Take Mirella Amato. She’s currently Canada’s only female Cicerone, the technical term for beer connoisseur. She entered the industry as a second career and has found significant success with her own company, Beerology. “I’ve always been a fan of craft beer, I was very lucky to have discovered it early on,” said Amato. “I became very curious about it and studied it on a personal level as a beer geek. And then later on when I was contemplating a career change, I figured I might as well pursue my passion,” she added.
The community of ladies working in the beer industry, be they brewers, lab techs, drivers, or really anything in between, is growing. And, more importantly, they are growing closer together thanks to networks like Barley’s Angels, and the Pink Boots Society (PBS).
Barley’s Angels, an international network of beer education clubs for women, is essentially the consumer branch of the Pink Boots Society, and it has grown from five to seventeen chapters in only one year.
The Pink Boots Society started almost five years ago. Initially just a list of women brewers, it has grown to include all women who work in the beer industry. Founder and president Teri Fahrendorf had the idea while on a cross-country brewery tour. After making connections with women brewers across North America, the all-volunteer-run PBS took off. Fahrendorf spoke with the newspaper from Portland, Oregon earlier this month. She said PBS’ goal is to encourage women to overcome gender barriers in the beer industry. “They have role models now, the ones I met thought they were the only one. And this way you gain some instant confidence, because all of a sudden there are other women that you can now connect with and network with,” Fahrendorf said.
A beer for all tastes
What about those “girly beers”, perhaps with fewer calories and a fruity taste, or a stereotypically girly logo and colour scheme?
“It’s been my experience that women and men - everyone has their own palette, and different flavors are going to appeal to different people,” said Amato. “The sad side effect is then that men who like fruit beers feel weird about it,” she added.
Lundy Dale, founder and president of the British Columbia branch of Campaign for Real Ale, is more blunt about her feelings on the industry’s attempts to cater to women’s “beer needs.” “We do not need special beers, we just want opportunities,” she told the newspaper in an email. “There are now a lot of women beer bloggers and women's beer groups and the word is spreading,” she added.
Sonja North of Black Oak Brewery in Toronto agrees with Dale. “As a female beer consumer, I don't want to go to Bud Camp with the Bud girls, but I also don't want to drink a beer with a pink label,” she said. “I think that in the past, this has led to female beer drinkers feeling a bit abandoned. We need to educate women that craft beer isn't just for the boys.”
Supporting women in the industry
Educating women about the challenges they face in the beer industry is a top priority for these beer babes. As Dale puts it, “Part of the reason I took this on, was because women were scarce in the executive and the industry, and my hope was that I could draw more women in. Women want to learn, some are not intimidated by the world of men around them, but many are, and feel more comfortable learning around fellow women.”
In comparison to ten years ago, more professional opportunities have opened up for women interested in pursuing a career in the beer industry. But, as many of the women in the beer business will tell you, the industry is still not without its difficulties. “Some of the challenges that I face (besides not being able to lift a 58L keg) have been seemingly subtle but really stick out in my mind,” said North. “I'm often challenged about my beer knowledge. Last week I had a security guard give me a hard time entering into the back of an event because he didn't believe that I worked for a brewery. Thirty seconds later, a male from another brewery sailed right by him and he didn't question it,” she added.
Despite these challenges, North and the other ladies that I interviewed said the most important thing was to support one another and the industry as a whole, men included. In fact, these women's beer organizations have significant support from men in the business. It’s the passion and perhaps a new perspective that women bring to the business that leads Fahrendorf to believe that “women can revolutionize the industry.”
These groups have made it their goal to improve the beer industry by supporting talented individuals, regardless of their sex. Fahrendorf explained, “We decided, we’re not gonna say negative things about anybody because we would rather be beer champions, we’d rather champion our members. Thats the bottom line: are you a woman, and are you passionate about beer.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about the beer. “I think good beer is awesome because of its versatility. From a velvety stout to a crisp bready lager, the amount of flavor profiles are epic,” said North. This sort of appreciation is what Amato hopes to spread through her work. “To people who say they don’t like beer, I say, how many have you tried? Although I can’t relate to it, I’m sure there are people out there that don’t like beer. My main goal is to get everyone to be more adventurous with what they’re drinking,” she said.
And really, it shouldn’t be surprising that women are finally awakening to the huge potential of working in the beer industry. After all, the first brewers were women, it was simply part of their role in the home. “I would love to see every brewery have tours on mothers’ day,” she said. “Maybe women who never drink beer might, just for the sake of history, toast the moms that first started brewing.”