Women in Craft Beer – A Changing Landscape

Once upon a time, brewing beer was a woman’s task. Then it became a man’s world – Prohibition was responsible for ending a lot of traditions in the US, including the role of women in brewing. After Prohibition, brewing became a man’s game. Most beer was consumed by men and brewed by men. It was marked by men and breweries were built and helmed by men. That’s changing today. The rise of the craft beer industry has introduced a significant amount of diversity to a once male-dominated world, and women are getting back in by the droves.

More Than Just Servers

While men might have taken over brewing since the Industrial Revolution and Prohibition, women have still been involved in the process, mostly as waitresses and bartenders. Today, they still play a major role in the serving sector but it’s more than that. More women are getting involved in all aspects of the industry from the brewing to testing to marketing and more. They’re also becoming more willing to drink beer and that’s down to the wider range of flavors and profiles in craft beer than what’s available from big breweries. For instance, a recent study conducted by Gallup pointed out that while 25% of total beer consumption in the US came from women, 37% of the craft beer consumed was by women. When Auburn University polled craft breweries it found a surprising trend as well – 29% of brewery workers are women. Beer has also become the number one choice in alcoholic beverages for women across the US, dethroning white wine.

Women-Owned Craft Breweries

While there are thousands of craft breweries across the country, a surprising number of them are owned by women. That doesn’t count the massive rise in the number of women who are getting into the art of home brewing. Just a few of the women-owned craft breweries in the US include the following, some of which might surprise you:

A Look at the Changing Consumption of Beer

Again, beer consumption became a largely male dominated thing after the end of Prohibition, but women are increasingly finding that it’s accommodating to their tastes. That’s completely due to the rise of craft beer and the slow death of big breweries. While sales of Budweiser, Miller and Coors might still outpace sales for brands like Southern Tier or Lefthand Brewing, they do so only with men and while men still make up the lion’s share of the market for major breweries, craft breweries are finding that their audience is more evenly split.

Golden Road Brewing, which was co-founded by a woman (Meg Gill) sees just as many female taproom patrons as it does men. The story is similar with other brewers. Lefthand Brewing out of Colorado goes out of its way to market to women, even sponsoring Ales for Females, an awareness and beer tasting event series that takes place each week. 

What’s bringing more women to the bar to order a brew than a glass of chardonnay or white zinfandel? Actually, it’s the changing range of tastes. While women (and most men once confronted with what real beer tastes like) don’t prefer the watered down stuff carted out by Bud and Miller, they’re finding that the incredible range of invention and innovation in the craft scene is to their liking. Things like citrusy pale and amber ales, fruity lambics, rich Belgian “quadrupels”, smooth Belgian wheats and complex stouts, offer far more to the palate than what was once available.

New Belgium

One of the leaders in both the craft beer industry and the rise of female adoption of the industry is New Belgium. Headed by founder Kim Jordan, New Belgium produces some of the most popular brews on today’s market, including Fat Tire, 1554, Shift and others. New Belgium has grown to become the third largest craft brewery in the US, not far behind giant Boston Beer Company. In an interview for NPR, Jordan told her audience her thoughts behind the increasing number of female craft drinkers. “I think it probably feels more welcoming to them and there’s a breadth of styles that’s unparalleled in the world.”

There are plenty of other success stories – women have risen to the top in a number of breweries, while others have built their companies from the ground up. Full Sail Brewing, Penn Brewery, Payette Brewing Company, and KettleHouse Brewing Company are just a few examples. It’s a changing world, and while it’s still male dominated, that’s not going to last long.

If you think that women are relegated to non-manual labor roles in breweries, it’s time to rethink things. There are women master brewers, women in charge of handling all aspects of breweries’ appearances at tastings and events, women working the bottling lines for breweries and more. They’ve become an integral component of the industry, and they’ve brought both innovation and invention.

If you want proof that women are increasingly changing sides, take a look at the audience makeup of the next craft beer festival or brew fest you attend. While you’ll certainly see more men than women, the numbers are drastically different than they were even just a few years ago. It’s not only surprising, but a refreshing change for an industry that has been too long dominated by men.

If you’re a woman who has been interested in the craft beer scene but put off because of its all-men demeanor, there has never been a better time to go out and explore. If you’re a woman dreaming of making it as a home brewer or a craft brewer, there are plenty of role models to serve as your inspiration and to prove that you don’t have to be a man to succeed in the business.

Poto Cervesia,
Dustin Canestorp