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Women in beer

Posted November 23, 2012 | 10:30 am, by Mirella

This week, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion on women in beer in Montréal, as part of the Québec craft brewers conference, which was organized by the AMBQ.

On the panel with me were brewsters Laura Urtnowski from Les Brasseurs du Nord (who make the Boréale brands), Catherine Dionne-Foster from La Korrigane brewpub in Québec, and Deborah Wood who is a multiple-award winning homebrewer currently working for Weyermann Malts. Also on the panel was À l’abri de la Tempête brewery co-owner Anne-Marie Lachance.

Panelists, from left to right: Deborah, Catherine, myself, Anne-Marie & Laura

It was great to hear as each panelist shared her experience as a woman in the beer industry. What I found particularly interesting, though, was the contrast between Laura’s experience and Catherine’s experience. When her brewery was founded, in 1988, Laura was one of the very first brewsters in Canada after prohibition. Her early days were full of discrimination; distributors wouldn’t take her seriously and customers at the homebrew shop where she worked were hesitant to ask for her advice. As she shared her story, Laura admitted to feeling like an outsider. Catherine, on the other hand, is relatively new to the industry. She founded her brewery in 2010. Catherine learned to brew from her father and got a lot of support from friends and family, as well as members of the industry. Her story was one of support and nurturing.

As a part of the round table discussion, I also shared my personal experience as a woman in beer. I explained how, in my early days, I was quite frustrated that people seemed mostly intrigued by the fact that I was a woman working in a predominantly male industry and they were not particularly interested in my many qualifications. I talked about how I always felt welcome and respected, both within the industry and at various beer events, and therefore didn’t see the value in running women-only or women-oriented beer events.

I then explained how my attitude changed completely when I attended the very first Pink Boots Society meeting, in San Diego, in 2008. There, I witnessed a number of brewsters who were meeting other female brewers for the very first time and I saw how excited and energized everyone was.

At that moment, I realized that although it’s never been an issue for me, there are still many women in the industry who, like Laura, feel isolated and different. I also became keenly aware that some women are a lot more relaxed and adventurous when there are other females around.

It was therefore suggested that providing woman-only beer events for consumers would be a great way to draw a wider range of women into the world of beer. I came back home and began hosting annual women-only beer tastings at the Toronto Festival of Beer. I have since been invited to host similar tastings in Halifax and Fredericton and was delighted to find the same positive, excited energy among the women attending these beer tastings.

I look forward to a day when there will be so many women both in the industry and at festivals that women-only beer tastings are no longer a necessity. In the meantime, while I don’t define myself by the fact that I am a woman in the industry, I am proud to be one and I am delighted if my presence in the industry encourages more women to discover and explore beer.

2 comments

  1. Hi Mirella,

    It’s great to hear about these active communities that are inspiring women to be more adventurous. I’ve been doing some research on women in beer & the Pink Boots Society for a blog post that links up with your Girl-Guided Tour at the Toronto Festival of Beer.
    I’d love to hear from you if you have time to answer a few questions. I’m especially curious to hear more of your take on female-led innovation in the industry, be it in production, distribution, education. It would be neat to hear if there’s crossover with the rise of Ontario hop growth too!

    You can contact me through my email address linked to this comment or through my website. I’ll follow up via email as well.

    I look forward to hearing from you!
    Jenn

    Comment by Jenn on April 29, 2013 at 5:02 am

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  1. Women in Beer: Inspiring confidence through education and community | beerliciousca

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