First, there was water and grain. In the kitchens of ancient Egypt and Iraq, women knew exactly what to do. Make beer.
A lot has changed in the 4,000 years since, but thanks to the craft beer revolution we’ve come full circle on at least one thing. Women in beer no longer means sexualization in advertising. It means brewing, bottling, and innovative marketing.
Diana Salazar, head brewer at Forked River Brewing in London since 2015, took an international route. When the bartending classes she was taking in her native Colombia led to a microbrewery tour, she became focused on getting involved beyond serving. Salazar started searching for post-secondary brewing programs and landed at Niagara College.
While her graduating year creation at Niagara was a wheat beer flavoured with tamarillo, Salazar’s personal taste in beer shifts frequently and now centres on IPAs instead of Scottish ales. “Women drink everything,” she said. That’s true, but differences are noted at craft beer festivals, often a person’s first experience with sampling the plethora of craft beers available. A man is more likely to ask to try a craft beer “like the big beer I’ve been drinking” while a woman might spy a fruit beer and start exploring from there.
“It has more to do with beer knowledge than gender,” said Emily Ramsey, who works in post-fermentation (the position is called “cellarman” in some breweries) at Forked River.
Ramsey, who learned on the job at Great Lakes Brewery in Toronto, said the image of craft breweries being workplaces for young, white males has changed a lot, thanks to groups and advocates such as the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies, the Pink Boots Society, and Queen of Craft. And Salazar notes Niagara College’s brewing program reserves three spots per semester for women.
Craft brewery taprooms are not your grandmother’s ladies and escorts rooms. They’re community centres, with everything from beer yoga classes at Anderson Craft Ales in London to paint nights, trivia contests, and board games at various breweries.
At Black Swan Brewing in Stratford, retail, brewery and social media assistant Meghan Landers said women enjoy pairing conversation with a new craft beer discovery or standby favourite. “I think the best thing about drinking in a brewery as a woman is when other women are there,” she said. “We go through a lot of the same experiences, so knowing other women are there is always comforting. If you see me behind the bar, you know I got you!”
She also has a go-for-it attitude when it comes to landing a job in craft brewing. “As simple as it sounds, I would say if you love it, do it. Your passion and knowledge will always stand and even though you will face adversity, don’t let it stop you.”
Aynsley Anderson of Anderson Craft Ales in London agreed. “All of our jobs can be done by any gender,” she said. “There are obviously role-specific qualifications, but otherwise the common thread is a person that is dedicated and genuinely interested in furthering the local, independent beer movement.”
Gender neutrality extends to marketing and to a taproom drinking environment that’s more like a living room than an old school beer hall. “We don’t market specifically to any gender,” she said. “We market to people that are interested in a quality product and who want to enjoy it in a friendly and welcoming environment. Our aim is to foster an environment where people feel welcome chatting with our staff and family or alternately enjoying a quiet beer with friends, family, solo, etc. No pressure.”
Still, there have been flashpoints with some craft breweries and their questionable choices of names for their beers — sexist names or labels which could cost breweries female customers.“All industries should be striving to market their product in a way that doesn’t offend people’s basic human rights,” Anderson said. “So, hopefully breweries will step up to think of more creative marketing techniques than the Mad Men or shock value approach.”