Scholarship Winners Announced by The Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling

The Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling (The MJF) announced the latest winners of its scholarship awards today.

This latest cohort, made up of seven individuals, brings the total number of scholarship recipients named since the organization’s inception to 36.

Founded in 2020 and named after the legendary beer and whiskey author, Michael James Jackson, The MJF funds technical education scholarship awards to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color within the brewing and distilling trades, helping award winners further their professional education and progress deeper into these industries.

“I am so honored to have the incredible opportunity to continue to change the face of the industry and open doors for other people of color,” commented Sally Ayala, one of the seven scholarship recipients from this cohort. “The MJF Sir Geoff Palmer Scholarship will give me the formal education I need to be well rounded in my profession and be able to give back to the industry through education.”

Past award recipients have utilized the technical education attained through winning the scholarship to advance their careers in a number of ways, from promotion to a head brewer or distiller to production opportunities at larger organizations. Earlier this year, The MJF saw its first recipient complete the renowned Siebel/Doemens WBA Master Brewer Program. 

“Now that we’ve had a few classes of recipients complete their technical education and apply it to their careers, we’re starting to see the sustained impact that we’ve always intended these scholarships to have,” remarked Garrett Oliver, founder and chair of The MJF. “Our recipients are establishing themselves as leaders in their fields, and being recognized as such by their peers, partners, and trade media. I’m excited to add these next seven recipients to The MJF network.”

The latest recipients of the Sir Geoff Palmer Scholarship Award for Brewing and the Nearest Green Scholarship Award for Distilling are:

Sally Ayala – born and raised in Houston, TX, Sally is third generation with roots in Mexico and Spain.

She’s always worked with my hands and is an artist at heart with a background in designing and baking wedding cakes and teaching art.

Her career started in 2019 when she was ready to revisit an old dream to work in a brewery as a cellarman. She went to Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods and took over the beer department, hoping it would lead to getting her foot in the door of a brewery. It later landed her a machine operator position at Karbach Brewing. Already in love with beer, there she fell in love with the craft of craft. From there, she moved to San Antonio for her position as a cellarman at Alamo Beer Co., which naturally led to brewing. Every day remains a learning experience for Sally, and she feels lucky to have had patient mentors who have encouraged her and supported her growth despite the industry not always being supportive.

Jose Hernandez – a first generation Mexican-American born in Kennewick, WA with roots in Zacatecas, Mexico, Jose previously worked in the wine industry for ten years.

His love for homebrewing sprouted after his girlfriend gifted him a homebrewing kit seven years ago. From there, his journey began by working on the cellar floor to the brewhouse at Ordnance Brewing in Boardman, OR in 2018. Currently, Jose is a brewer at Varietal Beer Company in the Yakima Valley. Working at a brewery in hop country has given him the unique experience of hop harvest and opportunity to brew many fresh hop beers.

Fritzi Lara Lino – born and raised in East Los Angeles, Fritzi is a first generation queer Mexican American woman who’s always had an insatiable love of art, food, and travel. Growing up in a melting pot like Los Angeles, the diversity of cultures, their history, and cuisines, was something that she found profoundly inspirational and helped shape who she is today.

Frtizi and her wife Jen moved to San Diego more than seven years ago. At that time, she was an avid fan of craft beer but had never actually brewed it. However, after taking a homebrewing class with her father-in-law, she realized that she had found a craft which encompassed all of her passions; she was determined to pursue a career in the brewing industry. She started as an entry-level cellar tech six years ago at Stone Brewing in Escondido, and also worked as a Cellar Lead at Boochcraft in Chula Vista. She has since returned to Stone Brewing as a Senior Brewer 1 and has been recently promoted to Innovation Brewer. Her constant quest for knowledge, passion for quality, and work ethic continually fuels her drive to succeed.

A career-changing moment for Fritzi was helping lead the annual Women’s International Brew Day with her friend and colleague Laura Ulrich at Stone Liberty Station. The opportunity to work with her mentor to organize the event, help write the recipe, work alongside other women, and talk about her passion for brewing is something that she looks forward to doing every year.

Frtizi’s dream is to become a Brewmaster, helping to mentor others and promote diversity and inclusion in the industry. 

Sophia Missaghi – a brewing and beer enthusiast with six years of experience working within the industry, her journey started as a taproom server. Through subsequent roles in production, she is currently the Head Brewer of 10k Brewing in Anoka, Minnesota. 

She grew up in Central Minnesota as a child of an Iranian immigrant. Sophia cherishes her Iranian heritage and connects with it deeply through cooking traditional Persian cuisine. Persian dishes artfully balance salty, sour, herbal, and warming spices, along with floral flavors, and she discovered a parallel in the world of brewing. Just as these elements create culinary harmony, she finds joy in creating flavorful brews that weave together diverse ingredients into something that is delicious and layered flavorfully.

Recognizing the importance of representation, Sophia is an advocate for BIPOC individuals across the brewing industry. Diversity in roles – from production to sales and leadership – enriches the industry’s fabric, fostering fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. Her involvement with Brewing Change Collaborative (BCC), a group dedicated to forming connection and community amongst BIPOC individuals within the beverage industry, has been instrumental in this journey, providing unwavering support throughout her career. Witnessing other BIPOC individuals thrive in production roles has been inspiring to her, reaffirming her belief that she too can make a lasting impact. With this opportunity, enabled by the scholarship, to pursue professional brewing courses, she’s excited to infuse her creations with newfound expertise and cultural influences. 

Sophia lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When she’s not writing new recipes, she enjoys long hikes with her girlfriend Sarah and dog Olive. She loves trying new restaurants, breweries and distilleries, and reading any brewing book she can get her hands on.

Maria Shirts – a Brazilian brewer who immigrated to the United States in 2019, Maria is a former journalist and homebrewer who decided to leave her country and pursue her dream of working with craft beer.

After writing a blog about women in the European beer industry, Maria landed in New York City where she worked first as a bartender and then assisting in packaging at Wild East Brewing in Brooklyn. At Wild East she developed a Beer School to share some of her knowledge with customers and fellow peers from the industry.

Still pursuing a full time job in production, she was hired at Other Half Brewing in packaging and later in the cellar, where she learned a considerable amount from her coworkers and the intense routine at their Center Street location.

In the last year, she moved to Louisiana with her husband where she is currently working as a brewer. She also became the Lead of Education for the New Orleans Pink Boots chapter, promoting events and educational encounters to empower her community with knowledge and information.

Devin Wagner –  a descendant of the Apsáalooké (Crow) Nation who was born and raised in Montana, he spent his summers working on his grandmother’s cattle ranch on the Crow Reservation. Devin attended college in Missoula, Montana, where at his job in a bakery, his boss gifted him some old home brewing equipment and a beer-stained copy of The Complete Joy of Home Brewing. Little did he know that this would be the seed planted to change his life.

Devin completed a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism while home brewing every chance he could, reading every brewing book he could find and asking professional brewers any question that came to mind. Following college, he worked for various daily newspapers around the United States for four years. After leaving journalism, he spent a summer in Alaska doing odd jobs such as working as a deckhand on a halibut boat to installing sheet metal and ductwork in new construction. 

It was in Alaska where Devin persistently asked a brewery owner for a job as often as he could until the owner relented and he got his foot in the door to professional brewing. After nine years in the craft beer industry, Devin saw an opportunity to learn about another area of alcohol production and took a job at a local distillery in October 2023. 

When he isn’t brewing, operating two stills and bottling spirits, Devin is gardening, hiking, camping, fishing and spending time with his beautiful wife, Mabel, 5-year-old son Anson, puppy Ben and two cats, Macaroni and Jackson.

Robert Young III – born and raised in East Atlanta in the area of Ellenwood, Georgia, Robert grew up in an all-Black neighborhood, where his exposure to beer was limited until his time at The University of Georgia. It was during his time there that he encountered the world of beer, with his first brewery visit being to Terrapin in Athens, Georgia. 

The University of Georgia was a considerable culture shock for Robert, prompting him to seek a change by enlisting in the Navy. This decision led him down a path of becoming an Arabic linguist and affording him the incredible opportunity to travel the world. It was in the city of Prague that his genuine appreciation for beer took root. Drinking a pilsner at the renowned Pilsner Urquell brewery was a transformative experience that ignited his desire for learning all there was to know about beer.

Robert came home from deployment and embarked on a journey into home brewing, reading as much as he could about beer and eventually turning that hobby into a profession. This venture led him to a role as an Assistant Brewer at Savannah River Brewing Company. Simultaneously, he nurtured the  dream of opening my own brewery/brewpub, envisioned as Tapped 33 Craft Brewery. As of now, he collaborates/contract brews with Savannah River Brewing Company to produce his beer, a luscious Juicy Hazy IPA named Good Googly Moogly.

Robert’s aspiration is to share his background rooted in Atlanta, encompassing the music and arts of the Black community. More than just producing beer, he looks to serve as a bridge between those unfamiliar with craft beer and devoted enthusiasts. Witnessing the joy of introducing someone to a beer they initially dismissed and observing their self-discovery through the lens of a pint of beer, encapsulates ultimate gratification for him.  

This latest cohort of scholarship recipients will be able to start arranging their technical education programs and courses immediately. The next round of scholarship awards from The MJF will be awarded in February 2024.

The MJF scholarships are made possible through the generous contributions of supporters throughout the brewing and distilling industries. In 2023 alone, the organization has received significant funding from Allagash Brewing, Athletic Brewing, Boston Beer Company, Briess, BSG/Rahr Malting Co., Firestone Walker Brewing, Haas, Hopsteiner, Lallemand, New Glarus Brewing, Other Half Brewing, ProBrewer, Russian River Brewing, Sierra Nevada Brewing, and Yakima Chief Hops. In addition, the Master Brewers Association of the Americas will be providing free one-year memberships to all scholarship winners and finalists.

About The Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling

The Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling (The MJF), formed in 2020, is a grant-making organization that funds technical education scholarship awards to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color within the brewing and distilling trades. To learn more about The MJF, visit

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