Craft beer is a social drink and a beverage of celebration—and it was in that spirit of camaraderie and celebration that The Herkimer hosted the “Women in Beer” panel on Thursday, September 17, as a kickoff event for the Minnesota chapter of the Pink Boots Society.
Pink Boots Society is a nationwide group dedicated to women working in the beer industry—whether owners, brewers, retailers, servers, or someone who makes soap from beer in their garage—it’s open to anybody who makes their living from beer.
The Women in Beer panel was representative of the wide range of jobs and careers the industry has to offer. Included in the panel were brewers (Deb Loch, brewer and co-owner of Urban Growler), owners/founders (Jacquie Berglund of Finnegans, Laura Mullen of Bent Paddle, and Rachel Anderson of Indeed), marketers (Amanda Buhman, One Simple Plan/Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild), distributors (Tara Alcure, Green Flash), educators/certifiers (Kelsi Moffitt, Better Beer Society) and bar/restaurant management (Rita Skamser-O’Neil, The Herkimer). The women discussed their experiences as women in beer, on both personal and professional levels.
Deb Loch compared brewing to her previous life as an engineer, another field that was once male-dominated but where gender gaps have shrunk. The overall tone of the panel concluded that Minnesota is very inclusive, though there’s always room for improvement and increased visibility. “It has significantly improved over the last 15 years,” Berglund noted during the discussion, to which Bent Paddle’s Laura Mullen agreed.
The meeting felt like an outlet, a place where an industry minority can turn the tables and feel represented. It was an opportunity to be heard, to vent frustration, and to share experiences. The bulk of the panel, moderated by food and travel writer and BJCP judge Tara Nurin, was concerned more with getting into the workplace and work/life balance than dealing with the culture of brewing as a boy’s club.
— PinkBoots Society MN (@PinkBootsMN) September 18, 2015
Later, in a brief Q&A, workplace dynamics were a conversation point—specifically, how often women face discrimination and harassment. Experiences of the panel were mixed—women working in brewhouses, taprooms, and distribution all had different experiences. Generally speaking, consensus hinted that those who interact with more of the general public face a wider range of discrimination. Of the panel members, servers and distributors had more negative encounters than brewers. Within the brewhouse, it varied from company to company but the panelists downplayed such experiences within the craft beer community. These conversations carried into the social hour that followed and later into the evening over pints.
Speaking with The Growler before the event, Green Flash’s Alcure spoke specifically about her experience working in Minnesota. “I think we have a really great beer scene here,” she said. Alcure has worked in Iowa and North and South Dakota in distribution, and she sees far more women here than in those states. Green Flash’s home base in San Diego, though, still employs more women than anyone here, she says. California’s beer scene is far more mature, which helps, but Minnesota isn’t that far behind. “Truthfully, here in Minnesota I haven’t experienced anything that I’ve felt has been a struggle,” she says. “Everyone is very accepting.”
Alcure is one of three founders of the Minnesota chapter of Pink Boots Society, along with Jennifer T. Johnson (Badger Hill Brewing) and Emmy Ross (Hanover Wine & Spirits). They’ve all shared a common experience—restaurant servers who direct beer details specifically to the men at the table. These servers are also apt to suggest an IPA or porter to the men, and a lambic or fruit-based beer to the women.
Last week, Alcure says, she was out for the evening and, “Every beer I ordered, it was, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to try that first?’” Men at the same table were never asked that question. Both Johnson and Alcure also expressed frustration with beer marketing, citing innuendo and gimmicks as pet peeves that alienate a potential audience from their products.
Pink Boots MN will host monthly social hours and quarterly educational seminars aimed at empowering women and combating stereotypes. Scholarships will also be offered to help members who want to enhance their skills through formal training.
“We have a strong tribe of women here,” Johnson says, “but also really competent women who know their stuff.” Pink Boots Society’s goal is to bring that tribe together to help even more women succeed in the industry.
The Minnesota Pink Boots Society will host their first official meeting on October 7 at Urban Growler Brewing Company. Check back to growlermag.com or follow the Minnesota Pinks Boots Society of Facebook for more details as they’re released.