We Need More Women In Beer

The role of women in today's beer industry can not be overstated. Without their voice, their energy, and their might, beer would not be as wonderful as it is. What follows below are the experiences, past and present, of the women in our team. When anyone recalls tales of rejection and hardship, simply because of who they are, we all must act to make the present a better place for women in beer, so that the future is bright, positive, and as open to the contributions of everyone that wants to further beer as possible.

Robyn Bell
“Great, we need more women in beer!” was the eager response I received.  I was a young, inexperienced graduate who had just shyly told a well known brewery owner that I wanted to be a brewer.  I was working in Australia at the time, having a privileged millennial crisis knowing that I couldn’t handle a sad desk job for the next fifty years at some large, soulless corporate entity.  I was interested in food politics and had started drinking craft beer. I found the craft beer industry exciting and totally different to anything I had seen or experienced before, but mostly, I noticed something different about the people running it.

The people behind the beers thought differently; they were political, they were socially aware, they were humble, and they gave a shit about the people who worked for them.  Many of the brewery owners I met then had left prestigious white collar jobs and lives as lawyers, accountants, or desk slaves to risk everything and start a brewery. I noticed that there was a specific kind of person who becomes a brewer or starts a brewery, and what I overwhelmingly kept hearing from these people was, “we need more women involved.” I felt welcomed, supported and encouraged, and thought I might have a shot.

My experiences as a female in the industry have been overwhelmingly positive.  I have been working as a Tank Manager (responsible for charting and stewarding the contents of 18 fermentation vessels through our QA programme, to meet our sensory targets) for two and half years now, and have only good things to say about my experience as a young female brew team member.  I realise that I cannot speak for everyone, and do not intend to. Women continue to be treated terribly in every industry, and beer is no exception. Women struggle daily to be taken seriously, and it is often assumed that we know nothing about beer, and that we are not physically or mentally strong enough to work at a brewery.  I have received my fair dose of sexist bullshit, but never from my employers, co workers, or peers who work in other breweries or the industry as a whole.

The sexism debate is very alive in craft beer, and feels especially heated at the moment.  I speculate deep roots of sexism seem so apparent in beer because on the surface it is still such a visibly male dominated industry with what appears to be a clear division of labour.  To an outsider, it appears that men mostly brew, and women mostly work in sales or tend the bar. This is shortsighted and not representative of what really goes on. Women are in senior management roles, are brewery owners, bar owners, cellaring experts, head brewers, lab technicians, badass bartenders, delivery drivers, packagers, brewery accountants, and well educated sales representatives. The perception of women’s role in beer will change even faster once there are more of us representing this excellent industry.

We still have some serious issues to overcome as an industry, and I am excited to see continued positive change in the years to come.  I am inspired by the brave women who speak out against injustice and make the whole industry more welcoming for everyone. I most urgently wish to see us addressing issues around inclusion for people of colour and anyone identifying as LGBT.  I am confident to believe change is happening as we are at heart an industry that cares. Craft beer is political, as the very premise of what we are producing is part of a greater food and drink revolution led by environmental and social justice issues.  We need more women, more people of colour, and a dialogue that includes and supports all identities. Happy International Women’s Day to all the wonderful women in beer, and to making this industry even better than it already is.

Jeannette Fonseca 
I’d always believed the beer industry was a ‘boys only’ club, growing up in the States. I am a born and bred Miamian living in Manchester. Yes, I left beautiful sandy beaches and year round sunshine to live in cold and almost always grey Manchester, but, I can’t deny how much I love this city and the amazing beer culture here! Cask and I are not total bros just yet… but, I am starting to slowly fall in love!

I hadn’t worked in the beer industry until I moved here. I must admit I was slightly nervous joining a tight knit team within the UK beer community a little over 8 months ago. I was way more worried I wouldn’t be welcomed or accepted as a woman, and especially as a gay woman in the industry, than coming to a brewery job without prior experience. I was so happy to see how many women I was actually working with! Our Head of Retail, Brewery Tap Manager, Tank Manager, Quality Manager and Accounts Manager were all women! This was a very empowering sight.

Since moving to the UK I have a completely different perspective on this ‘boys only’ club. I was welcomed by the guys on our team and beyond my brewery. From collaborations, tap takeovers, festivals, through to our very own brewery; I feel included and my opinion is valued. I still encounter the occasional man that believes women don’t know a thing about beer, which only shows men still have a long ways to go in this industry. Women continue to struggle for equal rights not only in beer, but all around the world. With every woman that joins the beer community our collective influence and reach grows stronger. The UK beer community is evolving every day and I am a proud to be a part of it.

To all the women out there – continue the good fight for equality!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Emma Cole
I have always been into beer and have long been an aspiring geek of all things fermentation (certainly with a lot more passion than knowledge in the early days!) and made the switch to this industry from working in retail management just over 8 years ago.  I am delighted to say that a huge amount has changed for the better even just in the last few years. An area manager in a previous job once took me to one side as their boss was concerned having two women in management positions might make the place 'too girly' and lose its ‘edgy' aesthetic.  From being told I couldn’t work certain days of the week as it wasn’t right that women get in deliveries and being turned over for promotion as they wanted a man to do the cellar work, I am now working in a part of the industry that is really striving for equal representation and really encourages my voice to be heard.

Once I felt that the only way I could fight the sort of injustices above was to look for different employment.  I must say that there is a much bigger support network available to me to discuss these sort of problems than there once was.  I am pretty sure I wouldn't deal with the issues that I faced in the same way that I did in the past if they were to happen today. I definitely felt there weren’t many who understood at the time, and even if they did, that nothing really could be done about it.  I am very thankful for the support networks that have sprung up for women in beer over the last few years. I remember when I first started out I was encouraged by many to get into beer writing. I was so keen to, but seeing the constant abuse that people such as Melissa Cole had to endure, I really felt I didn’t have it in me to put up with the abuse and criticism about my appearance that it invites as a woman writing about beer.  Criticism about my writing would have been welcomed, but leaving myself open to that level of personal abuse genuinely frightened me. I am so happy that others were braver than me back then – seeing folk like Nicci Peet, Emma Inch, and Lily Waite smashing the patriarchy with simply excellent writing and content brings joy to my heart (as long as I don’t read the comments) and I am so grateful that more women like them are using their voice and being heard.

Yes, if I go to the beer festivals that I used to go to I still feel that women are underrepresented and yes, it is great that people are challenging that to slowly bring about change.  I am much happier that I no longer have to give my money to support breweries, bars, festivals, and the people behind them in the industry who do not fight for change, at the speed we call for it any more.  There are so many beer festivals around the the world now (such as IMBC, Beavertown Extravaganza, MBCC, We Are Beer) who are really working to stamp out sexism, make it a headliner for discussion, and increase female attendance, that I can show my support with my wallet and decide to not give business to the companies who fail to evolve.

These days I feel like the industry is on the whole a much more inclusive place than it once was, and though there are huge improvements to be made all the time, the overwhelming difference that I have noticed is there is now more of a desire to make change than there was years ago.  No, people don't always get it right, but we are talking about it and trying to make things better for the whole community. Equal opportunities within this industry was once only made vocal by a few key voices, having it right at the top of the agenda from both men and women is really helping to accelerate change.  Hopefully this current climate will encourage breweries and pubs to bring about the change we call to see in the industry, even if it is just to avoid the fear of them becoming irrelevant.

I am so proud of all the many women (and men who help elevate this issue) that I have hired into this industry and trained over the years.  There are so many more fantastic women at the forefront now than there were. I can’t wait to see what the next 8 years will bring!

Claudia Asch
2011, when I first nominally became involved with the UK beer scene, seems like a lifetime away in some ways. Port Street Beer House had just opened, and my former manager Will France (now with Stone, but also formerly of Summer Wine, Cloudwater, and Vertical Drinks) gave me a chance to get out of the house whilst I was writing up my thoroughly beer-unrelated PhD with a job behind the bar. I had already been bitten by the beer bug before then –  my better half and I started home brewing in 2009, after my former tenant introduced us to the hobby when we lived in the US. I was well and truly hooked.

I had my share of odd moments behind the bar, with some punters not wanting to take recommendations from me, for example.  As I have moved into other areas of the industry, from being an organiser of IndyManBeerCon, to collaborating with various breweries, and eventually working in a brewery, I reckon beer is like most other industries. Prove yourself, be willing to learn and work hard, and don't take yourself too seriously. Some delivery drivers still wonder if I can carry a 20kg box of hops, but even that has become far less often a question. The more diverse and inclusive the industry becomes, the better for all of us. We can always do better, of course, and International Women's Day is only one reminder - after all, every day is women’s day.

Hannah Murphy
I’ve been in the industry for just over 2 years. I approached the job merely with a love for beer, but zero experience, and the team gave me a chance to show what I could do. In those 2 years, the folk I have had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with have been nothing but lovely, and so passionate about what they do. This passion is not solely centred on beer, either. People with varied and wonderful backgrounds make this industry a very fascinating place to be, and I feel very lucky to be a small part of it.

Linzi Hughes
In 2013 I started working in a Thornbridge pub where both the GM and supervisor were women, and tried my first beer and I've had a crazy thirst for hops ever since.

Since then I have mostly worked in craft focused beer bars, and now I can't believe my luck that I run the Barrel Store as a 25 year old woman. There have been lots of times when I have felt belittled by men over the years, when men have ignored my opinions whilst stood behind the bar, and it honestly now feels absolutely empowering to now be a fountain of knowledge for people who walk through our doors.

I studied Events Management at University and I've worked on several projects over the last 6 years. At the beginning of 2017 I tried to follow this route and got a job working in events for a theatre - but I just missed working in beer too much so I started working weekends part-time at the Barrel Store, to bring that spark back into my life, and I honestly can't imagine myself working in any other industry.

I often get asked how I came to be here, I get asked how old I am, and once people almost forget I am a woman and start talking to me as just a human being with a passion for beer I the most satisfaction at work! I have never believed I couldn't do something because I'm a woman, and the other women I work with are absolutely on the same page.

I really had no hesitation about working for a brewery because I knew how friendly and inclusive the staff were, and now I have some of the best friends in the world through working here. 

Paul Jones