How would you anthropomorphize craft beer? Imagine it just showing up at your house one day unexpectedly. What do you see? Would you imagine a bearded bro with a beer belly, dressed in flannel, carrying a misfit six pack? Well, that image is officially a stereotype. Increasingly, women are embracing the craft beer movement both as customers and as a career path, and it should be no secret that women are the underutilized demographic that can take craft beer to new levels of popularity and credibility. It’s a fact that struck me when visiting Georgia’s traffic jam (also called Atlanta) to see SweetWater Brewing Co.
SweetWater was kind enough to invite CBB on a private tour of its facilities. During the walk-around, Tucker Berta Sarkisian (one of the many charismatic women in marketing and PR roles working in the beer industry) mentioned that SweetWater had
the only two female two of only a few female brewers in Georgia working for them (Lindsey Kingry and Sarah Green); correction via Miranda Dohrman, brewer at Georgia’s Orpheus Brewing. As a historically male-centric beverage industry, I wondered what attracted these leading ladies to the world of beer. As you might expect, it’s the same thing that attracts almost everyone else.
“Like a lot of brewers, my interest in the industry began with a healthy love of beer,” Kingry explained. “While it’s traditionally been a male-dominated industry, especially on the production side, it’s a demographic that’s rapidly changing as the craft brewing industry evolves as in any other industry. It’s not surprising that more women are becoming involved in the craft brewing scene because the pattern jibes with new societal norms as the traditional gender roles evolve.”
Today, it’s not hard to find female leaders running the brewhouse, running the marketing squad, working the packaging line or drinking craft beer at the bar, but how do you start to get involved in the industry and how hard is it to get those jobs in brewing? As a career, the first step toward brewing can be the most difficult. Luckily, work ethic is gender neutral.
“The craft brewing industry is open when it comes to successes and failures, and yes, there are several of both. It’s all about learning from those failures, and the successes will follow,” said Emily Parker, director of brewery operators at Schlafly Beer. “This is an industry where you’re constantly learning from whatever you run into from day to day, and it’s filled with innovative people that are trying things that haven’t been done before, which makes it exciting.”
Build your network
Not a news flash: In 2016, beer is big business. You’ve probably heard the brewing market has exploded with more than 4,000 breweries in the United States (the most ever). That means there are a growing number of jobs in the brewing industry for women and anyone else. Even outside of the breweries themselves, opportunities abound with distributors, suppliers, retailers, media members and community groups that provide fulfilling career paths or even just camaraderie for women who like beer.
The beer industry is not unlike a family, and the people who work in the industry often have an impressive web of relationships with beer makers, sellers and servers. So first off, build those beer friendships.
“The way that I got myself into the beer industry was solely based on networking and building relationships,” said Emily Erler, retail sales manager in Chicago for the Global Beer Network, which imports nearly 60 award-winning Belgian Beer labels to America. “In my opinion, it was easy because beer became such a passion for me at a young age. The tie-in with my father, a homebrewer, was one that allowed beer brewing and sampling to be something we spent time doing together, a hobby and a love. I took that passion and allowed it to show in many service industry jobs I held. I felt a sense of pride being the go-to source for my co-workers for tasting notes and recommendations to pass along to guests. You could say I made friends fast that way and became recognizable in the Milwaukee craft beer crowd. I am, and never was, afraid to ask questions — lots of them if you ask my co-workers — and was always very curious and enthusiastic to try new things.”
Sometimes making friends can be tough. Erler noted that the Milwaukee beer scene in particular is very much still a male-dominated market, so sometimes the ladies stick out.
“I have found myself very frustrated at times feeling as though I just wanted to be taken seriously and seen as one of the guys,” she explained. “During my time in Milwaukee, I became a member of several all-women homebrewing clubs [like Barley’s Angels] and attended girl-centric happy hours with other beer gals like me. That helped a lot to boost my confidence and spend time with peers.”
There is power and knowledge in numbers, so don’t be hesitant to seek out the great organizations for women in the beer industry to network. One of our favorites is the Pink Boots Society, a group of more than 2,000 members and counting, created to empower women beer professionals, advance women brewing careers and make damn good beer along the way. Headed by award-winning Portland, Ore., craft brewer Teri Fahrendorf, the Pink Boots Society has been supporting women in brewing since 2008. The society has two main tenants:
- Support Pink Boots Society members to advance their beer careers through education.
- Teach women beer professionals the judging skills necessary to become beer judges at the Great American Beer Festival and other competitions.
For women just looking to get into beer, we suggest Girls Pint Out, which started in early 2010 in Indianapolis as an informal group for women who love craft beer. There is no membership process to be involved, and it’s a nonprofit with 86 chapters in 40 states. Check out its chapter directory right over here.
“Men don’t care if you are a woman working in the beer industry as long as you know beer,” said Amanda Wishin, president of Girls Pint Out. “The same goes for brewing — brew good beer and no one cares that you are a woman, just that you make good beer. Our goal and the goal of Girls Pint Out is to be a welcoming place that plans events geared toward women. Our attendees span from novices who don’t know anything about beer to brewers and brewery owners. Our events are charitable, social or educational and run the gamut from homebrewing sessions to coloring and craft beer nights. Each chapter has its own personality, and I encourage them to plan events that suit them.”
If you want to be successful in the increasingly competitive beer industry, knowledge can be your advantage. Luckily, education programs that cover everything from brewing chemistry and brewery ownership to sales and marketing and restaurant management are popular all over the country (check some out here). Whether you’re a new brewer with a dream or just a beer fan wanting to expand your horizons, there’s probably a local or national educational institution ready to teach you more. Parker from Schlafly took the traditional college route.
“After researching more about what the degree in the food and science space entailed, it felt like a great fit for me,” she explained. “I had been really into science more than other subjects. I took a course called Intro to Brewing and Viticulture, and I must say the brewing aspect won me over. Charlie Bamforth, the Professor of Brewing Science at UC Davis, was in my opinion the best professor I had during my time at UC Davis. He is the reason I went on to pursue my career in brewing, and it was truly an honor to learn from him. With my education in food science, with an emphasis in brewing, I knew the industry was a fit for me from the beginning. I completed internships at Shiner and Stone. Once I completed my degree, I landed an internship at Schlafly which turned into a full-time position. I have been at Schlafly now for almost six years.”
Of course, not everyone wants to or needs to go to college to find a successful career in the beer industry. If you are a woman with enough passion, you’ll usually find your way. SweetWater brewer Sarah Green is a great example. For almost three years after college, she was a paralegal with absolutely zero passion for a future as an attorney. Out of boredom and at the suggestion of her best friend who already worked there, she started hostessing at Goose Island Brewing Co.’s Clybourn Brewpub. Ever since, she’s been learning her way through the industry.
“As for my education, I am almost entirely self-taught with the exception of a few brewing courses I took at AB-InBev’s online university,” Green said. “Even though I went to college for anthropology and don’t have a brewing or science degree, I don’t believe it has held me back in any way. It can absolutely help, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.”
But what is necessary (degree or not) is an obsessive attitude toward the job and industry. While Green does not have a degree, she is the epitome of a beer geek.
“A few months into hostessing, I asked if I could give brewery tours on the weekends,” she explained. “I had little to no knowledge of the brewing process, but it seemed like a fun gig, drinking and talking about beer. With the blessing and encouragement of the then GM Reggie Snead, I dove headfirst into studying beer. The world of beer fascinated me — its history from the dawn of civilization to now, biology, chemistry, food and cultures. I would come home from work on Fridays, go for a run, study, not drink beer for a few hours, then go to bed excited and ready for my tours the following day. Each week, I learned a new way that beer had shaped the world and eagerly told everyone who would listen.”
She eventually quit the law firm to work as a brand ambassador for Goose Island’s production brewery (at the time a separate entity from the brewpub). After a year of that, she took a brewing internship. “After my first shift, I was drenched in sweat, covered in beer, exhausted mentally and physically but absolutely exhilarated,” Green remembered. After the six month brewing internship ended, she moved to Atlanta for a position with SweetWater where “I have been happily brewing away the days.”