In 1972, Rosa Merckx became the first official female brewmaster and operations director in 20th century Belgium. After the death of her former boss, she was given control of the 300 year-old Liefmans Oudenaarde brewery, where she had worked since 1946 (Nurin). Merckx is an absolute pioneer in the female brewing revolution, which has taken until the new millennium to really build momentum in Europe. Want proof? It took until 2012 for a woman - Sara Barton - to win the British Guild of Beer Writers Brewer of the Year award. And it was just last year that a group of Swedish brewsters called FemAle released a pale ale called We Can Do It; their brew was the country’s first commercially available beer brewed by women (Crouch).
Women are also playing a critical role in the rise of craft beer in South Korea, where female-owned breweries like Magpie Brewing Co. are slowing pulling customers away from the domestic lagers that hold more than 95% of the market share (Builder). There, women are also the largest consumers of craft beer, which is unheard of on this side of the pond.
In the United States, women have been involved in the larger craft beer renaissance since its early days in 1980s. Carol Stoudt, for example, founded Stoudt’s brewery in Pennsylvania in 1987, which she now runs with her husband. Early on, she had to fight to be taken seriously by wholesalers and restaurant owners who were convinced that her husband was was the “real” brewer in the family (Risen). Teri Fahrendorf is another well-known name in the female brewing community. A professional brewster since 1988, she founded the Pink Boots Society in 2007. The organization provides education, networking, and funding opportunities to women working in the industry, reaching over 1600 women in 15 countries (Nurin). And then there’s New Belgium Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colorado. If you haven’t tried their beer, you absolutely should. Co-founded by Kim Jordan (who is my craft beer idol), the brewery is also lucky enough to have the super badass Lauren Salazar as their wood cellar blender and specialty brand manager. Beyond what I can only imagine are some pretty incredible tiny batch one-offs, she’s gained serious recognition for her work on the Lips of Faith portfolio.
In Ontario, female brewers like Erica McOustra of Steamwhistle and Siobhan McPherson of Burdock prove, on a daily basis, that brewsters have what it takes to drive the industry forward. They are educated (Erica is a Certified Brewmaster, having trained at VLB in Berlin, Germany), talented, and innovative (Siobhan is working to develop a kick-ass barrel program at Burdock, which has been open for less than a year). Their involvement in collaborative fundraising projects like Beer for Boobs, which first hit Toronto in 2012, helps to raise the profile of women in the industry while also supporting important social initiatives.
Ontario craft breweries have also seen an increase in female beer reps over the course of the past five years, which signals a changing tide in the Ontario beer scene. Could that be because of increased training, education & networking opportunities? Likely, at least in part. Niagara College’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program, for example, provides equal opportunities to men and women who want to become professional brewers. The Canadian Prud’homme beer certification program welcomes anyone and everyone who want to learn more about beer history, the brewing process, and the modern beer industry. Toronto’s industry queen, Crystal Luxmore, also plays a huge role in welcoming women into craft beer through her company Experience Beer.
And finally, let’s talk SOBDL. The founders of the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies are industry professionals, craft beer lovers, and general badasses who work tirelessly to destroy stereotypes about the relationship between women and beer. Their Bevy events (held at mystery locations around the city of Toronto) are women-only before midnight, introducing beer aficionados and newbies alike to all of the goodness that Ontario craft breweries have to offer. Each event also provides ample opportunity for networking and education. In April, they’ll be hosting Canada’s first all-ladies craft beer festival as their 25th Bevy event.
It's women and organizations like the ones mentioned above that have paved the way for ladies to return to brewing after a long absence. Rob and I are pumped to have submissions from women in our Sub-Zero Homebrew Competition, and have loved working with groups like brUW as they develop their craft (check out this blog post for more). After a long (crazy important) history of brewing, women were kicked out of the brewhouse for more than 400 years. Now, they are on their way back in and are taking the industry by storm. Beer and brewing are all about collaboration, and it’s great to see a community that is increasingly welcoming of all its members. Cheers.
Looking for more? Check out The Thirsty Wench, a fantastic and comprehensive beer blog by Toronto beer writer Robin LeBlanc. Keep an eye out for her book, which will be hitting shelves later this year. And, if you're in the neighbourhood (or in the province) get your butt down to the Queen of Craft series, hosted by the women of Wellington Brewery in the month of March. Proceeds benefit the Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis Network.