Change is Brewing: Women in the Craft Beer Industry
“It’s a man’s world.” Yes, there are plenty of male-dominated industries where that age-old sentiment still seems to fit—construction, mining, and law enforcement are just a few.
For the longest time, the beer industry was another one of those fields that seemed to be bursting with testosterone. Think of enjoying a cold brew and, for many, the thought of a tacky commercial featuring busty, half-dressed women isn’t too far behind.
But, through the years, the craft brewing industry in particular, has begun to reflect a more diverse group of enthusiasts. It has become a bonafide culture that appeals to men—and, yes, quite a few women as well.
The craft beer-loving culture is particularly strong in Wisconsin, which was named one of USA Today’s “10 Best Craft Brew States in America”. Here, women not only love drinking craft beers—they actually brew them too. Laverne and Shirley, the original Milwaukee brewery mavens, would be proud.
It’s Not a “Man’s Job”: Women Brewers are Making Waves
Heather Ludwig has been brewing beer for Titletown Brewing Company in Green Bay, Wisconsin since 2012. She is enthusiastic about the growing number of women who are getting involved in the industry.
“There are around 15-20 female brewers just within the state of Wisconsin,” Ludwig shares, “Oftentimes, I meet women who look to myself and the others as inspiration and motivation to pursue a career in the brewing industry. Women have been involved in brewing for many years—they’ve just been behind the scenes.”
Other female brewers in the state agree with Ludwig. But, they also recognize that there are some barriers to entry for women in the craft beer industry.
“I’m finding that women feel the need to know more about beer before calling themselves a beer geek, and a lot more about beer before they think they could apply for a job in the brewing industry,” explains Allyson Rolph, who works as the Head Brewer at Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior, Wisconsin, “Even if it’s just to scrub floors, clean kegs, or any of the other entry-level work.”
Rolph says she knows many female beer buyers who tell her that men feel the need to “over-explain” beers to them. “I’m not bashing guys, but I do think there are barriers that keep women from entering or staying in the craft beer industry,” Rolph adds.
Ralph says the reactions these women get when others find out they work in the beer industry tends to be a mixed bag. “The reaction ranges from absolute disbelief to a response of, ‘Wow, you’re my hero!” says Ludwig, “Typically, it’s surprise, but, not because I’m a female brewer, just that I’m a brewer at all.”
As a Head Brewer, Rolph says she has also had some pretty hilarious run-ins with people who are surprised to learn she’s the one in charge. “People usually start asking questions to the guy with the most facial hair, who then point to me,” she says, “I think they are sometimes a bit surprised that I can answer their questions. Honestly, people think I’m an owner before they get that I’m the Head Brewer.”
Raise a Glass: How Women are Finding a Sense of Community
Barriers and preconceived notions aside, more and more women continue to get involved with craft beer—both brewing it and drinking it.
“I try not to overthink this aspect. It seems simple,” Ludwig explains. “There are more than five craft breweries opening per day within the United States, which means more beers on the market. With increasing media and press coverage, the consumer—including females—is more aware and engaged.”
As a result of this growing affinity for beer, several different communities have cropped up to give women an opportunity to clink bottles and enjoy bonding over some cold brews. Pink Boots, Barley’s Angels, Girls Pint Out, and Females Enjoying Microbrews are a few of the groups cropping up throughout the nation.
“Again, I think because of the image and culture of beer being a ‘man’s drink’, a lot of women have been intimidated by it—and therefore unwilling to explore and ask questions,” explains Robyn Klinge, co-founder of Madison Craft Beer Week. She is also the woman who leads the charge for the Madison-based Females Enjoying Microbrews group, “FEMs created a safe space to learn and explore.”
Growing Diversity: The Future of the Craft Beer Industry
With the support of these types of group, there’s a growing sense of optimism that more and more women will continue to get involved in the brewing industry.
“It’s important for women to continue to get involved, because they carry a very valuable skill set,” says Ludwig, “Women are also very passionate and determined, which is very important in such a fast growing and competitive industry.”
There’s also hope that this increased involvement will have some positive impacts on the industry as a whole. “I think more women involved in craft beer will help temper some of the worst parts of the industry,” Rolph says, “Perhaps just by reminding everyone that we are here, we drink beer, and we probably know more about it than you think.”