My Perspective on Being a Woman in the Craft Beer Industry
Before you read any further in this post, do me a favor. Close your eyes and try to picture what the average craft beer drinker looks like. What do you see? Is it a man or a woman? Are they young or old? Stick thin, or heavy set? We’ll get back to this later in the post.
I think it shocks some people when I tell them what I do for a living. They look at me, see a 5’4″, 125 lb. white girl, and think I’m just a pretty face who also happens to know how to pour a beer. Little do they know, I’m so much more than that. Working in a brewery isn’t just for bearded young men—many women drink beer, brew beer, and sell beer! In fact, if you know anything about the history of beer, you’ll know that brewing beer was traditionally a women’s trade before modern times.
It all started around 1800 B.C., when the Hymn to Ninkasi was first written. Ninkasi was the Sumerian goddess of beer, and undoubtedly one of the reasons beer exists today. This poem served as perhaps the first written beer recipe. Here’s an excerpt:
Hymn to Ninkasi
Borne of the flowing water,
Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,
You are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,
You are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,
You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.
You are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey [and] wine
Ninkasi, you the sweet wort to the vessel
The filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.
Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
I won’t bore you with a complete history of beer, but as you could guess a lot has changed in the last 4,000 years. Brewing is now a profession dominated by men, and women are clearly now the minority.
However, in my opinion, being in an industry dominated by the opposite sex isn’t strictly negative. Personally, it’s become one of many ways to stand out. Customers and others in the industry stop me all the time when they recognize “that girl from Valiant.” They may not know my name (or anything else about me), but they remembered me. That says something, and it means a lot!
There are actually many women involved in the beer industry, but some days, it doesn’t feel like that. There have been plenty of instances where I feel like the only woman in this “man’s world,” but that’s only because often times, I am, at least in a relative sense. I’m proud to say that I’m the first and only woman ever hired at Valiant (which will forever be the case), and I’m also the only woman to join the newly-formed Asylum Brewing. Side note: Come visit me!
I remember my working interview at Valiant. I walked in, ready to conquer the world that day. Geovanny was my trainer for the evening, and at some point, we ended up engaging in a great conversation about breaking stereotypes. Right then, I knew I had his full support, but I also knew that I’d have to put my money where my mouth is and prove my worth: So I did! The guys who have worked with me will tell you that I can do anything they can do (and maybe better!). I know that I have to work that much harder to prove myself, but I’m OK with that!
This isn’t a problem exclusive to breweries, though. When I tell people that I homebrew, people will often ask if my husband helps me. If you must know, the answer is yes, but not because I need his help, it’s because he enjoys making beer too! When my husband and I go out to dinner, I almost always order a beer (unless Corona is the most exotic choice on the menu), while my husband will possibly order a cocktail or something non-alcoholic. If the employee delivering the drinks is not the same person who took our order, you can bet they put that lone beer in front of my husband. This happens on a regular basis.
According to a recent study by the Brewer’s Association, it’s quite easy to see why people make these assumptions. Although women are drinking beer almost as much as men, the majority of the regular craft beer drinkers are men.
Generally, I do feel that the industry is receptive toward women, but we still have some hurdles to overcome. In 2007, Teri Fahrendorf founded The Pink Boots Society, an organization which assists, inspires and encourages women beer professionals through education. PBS created a platform to help women brewers meet mentors and other women in the profession and also helps to raise awareness for females in the industry. They educate women in all aspects of craft beer and even raise money for scholarships.
After all, women are passionate about beer for the same reasons men are. Beyond taste itself, beer provides a certain sense of community and togetherness like nothing else—it’s a very social culture! I know the focus of this post is women in the beer industry, but this principle applies to more than just the female population. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, male or female, skinny or fat, black or white, gay or straight. Beer doesn’t discriminate! I see the full spectrum of people at breweries, and it’s easy to see why.
I’ve made many friends though craft beer, all of whom are very different people, but we always share a passion for craft beer, which in my mind makes us more similar than different. We don’t all look alike, and that’s OK!
Now think back to the first paragraph where I asked you to picture what a typical craft beer drinker looks like. Has your mind changed?
Next time you’re at a brewery, make it a point to stop and talk with someone you might not otherwise talk to. Find the person that you think you have the least in common with. Ask them what beers they like, or which breweries they frequent. Who knows, you might just find out about a new spot to visit, or get a great beer recommendation. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have a new friend to visit breweries with!
If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
I’d like to finish by saying this: Other than people in the craft beer industry, who do you know who ever says that they love their job? Marc Anthony once said, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” And that’s exactly how I feel! I’m proud to be a part of the craft beer industry, regardless if women are a minority. I’m not discouraged, and will continue to do my part to change that!