Leslie Henderson went out to take gliding lessons with her husband and came home with a love for beer. Her tow-pilot was an avid homebrewer, and he handed Leslie the first “real” beer she ever drank. “I fell in love with beer right then”, she said. A few years later Leslie and her husband opened up Lazy Magnolia Brewing in Mississippi, which is now the largest producer of beer in that state. Leslie is part of a much larger, steadily growing demographic of female beer lovers, producers, and advocates who are changing the current beer landscape.
For years, beer has been, almost exclusively, a “Man’s” drink. However, with the introduction of new flavors and more education, the craft beer movement has opened the door to be more welcoming to all people. For example, beer is now the preferred beverage for women between 18-34, replacing white wine (gallup). With this increased interest in beer, women are also taking on larger roles within the production, business, and marketing aspects of the beer industry.
On any given brewery tour you are likely to see just as many women as men, and a great deal of them have an exemplary working knowledge of craft beer. There is, however, still a stigma attached to beer drinking women. “We were tired of having to prove our beer knowledge when we went out drinking craft beer together. We figured there were more women like us and that they should all get to know each other.” This statement came from Kimberly Charles when asked why her and Jennifer O’Connol started Georgia Ale and Lager Sirens (GALS). GALS is a group of dedicated beer enthusiasts who love beer, meet up at breweries, and hosts different beer events through out the year. While their focus may be on community, education, and camaraderie, GALS is much more than just a social club. They have a focus on furthering the beer industry by meeting with Georgia State Representative’s to discuss the current beer regulations, and they were influential in helping to change the recent beer laws in GA.
Kim Jordan, CEO of New Belgium brewing is another woman not only changing the face of beer but also the face of business. Kim grew New Belgium into the 4th largest craft brewery in the United States (brewers association) while also leveraging the business as a platform for change. She sees beer as a way to help create healthy communities by providing sustainable employment through sustainable means. This is why she helped to shift New Belgium into a 100% employee owned business, and shifted their energy source to 100% wind power. These very progressive business ideas are making impacts in the brewery world and are also landing her awards such as the Trailblazer Award from Entrepreneur magazine in 2009 and Entrepreneur of the Year from Colorado Biz Magazine (NCEO).
Genetics also give women an edge when it comes to experiencing beer and tasting the full range of the beverage. SABmiller says its empirical evidence shows that females are the superior sex when it comes to detecting such undesirable chemicals as 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, which makes beer “skunky.” This is why 30% of SABMiller’s 1,000 advanced-level tasters are female. The number of women tasters has roughly quadrupled in 10 years at SABmiller for this very reason (WSJ).
Tasting is only one of the roles women are excelling at in the beer industry as they are also changing the demographics of how beer is being produced. Currently 29% of all breweries staff are female. This includes roles in sales, management, and production. Women are not traditionally thought to be brewmasters, but women like Gwen Conoly are changing this notion. She is head of production for Lost Abby/Port Brewing and a judge at the World Beer Competition. Sara Barton is another female gaining a lot of attention for her craft and for females in the brewing world. In 2012, she was named “Brewer of the Year” by the British Guild of Beer Writers (BGBW).
Even though the trends are showing more women enjoying beer as their drink of choice, and more women are seeing brewing as a field of employment, there are still barriers we need to address in regards to women and beer. Sara Barton, in an interview for Munchies, gave a good account of why beer should be targeted toward women as well as men: “Not only does the sexist marketing put women off beer, we’re constantly told that it’s bad for us, that it’s high in calories,” she says. “In reality, beer is much healthier than other spirits and alcopops out there. Not only is real ale low in carbohydrates, it is made from natural and fresh ingredients—hops, wheat, and barley—which all include vitamin B, riboflavin, niacin, and zinc.”
Beer is not the number one drink of choice for women overall, wine is still #1 (gallup), but the tides are changing. The idea of what beer is, what can be done via beer, and who makes it have all drastically changed. Internationally, women like Sara and Kim continue to pave the way for other females in the industry but it is women like Haley Cowan, Nancy Palmer, and Molly Gunn who are influencing Georgia local craft beer market.
Haley Cowan is a Co-Founder of Eventide brewing, and is one of very few female founders of breweries. Being a natural red head, Eventide even named their fall seasonal beer “Red Headed Haley” in her honor. A beer which has become a standard fall offering of their brewery, and one which never would have come about if it wasn’t for her love of amber beers. Haley also heads up the sales department at Eventide and, before being called away to finish pharmacy school, was a face many people in the market came to know.
When Men’s Fitness magazine made the list of their top 25 beer bars in the US, Molly Gunn’s “Porter” was on it. The Porter is often noted as one of the top beer destinations in the US and was founded by Molly and her husband Nick. Being that Molly is definitely on the forefront of the “women in beer” movement, it was no surprise that another woman is her beer idol. Lauren Salazar is New Belgium’s wood cellar manager, and during a conversation with Molly a few years ago she mentioned that Lauren was tops on her list of brewing specialists. From Molly: “She makes all the crazy sour beers and we had the opportunity to meet her last summer. She was so cool.”
These are only a few of the many women helping to shape the future of the craft beer world. Ten years ago the world looked at beer as primarily a “Man’s” drink, but the rise of craft beer has changed all of that. Across the board, women are more active in every facet of beer than ever before. From enjoyment to production, and any other way you look at it, women have, and will continue to have, a massive impact in all areas of the craft industry. It truly shows that achieving success in craft beer, and an enjoyment of it, is limited only by one’s own passion and ambition. Cheers to all!