When Cal Poly biological sciences professor Emily Taylor leaves the classroom for the day, she always heads straight for the brewery — but it’s not what you think.
Taylor moonlights as a co-owner of 7Sisters Brewing Company, a microbrewery and taproom off of Tank Farm Rd in San Luis Obispo that is known for its creative selection of beverages, extensive event calendar and commitment to sustainability.
Taylor, who has taught full-time at Cal Poly for 15 years, has made some major lifestyle changes since the brewery opened a year ago — but she said she has loved every minute of it.
“I used to go home at night and sit at my computer,” she said. “Now I’m out here enjoying live music at my own place. And I get to walk up to the tap and pour myself a beer. It’s pretty much the best thing ever.”
Professor & Entrepreneur
Between juggling research on rattlesnakes and teaching Cal Poly classes like Biology of Sex (BIO 123), Taylor can often be found brainstorming the next beer pairing event or craft grilled cheese concoction to grace the brewery. At the brewery, Taylor claims not only the title of co-owner, but also of social media manager, executive chef and events coordinator. While some people might tear their hair out from the stress of multiple jobs, Taylor said she absolutely loves her work.
Taylor and her partner, environmental engineer Steve Van Middlesworth, opened up 7Sisters in September of 2017, the same day that classes started at Cal Poly. In a burst of excitement that day, Taylor told a class of seniors that she had just opened a business. Since then, however, she has kept mum about her second job. “I don’t want people to come here because of me. I want to let them find out on their own,” Taylor said.
Still, word travels fast at Cal Poly, and these days, Taylor’s employees are almost all Cal Poly biological sciences students. Taylor said she loves to hire from the university. “Our manager says that [Cal Poly students] work way harder than typically people do in the restaurant industry,” she said.
Biological sciences senior Paula Eberle is one such student and said she enjoys the sense of community she and other employees have. “Everyone here is super fun to work with. We’re all bio kids so we all have a similar interest,” she said.
Eberle took Herpetology (BIO 324) with Taylor at Cal Poly and recounted a particularly fun field trip they took to the mojave desert. The class camped out together and sang songs long into the night. “She’s not your typical professor,” Eberle said. “She has always been super fun, and she loves getting to know students. She’s hilarious. So already she’s kind of more of a friend than a professor. A friend and someone to look up to.”
Sustainable Business Model
The tasting room at 7Sisters has an open-air feel and light pours in through floor-length windows on two sides. Everything was built with repurposed materials in the spirit of the 7Sisters motto, ‘sustainably brewed.’
Taylor and Van Middlesworth have taken great lengths to bake environmental sustainability into every aspect of their business. Van Middlesworth, who does the brewing, masterminded a one-tank brewing system to cut down on the environmental cost of making beer.
“The real key into the energy, water and chemical reduction comes from the fact that I do everything in one container. So that means that I don’t have to clean and sanitize three containers and that’s where all the water really is used in brewing,” Van Middlesworth said, who used his engineering background and worked with local manufacturers to make the custom, one-tank system. “My brewing system is completely different from what you’ll see anywhere else, besides somebody’s garage,” he said.
On any given day, Van Middlesworth can be found in the back room of 7Sisters, tinkering with the brewing tanks or crafting new batches of beer. 7Sisters is known for their 7 in-house brews, each one named for one of the volcanic peaks that stretches from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay. With each batch, he and Taylor insist upon creating the most environmentally-friendly product possible.
“I think we need to protect our resources, and I hate waste. Everything I do and everything I design is meant to get the maximum amount of efficiency,” Van Middlesworth said. “In a few cases, it would be cheaper to do it differently, but that’s not what we’re about.”
Almost every light bulb in 7Sisters is an energy-efficient LED bulb. Additionally, while some breweries use animal product-based clarifying agents in their beer, every one of the beers at 7Sisters is vegan. Taylor goes to extreme lengths to source ingredients on her menu from local vendors and often drives up to Paso Robles to pick up local cheeses, wine and even spices.
One of the biggest ways 7Sisters has made a name for itself in the SLO community over the past year is through a jam-packed events calendar. The brewery hosts live-music artists almost every night of the week and frequently holds creative fundraisers for local nonprofit groups.
Chicken bingo, one of the biggest hits from last year, will be making a reappearance at the brewery on Nov. 3. In a live-action farm-animal version of the classic betting game, Taylor and Van Middlesworth bring in chickens from their backyard and set them loose on a gridded tarp. People bid on sections of the tarp, and wherever a chicken does its business winners get a prize.
Taylor’s favorite event so far has been 7Sisters’ one year anniversary party in September. “Planning that party was like the best thing ever,” Taylor said. “It was like planning a party at your house, but having your house have 16 beers on tap for people and being able to get a really great band, B & the Hive.”
The night finished with a show by drag queen performers the SLO Queerdos. One of the drag queens was a Cal Poly student who did a flying leap and fell onto her knees. To everyone’s great relief, she was wearing knee pads.
Taylor said she loves both her jobs and has found a supportive community among her coworkers at Cal Poly. Professors often have meetings at the brewery and show up to many of the events. “My boss at Cal Poly is pretty happy we have the brewery because a lot of the professors come to hang out here,” Taylor said. “Everything’s better with beer.”
In some ways, Taylor approaches her passion for beer with a biologist’s perspective. She said one of her favorite facts is that people drank low-alcohol beer as their primary beverage throughout hundreds of years in history because the microbes in beer purified unsafe water. “Beer literally is the reason we’re all alive today.”
Max Goldberg, Emily Fagenstrom and Carter Harrington contributed to this story