Clarissa Patterson loves following the rules. “I’m the person who says no all the time,” she laughs.
As the Compliance Specialist at The Lost Abbey and its adjacent brands Port Brewing Company, The Hop Concept, and soon-to-be-launched Tiny Bubbles, Patterson is responsible for ensuring all business operations adhere to the proper legal regulations. That ranges from filing COLAs with the TTB (a.k.a. sending new beer labels to be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau) to researching tax structures in different states for distribution expansions, applying for permits for new locations, as well as inventory control, customer service, paying taxes… basically, a ton of research and paperwork.
“Nobody likes the rules. Nobody likes compliance,” explains Patterson. “But I don’t mind. I love the research making something new.”
From Construction to Craft Beer
Despite her fairly specialized role within the beer industry—she can only name a small handful of people with a similar dedicated position—Patterson’s journey to beer is fairly recent. She moved to San Diego six years ago with a strong predilection for tiki-centric cocktails, but after working in the construction industry for ten years (an industry she calls “super cutthroat”), she was ready “to get a fun job.” She happened to see that The Lost Abbey was hiring for an administrative assistant. She applied, got the job, and has been there ever since.
It took her awhile to get used to the close-knit band of craft beer. “Everyone’s a friend. No one’s a stranger… When I came down here, I was just like, ‘Wait, you mean, we’re just going to give these people a bag of grain? Because they ran out? But they’re our competitors!’ And they’re like, ‘No, they’re not.’ That is amazing, and I love it.”
It Started With a Silo
As Patterson dove into the world of San Diego beer, she had to learn how to balance the pleasure of community with the procedure of business operations. When an inspector unexpectedly asked to see a permit for The Lost Abbey’s grain silo—one they’d inherited with the property from Stone Brewing—Patterson realized there wasn’t one individual whose position gave them obvious ownership of the missing permit problem.
“So I stepped forward. I talked to the people, and I went back and I did all the research, filled out all the paperwork, got the signatures, filed, and we got a permit. It just kept being a little piece by piece,” says Patterson. “I started learning about all this stuff that nobody thinks about, nobody knows about. Anytime something would happen or come up, I’d be like, ‘I got that. I’ll learn about that. I’ll take care of that.’”
That was the beginning of her evolution into the more regulatory role she now focuses on, slaying state statutes and crushing compliance.
“Make Yourself As Invaluable As Possible”
Although there aren’t many people working solely in beer compliance, Patterson sees it as an absolutely necessary role that’s often misunderstood. “Even the really boring stuff isn’t really boring. I love to read,” going on to say that she reviews the business code of ethics on a regular basis.
She recalls a story of a conversation when she tried to explain what she does, which she describes as “a lot of research, but anybody can do that.” They immediately stopped her from discounting herself.
“They said, ‘No, because what you do is you get asked a question, you go online, you have all the world of information at your feet, and you’re able to go down that rabbit hole, find the nugget that you need, and bring it back to us. You do it quickly and concisely and from good sources. That’s a skill. That’s a thing that not everybody can have.’”
After years of learning the ins and outs of The Lost Abbey, Patterson now has a stronger sense of confidence in her problem-solving abilities. At The Lost Abbey’s Cardiff-by-the-Sea Confessional tasting room, Patterson says that “even here, they joke ‘if you have a question, start with Clarissa. She’ll either know the answer, she’ll find the answer, or she’ll know who to send you to for the answer.’”
Patterson Predicts the Future
Currently, she’s gearing up to start pulling permits and licenses for the upcoming East Village location, but Patterson is open about her ambition beyond The Lost Abbey. “I’ve been toying with the idea of doing consulting on the side,” she muses, citing the “craft beer attorney” Candace Moon as an inspiration. “I’ve got six years of experience. I’ve taken a lot of classes [and] a lot of training. I think it’s something I might eventually do… I think that would be a nice resource to have.”
No matter what, she’s adamant about continuing to work in San Diego beer. “It’s a giant family, [and] I don’t have any family anywhere near me. These people are it.”
In the meantime, she hopes to impart some advice for anyone hoping to work in craft beer. “Just get your foot in the door. I was basically hired to do goodness-knows-what… and I’ve managed to grab the things that interest me. I’m at a job that didn’t really exist until I made it exist for me. So just get in there, learn everything you can, and be willing to be the guy who’s mopping up at the end of the day.”
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