Meet six women who are making their marks on the male-dominated craft beer industry.
On March 8, women throughout the world will gather for the fifth annual International Women's Collaboration Brew Day, created to coincide with International Women's Day. UK-based brewer Sophie de Ronde conceived of the event to promote unity among women in the male-dominated craft beer industry through a day of brewing.
In 2016, a small group of Columbus women took part. They met at Lineage Brewing in Clintonville and collaborated on an American wheat beer with peppercorn, lemon zest and coriander. Last year, a number of the same women and a few new faces gathered at Weasel Boy Brewing Co. in Zanesville to produce a spicebush and pawpaw-infused grisette. Sales from both drinks were donated to the national Pink Boots Society, which provides opportunities for women to advance their careers within the brewing industry.
“We had lunch and we sat around and we drank beer and we talked about beer,” says Seventh Son brewer Liz Stout, who attended in 2017. “It was a great time. And [then] everyone went to everyone else's brewery and tried the beer.”
But it was a small showing compared to the dozens of brewers typically participating in the collaborative Columbus Craft Beer Week each May. Looking at photos from that event last year seems to lend credence to the familiar stereotype that the craft beer community is composed largely of bearded white men.
But nationally, and in Columbus, a number of women are working hard to change that perception. Breweries, from the 3-year-old Lineage Brewing to the long-running Columbus Brewing Co., are co-owned by women. The Ohio Craft Brewer's Association is led by a female executive director, Mary MacDonald. And the popular blog Drink Up Columbus, one of the first media outlets to cover the Columbus craft beer scene, was founded in 2011 by a woman, Cheryl Harrison.
Women's craft beer-based groups like Brews 'n Betties and the Columbus chapter of Girls Pint Out have sprung up over the past five years, galvanizing a growing community of knowledgeable female craft beer aficionados. And beyond ownership, women are filling positions in every facet of the industry, including sales and brewing, though the latter is arguably the final frontier to conquer.
“At one point in history, it was our role,” says Nina Hawranick, who has been educating home-brewing customers for approximately 40 years at the Winemaker's Shop in Clintonville, which she co-owns with her husband and Columbus craft beer pioneer Scott Francis. “We were back at the homestead and one of the things we did was bake bread and make beer. … Brewing and fermenting is an art and it is a science, so it shouldn't matter what gender you are,” she says.
The slow journey into professional brewing is not the only challenge faced by women in the industry. They must contend with sexist beer names and being dismissed as less knowledgeable than their male counterparts. “I don't think there's a single woman who has not felt like you walk into a room and immediately everyone goes over and introduces themselves to the man first, or asks the guy a question,” says Columbus Brewing Co. co-owner Beth Bean.
Additionally, there are very few women of color in the industry. That disparity is indicative of the state of the industry as a whole. “Craft beer has not typically attempted or even cared to connect with women or people of color,” says BrewDog USA CEO Tanisha Robinson, profiled by Columbus Monthly last October. She points to a “self-perpetuating cycle” of craft beer companies failing to authentically connect with diverse consumers, who then don't pursue the products or the industry.
But Robinson's position at BrewDog, and the growing number of women in the Columbus craft beer community, represent small steps toward progress. We spoke to six women who are breaking barriers in the local industry.
MARY MACDONALD: THE PIONEER
Before Mary MacDonald became the head of the state's brewing association, she was a craft beer consumer. That was before it was cool.
“Barley's [Brewing Co.] had opened in 1992 and my college roommate, who's from Pataskala, was like, ‘Oh, my God, you've got to go to this place,'” says MacDonald, who graduated from Miami University that year with a marketing and international studies degree. “And so I think that was probably my first experience with Columbus beer. And then I just loved Columbus Brewing Co.”
By 2006, there were about six breweries in the city, and MacDonald, then the marketing director for the North Market, conceived of an idea that might bring local brewers and beer lovers together there. The first annual Columbus Microbrew Festival was born. “Every year we would grow by another brewery or two because some more breweries were opening in Columbus, and more breweries were opening around the state,” she says.
By 2013, there were about 58 breweries in the state, and about 32 participating in the Ohio Craft Brewer's Association (OCBA), which hired MacDonald as its executive director. Today, there are about 260 Ohio breweries, and approximately 180 have joined the OCBA. The nonprofit boasts a total of nearly 400 members, which also include allied businesses and enthusiasts.
The OCBA began operating in 2008 as a “loose amalgamation of board members who got done what they could get done in their spare time,” MacDonald says. Under her direction, the organization created events like Columbus Craft Beer Week, hired lobbyists to advocate for breweries' rights and started the Ohio Craft Brewer's Conference. OCBA also publishes an annual brewery guide, Ohio on Tap magazine, and created the Ohio on Tap app, which customers can use to check into breweries and win prizes.
MacDonald says she's seen an influx of women getting into the field as it continues to grow. She cites Lori Wince, co-owner of Weasel Boy Brewing and former OCBA secretary, as an influence, along with Lisa Wolters from Yellow Springs Brewery, the OCBA's vice president. “She's fantastic,” MacDonald says.
“There are a lot of women in the industry—they're just not necessarily brewing the beer,” she adds. And she anticipates their presence will continue to grow as opportunities expand. Schools like Hocking College and Cincinnati State have recently begun implementing fermentation science and brewing science programs, for instance. A handful of breweries have started offering internships on how to brew, and MacDonald says the OCBA will start a brewing sciences track, which will provide opportunities for students enrolled in an accredited brewing course.
“It's like any science industry,” she says. “For whatever reason, historically, there aren't as many women in it. But it grows every year.”
NICHOLE ENDICOTT: THE COMMUNITY BUILDER
Four years ago, Nichole Endicott decided she'd like to discuss craft beers and home brewing with someone other than her husband. She started Brews 'n Betties as a social group hoping to attract other women to the conversation. “Although we have good conversations,” Endicott says of her spouse, “I just wanted to be drinking with ladies and talking about it with ladies. I was overwhelmed with the amount of response when I started the Facebook page. Within 24 to 48 hours, we had about 150 women interested.”
Forty people showed up to the first event, which took place at Seventh Son Brewing Co. “Then we started moving into backyard campfires, sitting around just talking about stouts at night, and it was just a wonderful, common meeting,” she says.
Brews 'n Betties arrived on the scene around the same time as other groups like Girls Pint Out and the Pink Boots Society to satiate a thirst women drinkers had for community. “I don't want to diminish the passion of the craft beer, but … we have a passion for being around one another when there's a common interest,” Endicott says of the gatherings, which bring women with varying life experiences together. “[We] complain about our kids, gush about our kids [and] talk about the beer. … It's not just about the beer that's in the glass. It's about the experience that you're forming around the beer.”
Endicott says that realization has helped her in craft beer sales, which she started doing three years ago at Lineage Brewing after a long career in serving and bartending. Today, she is a brand ambassador for Commonhouse Ales, Ohio's only certified B Corp. brewery, which promises portions of its sales to be donated to Columbus foundations. “My goal with the company is to really focus on different communities in Columbus … and build up important nonprofits,” she says.
Giving back is a passion Endicott incorporates in many of her craft beer activities. For example, Brews 'n Betties co-hosts fundraisers with Girls Pint Out, like “Pack a Bag/Purse,” which benefits victims of domestic violence. By spearheading International Women's Collaboration Brew Day in Columbus, she brought women together to brew beer, with proceeds going to the Pink Boots Society's education initiatives.
“When I get exhausted about craft beer just because I have it in so many facets of my life, I realize the potential of what it can do,” she says. “I did an adopt-a-family [initiative] this year, and in a week and a half, we raised $600 for the family just through local beer groups.”
“People expect [craft breweries] to give back,” she continues. “It's not like that with other lines of work. I think that's what drives my passion for it.”
BETH BEAN: THE BREWERY OWNER
If you want to get a sense for how women's interests in craft beer have developed, look at the bathrooms at beer festivals. “We would go to the Great American Beer Festival out in Denver, and the lines to the men's bathroom would be around the corner,” recalls Beth Bean, who started working in the industry in the early 2000s. “Women? You could go in and out 50 times. … It's still the case now, but there is probably a little bit of a line.”
Bean and her husband, Eric, bought 40 percent of Columbus Brewing Co. (CBC) in 2006 (today they own all but three shares of the brewery). In that time, Bean has watched the female market become more refined, more attuned. In the early years of the Columbus Microbrew Festival at the North Market, she says, “women would come and just want [CBC] Apricot Ale or something that was a little sweeter. The next year they would come and [say], ‘I love IPAs,' when they used to hate them.”
As one of the first local female brewery owners, Bean was able to witness the success of other women entrepreneurs who started out just like she did. “Most of the time it's husband-and-wife teams,” Bean says. “I'm sure that's going to change, too, and I can't wait for that day.”
For Bean, the transition from a writing career to operating a brewery had a bit of a learning curve. “When we first moved in, I had to figure out how to set up a phone system. I knew nothing about phone systems,” she says. Sweeping floors, building boxes, bottling and running errands progressed to marketing and photography duties, as well as handling their own sales initially.
Today, they employ a staff of about 24. “You're slowly giving up pieces of it to run the actual business, which is sort of sad,” Bean says. “But at least I still get to drink beer and talk about beer.”
Since 2015, they have operated an approximately 50,000-square-foot production facility on the West Side, boasting a new 20-barrel brewhouse and bottling line. Their distribution has expanded beyond Central Ohio to northern and southeastern parts of the state. “Our goal is to get the rest of the state filled out,” Bean says.
She hopes to see more women soon involved in spreading and improving the CBC brand. “We've never had any woman apply to be a brewer, and I would love that,” she says.
“I think women need to start talking to other brewers, talking to brewery owners, going to events, networking,” she says. “Keep trying. Keep brewing. Lean in.”
EMILY DONAHUE: THE HOME BREWER
To say Emily Donahue is a fan of beer would be an understatement. One need only look at pictures of her wedding day in November 2017 for evidence. Prior to their ceremony at Station 67, she and her husband, John, took pictures among the brew tanks at Land-Grant Brewing Co. At their reception, guests sat at tables named after the couple's favorite breweries, decorated with beer bottles spray-painted gold and silver. And during the toast, the groomsmen drank a “Holy Malt-rimony” coffee stout, while the bridesmaids drank a “Hop-pily Ever After” bourbon barrel ale.
“We got Busch Light for people that don't like craft beer,” says Donahue, a 28-year-old microbiologist who works for Nationwide Children's Hospital. She brewed the stout and ale in her friend Mat Vross' basement, where she has been perfecting her craft since 2012.
Serving Busch Light at the wedding was a bit of an inside joke. Donahue grew up drinking the domestic beer with friends, though they lived in the dry village of Bremen, near Lancaster, Ohio. “We had Oktoberfest every year,” Donahue recalls. “I think one year they got a permit to actually have beer.”
Though much of Donahue's immediate family did not drink—her grandmother Nina was even president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union—they never scolded her. “[My grandparents] came to my college house and we had a beer can Christmas tree,” Donahue says. “They just laughed it off.”
College was where Donahue fell in love with craft beer. While pursuing her microbiology degree at Ohio State, she took the school's beer and wine class. There, she was quizzed on the history of beer and assigned tasks like analyzing six-packs from the grocery store.
Following graduation, she met Vross while working at Richter International food lab, and they began home brewing. Donahue estimates she's brewed 10 to 15 beer varieties over the years with help from Vross. She has also assisted with his concoctions and accompanied him to home-brew competitions at the Ohio State Fair.
“As I get more and more involved with craft beer, I am learning, ‘Hey maybe I actually could do this as a job,' which would be amazing,” Donahue says.
She has interviewed for positions at local breweries, but they were part time and she couldn't afford the pay cut. “[But] I met the head brewers … and just chatting with them was cool,” she says.
In the meantime, Donahue would like to become a cicerone, or certified beer expert, which would allow her to judge beer competitions. She is also a co-leader of the Columbus branch of Girls Pint Out, a national organization for women. In that role, she has helped organize social, educational and charity events tied to craft beer.
“I definitely think [the industry] is still male-dominated,” Donahue says. “[But] I think it's cool that more women are getting involved with craft beer. … [And] not only just going out and drinking beer, but being knowledgeable about it and wanting to get into the history.”
LIZ STOUT: THE PROFESSIONAL BREWER
“Ça plane pour moi” (“This works for me”) was a worldwide hit for Plastic Bertrand in 1977. The Belgian act could never quite match the success of that early punk tune, but managed to inspire Seventh Son brewer Liz Stout in early January 2018. She was perfecting her latest creation, a white IPA, using Belgian yeast, which she named “International Hit Single” to pay homage.
“A lot of my beers that I name come from songs or something related to records that I like,” she says. The majority of the beers are conceived by head brewer, Colin Vent, but Stout is given the opportunity to create one every couple months using the smaller, five-barrel tanks in the brewery.
Otherwise her primary duty is to produce the wort, or liquid extracted from mashed grains, during the beer-making process. “It's a joy to work back there,” she says.
About two and a half years ago, when she applied for the position, she was “terrified.”
“When I read the description for this job, it said you have to be able to lift 55 pounds … and you have to be able to stack a keg, which weighs 140 pounds,” she says. “I was really afraid that they wouldn't pick me just because I didn't have the physical ability to do it.
“My first week here I worked three days in a row, and I would go home and I would just lay down, and I couldn't even lift my phone I was so sore. So I don't know if that discourages women from getting into brewing or not.”
Stout eventually got used to the labor and was inspired by her trainer, Sally MacLeod, who worked in the brewery through the last month of her pregnancy. “[Liz] was in her element,” says MacLeod, who left Seventh Son in late 2015 to raise her daughter. “[She] was already adept at the process of beer brewing … so she was really easy to train.”
Prior to Seventh Son, Stout was a homebrewer in her hometown of Cleveland and is about four classes away from obtaining a degree in food science from Ohio State. She will put her education to use when the brewery adds a quality control lab as part of its forthcoming expansion.
“I'm mostly interested in the science side of [brewing],” Stout says. “I love doing the production of beer, but I could see as I get older how I might like to get out of the physical aspect of it and do something in a lab setting instead.”
For now, Stout will be able to brew more efficiently with the brewery production space increasing from 1,200 to 10,000 square feet and installing a new, 30-barrel
brewhouse machine for wort production and 60-barrel fermenter tanks. Other additions include a nearly year-round rooftop patio and a sour beer facility—Antiques on High—slated to open on South High Street.
“This is my dream job,” Stout says. “I'm not going anywhere.”
KIM SNEARY: THE RETAIL OWNER
The opening of Barley's Brewing Co. in 1992 was an exciting day for the developing Columbus craft beer community. Twenty-five years later, Kim Sneary remembers it well. “It was OSU-Michigan Saturday, and it was a soft opening,” she says of the event, which attracted a nice-sized crowd despite little advertisement. “It's before social media, so it was really word-of-mouth.”
And yes, there were women in attendance. “[Some] were there mainly because their husbands were there, but I think there were more that were there because they both enjoyed craft beer,” she says.
They were, however, admittedly outnumbered. Luckily, that's changing. “It used to be a lot of big, burly, beer-bellied guys, and now you see all walks of life at the beer festivals, and you do see a lot more women,” she says.
Sneary met longtime friends at those events, and her penchant for developing relationships came in handy years later when she and her husband, Tom, opened the Bexley Grain + Grape beer and wine retail shop in 2013 and the adjoining taproom in 2014. “She's the engine that runs the business,” Tom said in a 2017 interview with Columbus Alive. “Part of our success is the networking and relationships that she's developed with all our [sales] reps.”
Since starting Grain + Grape, Sneary has seen the number of women working in the industry on the rise as well. “My Seventh Son rep is a woman [and] my Wolf's Ridge rep is a woman,” she says. “It doesn't even surprise me now when there's a woman that comes in representing beer. … And that has changed in just the few years that we've been doing this.”
But she readily admits she doesn't have to look far to find gender stereotypes, either. For instance, Sneary is still confronted with sexist beer names. “Locally, I'm not sure that people are getting the message,” she says. “There are some local breweries that have names that I'm like, ‘You know what? I just don't want to carry that.' … They have other products that I bring in, and they keep trying to sell me that one, and I'm like, ‘No, I don't want that one.'”
Her reputation is hard-earned. Gone, she says, are the days when a male customer would look past her to ask her husband a question. “A lot of people know that I know what I'm talking about and that I have relationships with all the breweries and all the distributors, so they now come to me,” she says.
Despite the remaining challenges, Sneary is enthusiastic about the future of the industry — even for women brewers. “The breweries that I know … I don't feel like any of them would hesitate if there was a woman that approached them,” she says. “I feel like there are opportunities. … We're going in the right direction.”