposing females to career options in brewing.”

Looking Towards the Future

As for her outlook on the industry’s future, Wyndee says, “The pandemic led to hyper local support and developed an untapped market in the Valley for local beer. There is a lot of opportunity and we may be looking at opening a few more tasting rooms to spread us out geographically in areas that make sense.”

In her role as the current President of the Nevada Craft Brewers Association, she is involved in promoting all of the Silver State’s breweries. She adds, “We have been highlighting that Nevada is poised to become the next beer traveler destination with bringing awareness to our award-winning beers and growing craft beer community. Most of all, with the help of the Board, we are poised and ready for a successful 2023 Legislative season where we will be advocating for independent breweries’ rights to operate their businesses to the best of their ability. I’m proud of Nevada beer and I want everyone to feel the same way!”

In case you missed it, meet HUDL’s woman brewer, Ashley Navarrete, featured in the first part of the series.

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