The Future is Fluid

The Pink Boots Society works to correct gender disparities in the beer industry by showcasing the world’s women brewers.

On or around March 8, women at breweries around the world, from San Francisco to Tennessee to Spain, mark International Women’s Day by putting on bright pink boots, making beer, and connecting with one another.

They belong to Pink Boots Society, an international nonprofit working to advance women’s careers in brewing, and this Collaboration Brew Day is the organization’s major annual fundraiser. To mark the occasion, women at hundreds of breweries across the globe team up to brew special beers using a specialty blend of hops, and $3 of every pound of hops sold goes back to the Pink Boots Society’s scholarship fund.

Since 2017, the event has raised more than $400,000 for scholarships in topics from leadership and strategy to alternative microbes and malting science.

This year’s Collaboration Brew Day will naturally look a bit different than it has in the past, with smaller in-person groups and live Zoom events, but the Pink Boots Society mission remains the same: to empower anyone who identifies as female working in brewing through education and to inspire change in an industry that has historically struggled with both gender and racial inclusivity. (A 2018 Brewers Association survey found that just 2 percent of breweries were entirely female-owned, and 80 percent of brewery owners are white men. Women are also overrepresented on the service side of beer and men on production, according to the data.)

The Craft

Pink Boots Society was born on a road trip. During a cross-country drive in 2007, the organization’s founder, Teri Fahrendorf, was surprised to meet women brewers she didn’t know existed. Many of those women brewers, in turn, were equally surprised to meet Fahrendorf — a woman with 19 years of brewing experience. She started keeping a list of the women in beer she met along the way and posted it online, dubbing it the Pink Boots Society (inspired by a pair gifted to her by her mother-in-law, which she wore throughout the trip). 

That list has since grown into a global organization with more than 2,000 members who represent every aspect of the beer industry, from brewing to marketing to serving.

Jen Jordan, president of the Pink Boots Society Board of Directors and a brewer at Laughing Monk Brewing in San Francisco, was so intrigued by beer she left a 15-year career as a public school teacher to brew full time. She got into home brewing first — mostly German lagers or American-style pale ales — and was eventually named homebrewer of the year by the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild. In 2014, she became the first female brewer hired by Anchor Brewing Company.

Before she was president of Pink Boots Society, Jordan was a member and beneficiary of the organization’s work. She attended events and through a Pink Boot Society scholarship, traveled to Germany for a brewing immersion tour. She was drawn to the group’s educational mission, which broadened her horizons from the production of beer to the logistics of running a brewery and how to market beer.

“When I would go to Pink Boots Society events I was learning about the industry in a more holistic way,’ she says. “My focus right now as president is to make Pink Boots Society as accessible and inclusive as it can possibly be so that women feel like the fermented alcohol beverage industry is a place where they can be and thrive and grow and have a career.”

Jordan says she felt well-supported in her own path through brewing but knows that’s not every woman’s experience. For many members, the nonprofit functions like a support group — a community where women encourage each other to ask for promotions, share stories of workplace mistreatment, and where they can ask about chemical safety concerns in brewery laboratories for pregnant women.

Cindy Le, director of operations at Almanac Beer Company in Alameda, has often been one of the few women — and women of color — in her job settings. She’s experienced discrimination both outright and subtle, the latter of which she describes as “microaggressions, or not being taken seriously,” like when vendors add her boss to emails or the time a brewing partner tried to explain to her what a hop is.

“I’ve come from places where people have tried to minimize my ability or say what I am and what I’m not capable of,” Le says.

Terra Marchant, who leads Pink Boots Society’s San Francisco chapter and works as a lab technician at Trumer Pils in Berkeley, says she had similar experiences when she first started in the industry as a craft beer tender, armed with a biochemistry degree and masters brewers certificate from UC Davis.

“Customers always have something to say about you being a woman, about your appearance. If you do have input on the beers, then they want a man’s input, too, or they correct you or they don’t believe you,” Marchant says. “(They) put you in a box.”

Marchant’s family supported her decision to go into brewing, but female role models were few and far between. Nonetheless, her experiences have only driven her to advance further in the industry, moving up from beer tender to part-time lab work to her current job as quality assurance technician at Trumer. 

At Pink Boots Society, members find support both tangible and intangible. Le has benefited from the sense of camaraderie she gets from spending time with people she relates to and identifies with, as well as the opportunity to apply this year for a women in leadership scholarship through Cornell University.

While everyone in the industry says they support diversity, “Pink Boots is actually putting in the work to try to create pathways and to actually advance the careers of women in beer,” Le says.

Le also belongs to the Bay Area Brewers Guild, where she sits on a committee taking a data-driven approach to increasing diversity by developing goals and metrics and providing resources for brewers. She said she’s found a supportive work environment at Almanac Beer Company, but wants to continue to make the brewery an inclusive, welcoming environment for more employees and customers. About 30-40 percent of Almanac’s staff is female, including in the taproom, sales, and marketing, but only one of the company’s 10 production staffers is a woman, according to Le. She’s says the team works hard to look at everything through a diversity and inclusion lens, from job descriptions to the names of new beers.

Pre-pandemic, this also extended to events. Last summer, Almanac hosted drag bingo with San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a “leading-edge order” of queer and transgender nuns, which brought more LGBTQ+ customers to the craft brewery, Le says.

“(When) you go into a brewery taproom space, they’re often industrial and you often see that demographic of white dudes with beards,” says Le, who identifies as gay. “I remember walking into the Queer First party at Temescal and it was one the first taproom spaces where I felt represented. That was super inspiring.”

Growing Pains

The craft beer world is not immune to the wave of misconduct and discrimination allegations that have rocked nearly every industry in recent years. In 2018, the Beervana blog drew attention for its four-part series on sexism in the beer industry, including a female brewer (and Pink Boots member) sharing her own experiences. The following year, multiple women accused the founder of the now-closed Actual Brewing in Columbus, Ohio, of sexual assault and harassment; he stepped down but denied the charges. This year, a former employee of revered Kansas City brewery Boulevard took to Reddit to describe sexual harassment and gender discrimination — including what she says felt like the “smoke screen” of the brewery participating in Pink Boots Society’s Collaboration Brew Day while failing to address mistreatment of female workers.

Pink Boots Society has also been working to make its own ranks more representative. The group recently opened its membership to women in all fermented beverage industries, including wine, kombucha, cider, and mead. (For this year’s Collaboration Brew Day, Jordan is teaming up with two women from South City Ciderworks in San Bruno to make a beer-cider hybrid.)

After the killing of George Floyd last spring, with Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation, the nonprofit’s leadership announced plans to launch a diversity task force and develop a budget for related efforts. The nonprofit later partnered with Crafted For All, which “helps craft-beverage organizations develop inclusive, equitable, and just practices,” to survey members on their perception of belonging, representation, and access to resources and opportunities, Jordan says. One outcome of that work is reserving scholarships for BIPOC womxn.  

Marchant is encouraged by the calls for racial and gender reform in craft beer. For her, the disheartening statistics and stories of discrimination are just “ammunition to keep going.” She hopes to eventually open her own brewery, and can rattle off at a moment’s notice all the other female-owned breweries she loves in the Bay Area. 

“I heard someone say, ‘Women in this industry are a dying breed. They’re fleeing.’ I was like, ‘You have to stay and hold your ground so we can make space for more women, for more people that aren’t just white males,’ she says. “The best thing we can do as outliers in the industry is to own our own breweries and make space for others.”

In preparation for Collaboration Brew Day, Almanac’s sole female brewer put together individual bags of hops for female employees to sniff at home in a virtual tasting panel. A female taproom bartender designed the label and other women on staff contributed to the distribution and sales of the West Coast IPA brewed with the Pink Boots hops.

Together, they decided on a name for the special beer: “The Future is Fluid.”

Elena Kadvany is a contributing writer. Twitter @ekadvany

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