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The Brew House Isn't Just For Boys: Mass. Women In Beer Collaborate For Brew Day05:00
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Kristen Sykes, the founder of Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society (BABES), speaks with Exhibit "A" cellarman Matt Dinner in front of the fermentation tanks. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Kristen Sykes, the founder of Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society (BABES), speaks with Exhibit "A" cellarman Matt Dinner in front of the fermentation tanks. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

This week women around the world collaborated to make batches of beer.

Here in Massachusetts, more than 20 breweries signed on to highlight women’s increasing influence on what’s been a male-dominated industry. But, many women in the field note there are still challenges.

Maureen Fabry has been a professional brewer for 20 years and recalled how early on she felt like she needed to prove herself.

"Not just mentally with the science, but the physical aspect of the job," said Fabry. "You know what that’s like, having to pick up a half-barrel keg or 50-pound bag of grain and be on your feet 10 hours a day, seven days a week?"

CraftRoots Brewer and Founder Maureen Fabry tests the specific gravity of one of the beers she is brewing. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)
CraftRoots Brewer and Founder Maureen Fabry tests the specific gravity of one of the beers she is brewing. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Also, brewing has long been a boys' club. Fabry never felt excluded because of her gender — and she felt supported by many men — but she did work hard to find female mentors.

"Yeah, I mean, I did have that little agenda," she said, laughing, "but I think the more I worked in the brewing industry the more I noticed that there were other women in sort of supporting roles within brewing, but not so many like on the floor, you know, getting their hands and feet wet."

Now, Fabry co-runs CraftRoots, her 1-year-old, 100 percent female-owned brewery in Milford. That’s where this week she brewed a pink-hued, white IPA for the collaborative brew day sponsored by the Pink Boots Society. It's a national non-profit that provides scholarships for women who want to move ahead in all different aspects of the brewing industry — from making beer to hops cultivation to quality control.

"There’s actually more women running the brewing industry than people think," Brienne Allan said. "And a lot of them are brewery owners — and no one knows."

"There’s actually more women running the brewing industry than people think. And a lot of them are brewery owners -- and no one knows."

Brienne Allan

Allan is the head of Boston's Pink Boots Society chapter and production manager at the Notch Brewing Company in Salem. She rounded up the two dozen breweries that participated in Thursday's brew day — up from three last year. Each brewery developed its own recipe for the group brew. At Notch, for example, 20 women joined Allan in creating a pilsner. Proceeds from the collaborative beers — concocted on International Women's Day, no less — will go back to Pink Boots.

Exhibit "A" in Framingham hosted about a half-dozen women, who swapped business cards and beer experiences in the brewery’s big, industrial warehouse surrounded by gleaming, stainless steel fermentation tanks.

Donning pink boots, Kristen Sykes, founder of the Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society (BABES), opens bags of grain to be milled for brewing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Donning pink boots, Kristen Sykes, founder of the Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society (BABES), opens bags of grain to be milled for brewing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Kristen Sykes sported bright pink rubber boots, beer mug earrings and a black T-shirt that read, "Mash the Patriarchy." She heads up Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society (BABES).

"There are women who have always been supporting men in the beer industry, but they're kind of the behind-the-scenes 'cause they're not the rock star brewer that everybody does media about — but they're the ones who are basically keeping the lights on," she said.

Sykes helped create the label and recipe for Thursday's brew: a hoppy wheat beer made with lemon verbena. Andrea Stanley grew the grains at Valley Malt, her farm and malt house in western Massachusetts. She observed that while women in beer have come a long way, there's still a lot of work to be done throughout the beer ecosystem.

"The whole ripple of the industry — you have the people that are working behind the bar that are, you know, a lot of times hired because they have a certain body shape, or whatever, ya know?" said Stanley.

Andrea Stanley of Valley Malt in Hadley steeps small amounts of malt for a malt sensory educational experience and also to preview the malt profile of the beer they will be brewing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Andrea Stanley of Valley Malt in Hadley steeps small amounts of malt for a malt sensory educational experience and also to preview the malt profile of the beer they will be brewing. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Equality and diversity are also issues for home brewer Lisa Small.

"Still very white, male-centric," Small said. "I mean you go any brewery and usually the head brewer is a man, who’s usually white."

That is the case at Exhibit "A," where the brewery is still predominantly male-run. But, head brewer Matthew Steinberg says he started training one of his female employees, Katie Beaucage, after she expressed interest. Now she splits her time between brewery operations and the tap room.

Matthew Steinberg watches as Katie Beaucage adds rice hulls to the wort in the mash tun. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Matthew Steinberg watches as Katie Beaucage adds rice hulls to the wort in the mash tun. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

For Steinberg, this female-driven brew day is as much about supporting women as it is about making beer.

"Yes, the liquid is the thing that's going to bring us all together, especially when the beer is done and we're in this room drinking it all together, hopefully," he said. "I still feel that it's about the conversations that are happening right now, behind us, that speaks volumes to what I think the beer industry will be in a few years."

Exhibit "A" co-founder and head brewer Matthew Steinberg explains the beer-making process at the brewery. (Jesse Costa/WBUR
Exhibit "A" co-founder and head brewer Matthew Steinberg explains the beer-making process at the brewery. (Jesse Costa/WBUR

There are no stats about the number of females in the nation’s booming craft beer industry. “Unfortunately, no one is tracking that data yet,” Katie Stinchon, executive director of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild, said. ”But I think it’s something we’re all interested in going forward, because we want to know the power of the industry and how many female-driven breweries we have.”

And Stinchon added, “There’s a lot of female finger prints — if you will — on each beer that’s getting out the door, so we’re really proud of that.”

But even with the rise of women throughout the industry’s ranks, Brew Day organizer Brienne Allan feels frustrated. In the age of #MeToo she feels some breweries have been jumping to market or re-brand products for women — including a beer made with food-grade glitter.

"So I feel like a lot of places think they’re helping, and they’re not actually realizing that they’re just segregating everyone even more," said Allan.

Katie Beaucage, center, and Lisa Small, right, check the ph level of the mash. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Katie Beaucage, center, and Lisa Small, right, check the ph level of the mash. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Sexism goes down slowly, it seems. Longtime brewer Maureen Fabry recalled a recent patron from eastern Europe who couldn't believe she’s the one-and-only brewer at Craftroots.

"But then he started drinking the beer and he got over it," she said, laughing. "And if that’s how I have to prove that a female can do it — by what’s in the glass — that is what makes me the most happy, that is where the battlefield should be."

With more than 150 breweries operating in the state — and 30 more slated to open this year — that battlefield, and the need for passionate brewers, is growing.

The Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day beers will be ready to drink in about three to four weeks.

The wort for the Pink Boots Are Made For Walkin Hoppy Wheat Beer being mixed in the mash tun. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The wort for the Pink Boots Are Made For Walkin Hoppy Wheat Beer being mixed in the mash tun. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

This segment aired on March 9, 2018.

Andrea Shea Twitter Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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