Pink Boots & High Heels: Lady Brewers at the Head of their Glass

By Sarah Jaquay

v13n5_lady_brewers“It happens all the time,” says Shannon Fink, head brewer at Black Cloister Brewing Company in Toledo. She’s talking about people asking her husband brewing questions when she’s the one in the business. “I’ve been introduced as the brewer’s wife,” adds Lori Wince, co-owner and assistant brewer at Weasel Boy Brewing Company in Zanesville. Meg Evans, brewmaster at Pittsburgh’s Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery and Allegheny County’s first female brewer, takes a philosophical stance towards gender-related job assumptions: “There’s always random, sexist people.” But the truth is, female brewers have come a long way, baby. They’ve helped each other get to the top and are supported by the Pink Boots Society, a national trade association based in Portland, Oregon.

Named for the feminine-hued boots some wear to keep their feet dry while working, the Pink Boots Society started in 2007. According to their website, the mission is to “empower women beer professionals to advance their careers in the beer industry through education.” Members may be involved in any aspect of the industry as long as they earn income from it. The Society sets goals for providing education opportunities and giving women the skills necessary to be judges at the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver and other competitions. They also promote education by offering a range of scholarships – from accessible online offerings like the Cicerone Program’s BeerSavvy and Siebel Institute courses – to on-site, university-based courses or internships at commercial breweries. Another Society activity is International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day. This year’s was on March 5 and members collaborated on a gose-style beer – “kind of like a Berliner-Weisse but with more salinity,” says Evans.

Each of these women is a Pink Boot member and believes collaboration is critical to success. Evans started the Western Pennsylvania chapter and through it, has “created a Pittsburgh network and a national network of colleagues.” She’s currently making a saison-style beer (a pale ale) with a Portland member, combining East Coast Yeast with rice tea and hops from out West. This bi-coastal creation will be released at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia.

For International Women’s day, Wince made a spv13n5_wet_wittericy summer ale with peppercorns at Columbus’s Lineage Brewing; but she’s most proud of her recipe for a saison brewed with hibiscus to make it pink. La Belette Rosé was the star of Weasel Boy’s “Beer for Boobs” fundraiser that donated a portion of the proceeds for breast cancer research. Fink is pleased with her inaugural foray into making an imperial stout, Black Cloister’s popular Icon. “High gravity beers are challenging for me,” she notes. And Fink’s happy she has colleagues to call on when she has a question or something goes awry.

These successful brewers paid their dues by working on the brewpub side, doing cellar duty and sales. Along the way, some admonished they weren’t strong enough to carry kegs and/or lift half-barrels. For the latter, Wince has an impressive reply: Try carrying a half-barrel in high heels as she did when she worked in sales and made her deliveries all dressed up.

Whether women are wearing pink boots or high heels, they’re clearly brewing in a glass of their own.

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