As in restaurant kitchens, women are reclaiming their place in the beer world as more become master brewers and open their own breweries.
Women have been involved in brewing, selling, and serving beer for millennia. They were the traditional brewers in ancient Egypt, where one deity in the pantheon, Tjenenet, did double-duty as the goddess of both beer and childbirth.
Similar to the chef world where men outnumber women four to one, what was once a domestic pursuit of women has turned into a lucrative business largely dominated by men.
“My kitchen is predominantly male or all male,” says Erin Wallace, owner of Devil’s Den restaurant and bar in Philadelphia. “Front of the house is probably split 50/50. As a woman, I would love to sit there and say I’m going out of my way to hire women, but I’m really looking for who’s the best, who’s coming in at the time, and who’s going to be a fit.”
According to a 2014 study from Auburn University, women comprise 29 percent of workers, while a similar study conducted the same year by Stanford University concluded that only 4 percent of head brewers across 1,700 active breweries were female. And in its most recent employee diversity survey, the Brewers Association found that of the 54 percent of breweries that are owned by a single gender, 96 percent are owned by men. The only area in the beer sector where women represent a majority—53 percent—is brewery service staff.
Women can frequently be found serving as co-owners of bar-restaurants and brewpubs, often with their husbands, as well as in non-production staff roles in such establishments and in breweries. Working in partnership with men often obscures their contribution as people assume that the men are the ones running the show.
“I’m commonly asked how my husband’s brewery is doing by people close to me, strangers, everybody,” says Kris Spaulding, president and co-owner of Brewery Vivant and Broad Leaf Local Beer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The former is a full-service brewpub in a historic mortuary chapel, and the latter a casual, self-service bar-restaurant that opened last spring. “I have to remind people that Jason and I are 50/50 partners, so it’s not just his brewery; it’s our brewery. It’s a societal thing, and I think we see it because women haven’t been as involved,” she adds.
Organizations like the Pink Boots Society are championing the cause, giving women both a platform and networking system from which to grow. Currently the group boasts about 2,000 paid members in 45 regional chapters around the world. Members’ roles can vary from head brewer to bottling-line worker to restaurant beverage director to even bloggers. Eighteen percent of Pink Boots Society members are owners of beer-related enterprises, and 17 percent work as brewers.
Although these association numbers show strong female involvement in both owning and running beer businesses there remains a dearth of good data, especially when it comes to how women work in beer within the restaurant industry. As a result, the vast majority of the proof of women’s expanding role in breweries and restaurants is anecdotal.
“We do have women participating at all levels and in all of the programs that we run,” says Ray Daniels, founder and director of the Cicerone Certification Program, which trains and certifies beer experts; they are the equivalent of sommeliers in the wine industry. “I can’t remember having a class or exam without women ... although I guess it happens occasionally,” he adds.
Those female cicerones are now taking off in careers in the food-and-beverage industry, joining the brewers, brewpub owners, brewery staff, and other women involved in beer. As their visibility increases, and they form strong networks, young women interested in the industry become more likely to join their ranks. Pink Boots Society organizes seminars at beer festivals, gives aspiring brewers scholarships to beer institutes, and helps women in the industry connect and network.
Having such a robust ecosystem of support and camaraderie is as new as it is beneficial. Women in the beer industry tend to be quick to comment about how noticeably women’s presence in the industry has changed in the last couple of decades.
“When I was coming up in the industry 16 years ago, there weren’t that many women,” Wallace says. “It’s been exciting to see it grow and particularly in the last few years, to see it explode, especially in Philadelphia. We also have a lot of new women restaurant owners and chefs hitting the town that are doing some amazing things.”
Wallace founded Devil’s Den with her then-husband after getting her start in the industry as a bartender two decades ago. She is a member of the board of Philly Loves Beer, the nonprofit that runs Philly Beer Week and leads the Philadelphia chapter of Pink Boots Society.
There’s still a long way for women in the industry to go, but they are already a far more visible and vocal presence than they have been since ancient times, both in brewing and in working with beer in the restaurant industry.
“We’re changing perceptions,” Wallace says. “It’s likely that the numbers of women in all aspects of the beer industry are steadily changing as women begin to reclaim their historic involvement in the sector.”