A brew and a bro — it’s the classic pairing, right? Not necessarily.
From the rise of female brew masters to the growth of women’s tasting groups, women are becoming much more than a pint-sized part of the brewing world.
The emergence of women as both beer-lovers and brewers happened as the craft beer scene grew overall by leaps and bounds, and that’s no coincidence, says Lisa Morrison, Oregon-based writer, blogger and author of “Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest.”
“I think that women are finally discovering, thanks to craft beer, that beer has flavour,” she says.
“When we start getting into the artisan stuff you start realising that there’s an entire rainbow of flavours that you can enjoy. And because of that you can pair that with all kinds of different food flavours,” Morrison says. “Women love food. We love cooking. We love tasting food. We love sampling different things. So when you put all that together, the cooking with beer, the pairing food with beer, the whole wide-ranging genre of beer styles and beer flavours — it’s something that women can get really excited about.”
The marketing message is also different, says Julia Herz, home brewer and craft beer programme director at the Boulder, Colorado-based Brewers Association.
“Historically, the mass-produced lagers have been marketed as a beverage targeting males in their mid to high 20s, and it seems to me in advertising that I see for craft beer that it’s really not marketed as a gender-specific beverage.”
It’s hard to put a number on the trend, but Morrison and others say they’ve personally seen more women take an interest in beer.
“It used to be at beer festivals, I was pretty much the only gal. Now it’s definitely venturing more toward 60-40” with women being the 40 per cent, says Morrison, who has been involved in the craft beer scene for nearly 15 years.
On the business side, beer management remains predominantly male, though there have been changes there, too, says Irene Firmat, founder and CEO of Full Sail Brewing Co. in Hood River, Oregon.
To support female brewers, a support network called the Pink Boots Society was formed. It includes a consumer tasting group organisation, Barley’s Angels, that has chapters in the US, Canada, Australia and South America.
Being a female beer producer means standing out, says Rosemarie Certo, cofounder and owner of Dock Street Brewing Co. in West Philadelphia.
Certo’s interest in beer started when she began making beer at home because she wasn’t happy with what was available domestically at the time. She started Dock Street in 1985 and remembers in the early days going to make a sales pitch to a distributor and being the only woman in a room of more than 50. “I remember not being bothered by it,” she recalls.
She sees the craft segment as generally having a different approach to business. “I think it’s easier for women to enter the craft industry only because the craft industry is different to begin with,” she says, pointing out that most people don’t go into the labour-intensive craft beer business with dreams of piling up a fortune. “It’s an industry that is born from a lot of love.”
Firmat also started in beer about 25 years ago, a time when there were about 20 craft breweries nationwide compared to today’s 2,000. Back then, it was considered more outlandish to be challenging the big domestic producers than to be a woman in the beer business, she says.
As far as operating in a man’s world, she says, “the thing that I always focused on, and it’s what I always tell women in our company, is really focus on being competent. Focus on being good and doing your job and don’t go in expecting to get a reaction.”
And, of course, there’s always a silver lining. “You can always tell when you’re at a beer conference because there’s a line in the men’s room and there’s none in the women’s room,” she says with a laugh.
One of the things that Firmat sees as a challenge is keeping craft beer accessible to women, which means guarding against the snobbery that can creep in when consumers become very enthusiastic about a product — think wine.
“Our responsibility is making sure that the way we communicate is very respectful to men and women,” she says.