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Replanting the Seeds of Brewing

Craft-beer pioneers Kim Jordan and Carol Stoudt have led women back into the brewhouse after an absence lasting several centuries. Here Tara Nurin spotlights some of the others who have helped along the way.

Tara Nurin November 12, 2016

Replanting the Seeds of Brewing Primary Image

In “How Women Brewsters Saved the World,” we explored the hidden-in-plain-sight history of women and beer from prehistoric times up through Prohibition. Here we bring this history of women’s contributions up to present times, spotlighting some of the women who have helped the modern craft-brewing revolution take root.

February 1986, Park City, Utah

Homebrewer Mellie Pullman is après-skiing at a condo being sold by a cousin’s friend when she spots a business plan lying open on a table. Nosy by her own admission, she picks it up and starts reading.

“It was a plan for a brewery,” she says. “I saw there was a position for a manager and I thought, ‘I can do that.’”

Within weeks, the professional engineer and former construction worker had convinced her new acquaintance to take her on as partner and brewery operations manager. Pullman spent the next few months training at Hart Brewing (now Pyramid) in Washington and taking classes at UC Davis before helping launch Wasatch Brewery. It took her a while to realize that she’d become the first female brewmaster in modern American history.

For years, no one noticed. People weren’t talking about women in the beer business—or the lack thereof—and Pullman stayed busy running Utah’s first brewery and trying to modernize laws in a state whose alcohol statutes remain some of the most restrictive in the country. Plus, she had to finesse her way out of enough brewer-as-bearded-German-guy stereotypes from visitors and politicians to bother wondering about others like her.

Eventually, a few joined in. She already knew Beth Hartwell, who opened Hart with her brewer-husband in 1984. If she’d asked around, she might have discovered Rosemarie Certo, who’d founded Dock Street Brewing in Philadelphia in 1985 with her brewer-husband. Pennsylvania’s Carol Stoudt became the nation’s first female sole proprietor (and brewer) in 1987, and Barbara Groom and Wendy Pound opened Lost Coast Brewing in Eureka, California, in 1990, as the first female ownership team. A couple of female brewers (historically called “brewsters”) propelled their way in as employees, too. Among the most notable, Brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf at Berkeley’s Golden Gate Brewing and Assistant Brewer Jennifer Talley at Squatter’s in Salt Lake City.

Although some of these women occasionally judged the same competitions, attended the same national meetings, or wrote letters to the same publications, shyness or distraction kept them from connecting. If they spoke, they didn’t talk about their special status. Before the proliferation of the Internet and beer media, these craft-brewing pioneers worked alone.

It would take two decades, a road trip, and some chance encounters to change that.

January 2015, Long Island, New York

Lauri Spitz is sick of telling reporters that she doesn’t suffer sexism as a professional brewer and co-owner of one-year-old Moustache Brewing. As someone who’s accustomed to dragging sacks of malt around and greeting customers in a “cozy and homey” tasting room that she “nested the shit out of,” Spitz doesn’t understand why the media needs to portray her as some sort of anomaly. She is, after all, one of tens of thousands of American women who now own breweries, bars, bottle shops, or homebrew-supply stores and make, sell, test, market, or write about beer—not to mention those who earn a living in graphics, accounting, human resources, packaging, and so on. She lives comfortably in what she considers a post-feminist beer world, labeling herself a “brewer” rather than a “female brewer” while acknowledging her self-described “lady-ness” by deriving recipe inspiration from her favorite scented soap.

“We are still a minority in this business. But when we were first getting started, another brewer told me it didn’t matter if I peed standing or sitting, as long as I could do my job and do it well. I think it’s across the board like that,” she says.

Most brewsters since the 1980s have felt this way to some extent, likely believing that when you toil in such a physically demanding, male-dominated profession, it’s best not to remind anyone that you might have a slight strength disadvantage or hesitate to climb a slippery ladder when you’re nine months pregnant. As Spitz says, do your job and do it well. But there’s no denying that the latest generation of female beer professionals has a greater luxury to ignore gender. Generally, the founding mothers of the modern beer movement suspected they had to suppress their femininity lest male colleagues not take them seriously.

May 1994, Brussels, Belgium

Teri Fahrendorf is thirty-four years old but looks much younger. She’s skinny, suffering from allergies, far from home, and lugging a backpack of Brewing Technology magazines and Steelhead Brewery T-shirts. She arrives at Brasserie-Brouwerij Cantillon for the meeting she’d tried to schedule via fax. Brewery Owner Jean Pierre Van Roy refuses to come out of his office until she sends a magazine with his wife.

“I could see him through a window, looking at me from under his eyebrows. I had to send up photos from my brewery to get him to believe that I was a brewer,” she says. “At all these places in Belgium they were like, ‘Why does this woman want to come and see a brewery?’”

She had to guide herself on educational brewery tours because she didn’t have the nerve to ask her male brewing friends to tag along when they traveled together, sharing hotel rooms and bonding in their underwear. It wasn’t that they made her feel unwelcome. But as Pullman described of the late twentieth century, “There was a struggle for credibility. It wasn’t a good old boys’ club but it was a boys’ club.”

And in 1994, Fahrendorf literally didn’t know another woman in the beer business.

October 2013, Portland, Oregon

Christine Jump is touring the Rogue Ales hops farm as part of the first conference organized by Barley’s Angels, an umbrella group for women-only educational beer clubs. The conference has brought together chapter members for networking, forums on topics such as generating media attention, and of course, beer. Barley’s Angels isn’t the only such consortium, but with chapters in twenty-six states and six countries, it’s the biggest.

“The growth has been nothing short of mind-blowing,” says Jump, who heads the volunteer organization that’s shot up to eighty-eight chapters from twelve since the summer of 2012. “I’ve had several new leaders say, ‘I’m going to have four events a year,’ then come back to me and say, ‘We had a waiting list so we’re going to do it monthly.’”

“There’s camaraderie in finding a common interest in a woman-only environment,” she says.

There are also friendships to be made, job openings to share, internship opportunities to develop, and a sense of solidarity, security, and relief for an isolated homebrewer or beer enthusiast who discovers she’s not all alone out there after all.

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June 2007, On the Road

After nineteen years as a master brewer, Fahrendorf has won eight Great American Beer Festival (GABF) medals and founded the Oregon Brewers Guild. She’s driving cross country for five months, stopping to collaborate on commercial brews and blog about her experience.

On June 17, she arrives at Stone. There, she is paired with Laura Ulrich, Stone’s first female brewer who confides that she’s never met another brewster. “’You tell me there are others like us? How many?’” Fahrendorf recalls Ulrich whispering. “It never occurred to the guys at Stone to tell their young woman brewer about other women. They didn’t know how alone she felt.”

Fahrendorf left with a promise to craft a list of women in the industry. By the end of her trip, she had sixty names. She posted the list online and named it the Pink Boots Society, after her rose-colored brewer’s boots. Immediately she fielded calls from brewers, lab techs, and writers, both men and women, asking to join her group.

“Shit,” Fahrendorf’s fond of saying. “I didn’t know this was something you could join.”

A few months later, Fahrendorf and Ulrich hosted the first meeting of the Pink Boots Society at the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in San Diego. Twenty-two women came together to create a free education and networking club that would serve the needs of women who make money—in any capacity—from beer.

The group has met at every CBC and GABF since, and it received nonprofit status in 2012. It now offers scholarships to accredited brewing programs, and Fahrendorf has finally raised the funds to hire a part-time executive director. Today, Pink Boots Society has an active social-media presence and outreach programs that connect more than 1,600 members in fifteen countries, including India, Israel, and Japan. Between November 2014 and January 2015, the membership committee fielded 250 new applications. One of the newest members is Annie Johnson.

July 2013, Oakland, California

Annie Johnson is drinking a Bosteels DeuS (Buggenhout, Belgium) when a text comes through on her phone. She reads it and nearly spills her beer. “It said I’d won Brewer of the Year from the American Homebrewers Association [AHA],” she recounts, making her the first woman to claim the award since 1983 and the first African-American to win, ever.

“My dad was so proud of me when I won the award. And everyone in Sacramento was over the moon,” says the veteran homebrewer and Sacramento native.

The entrepreneurs behind a Seattle start-up called Pico Brewing were also excited, and they offered her a job as recipe developer and spokesperson for the homebrewing equipment company. Once beer turned from hobby to career, Johnson quickly joined Pink Boots and set off to promote Pico at homebrew clubs and festivals.

As a minority woman who’s also gay, her appearances (and appearance) put her in a unique position to broaden the perceived image of a homebrewer, which resembles the lingering concept of a pro brewer: white, bearded, and straight. She’s writing a recipe and storybook that she hopes will help dispel those preconceptions, and she’s positioning herself to help the AHA—whose female membership is 4 percent—work harder toward diversity. Why does it matter? AHA President Gary Glass estimates that 90 percent of professional brewers start off as homebrewers.

July 2014, Milton, Delaware

Aimee Garlit is playing with yeast. She’s just joined Dogfish Head Brewery’s team of four quality technicians—one woman and three men. She’s a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) national judge, an AHA Governing Committee member, and a homebrewer since 2008, but she chose a career in the brewery lab instead of on the floor.

Though anecdotal evidence (the only kind there is) suggests that increasing numbers of women are opting to thrive in the rough conditions of the brewhouse, earlier craft-brewing trends placed women disproportionately in quality assurance, marketing, and sales. Despite Garlit’s love of developing recipes and working through the brewing process, she, too, sought comfort over creativity.

“Dogfish has a pretty automated system but you’re still schlepping hoses around. Generally, women can kind of get scared off by that. I don’t necessarily like lifting or being cold,” she explains.

Don’t call her a wuss. With degrees from Harvard and the University of Michigan and a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, Garlit could have gone into a much higher paying field. But the growth and expansion of breweries, coupled with a recent focus on QA, has created more opportunities and attraction for science-minded, beer-loving ladies, including the brightest among them. Why did Dogfish Head Owner Sam Calagione make a big deal over her during her first week? To show appreciation for her status as the first PhD in Dogfish Head history.

June 2001, St. Louis, Missouri

It’s starting day at Anheuser-Busch headquarters for intern Katie Rippel. She’ll spend the next ten years working her way up through the company until she is named resident brewmaster in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2011. When she takes over the Colorado brewery, women lead three of the twelve additional Anheuser-Busch breweries in the United States. Several others have held the position before them.

It would be easy to write off the modern growth of female brewers as a craft-brewing novelty, but Rippel and her colleagues and predecessors prove “macro” breweries did nurture a spark of feminine light between Prohibition and the twenty-first century.

“When I first started, I did every single job,” Rippel says. “I stuffed beech wood into lager tanks and pulled it out at the end. I try to remind people that women have been the ones making beer through most of history.”

1946, Oudenaarde, Belgium

Rosa Merckx’s parents call her a rebel without a cause, and not just because she’s the first woman in her town to drive a car. She’s proud to start work as a secretary for the manager of the 300-year-old, family-owned Liefmans Oudenaarde, and it doesn’t take long for Merckx’s boss to reward her intelligence and interest by teaching her about malt, hops, the brewing process, and quality control. But it turns out he has an ulterior motive.

As soon as he deems her educated, he informs her, “Good, you know how to brew. Now my wife and I can go on holiday.”

When her boss died in 1972, his family asked her to take over. Upon saying yes, she became the first female master brewer, operations director, and—in her words—“brewhouse mother” in twentieth-century Belgium. She held the position until she retired in 1990.

Now, at ninety, she still walks daily to the brewery to socialize, greet international dignitaries, and taste beer to assure quality and consistency. She insists no one ever underestimated her.

“All the brewers in Belgium were very nice to me because they had respect for the way I was carrying on in the brewery,” she says in fluent English. “It was hard work. I had a husband and two sons. But a day has twenty-four hours so you need to know how to arrange them.”

Merckx is an increasingly rare connection back to the days when women brewed for their families, communities, and convents. Germany’s “Sister Doris” has garnered much press lately for being the last in a 1,000-year line of Bavarian brewing nuns. And that’s why the world needs new generations of brewers such as Anne-Catherine Dilewyns.

February 2015, Dendermonde, Belgium

Twenty-seven-year-old Anne-Catherine Dilewyns is looking at her great-great-great-great-great grandmother’s passport. In the space for profession, someone has written, in Flemish, “brewmaster.” Dilewyns’s maternal ancestor founded a brewery in 1875, and her family ran it until the Germans seized the kettles for munitions in World War II. As the brewer and production manager for Brouwerij Dilewyns, which her father built in the same town for her and her sister, she’s felt nothing but support from the community around her.

“Everybody was surprised and curious how I would do,” Dilewyns emails. “I had the feeling they were willing to help me out when I needed.”

In return, the brewster with the slight build wants to show the strength of women in beer. When she travels to the half-dozen countries, including the United States, that sell her beer, fans marvel at the fact that she’s the youngest female brewer in Belgium. She answers their questions patiently and has learned that, “Sometimes there’s an advantage being a woman in a male world,” she says. “With a smile you can achieve a lot.”

Present Day, Portland, Oregon

Mellie Pullman didn’t stay long in the industry. Three years after cofounding Wasatch, she left over differences in vision and soon entered academia as a student and a faculty member. But as of 2011, Pullman is back and making history once again as coordinator and professor of the first brewing program to focus on teaching brewery operations to current and aspiring owners and managers.

One third of her students are women.

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