Beer Scout: Pink Boots empowers women brewers, plans second Biere de Femme festival

TEAMWORK: Jordan Boinest, left, offers a beverage to Anita Riley as the Pink Boots Society leaders work at last year's inaugural Biere de Femme festival in Shelby. The 2018 edition shifts to the Raleigh Beer Garden on March 3 with multiple Asheville brewers taking part. Photo by Caroline Parnin Smith

Created to assist, inspire and encourage women beer industry professionals around the world to advance their careers through education, the Pink Boots Society has a strong presence in North Carolina. Split into two chapters, with Asheville serving the west and Raleigh covering the east, its members and allies converged in downtown Shelby last March for the inaugural Biere de Femme festival and are eager to build on the event’s success.

Alternating between each side of the state on an annual basis so more people can have the opportunity to engage with the festival, Biere de Femme moves to the Raleigh Beer Garden on Saturday, March 3. The lone stipulation for participants is that the women on staff at participating breweries design and brew the beer to be poured at the event.

There will be 33 North Carolina breweries represented this year, at least eight of which are from the Asheville area. And Anita Riley, assistant brewer and cellarman at Lonerider Brewing Co. in Raleigh and co-chapter leader of Pink Boots Raleigh, says that number could rise. Breweries that expressed interest after capacity was met have been encouraged to contact those that have secured a spot to see if there’s room to collaborate.

For 2018, Riley has made a Spicy Vienna Lager and says Hi-Wire Brewing will bring a Belgian-style Golden Strong Ale. Bhramari Brewing Co. is also turning up the heat with its offering. “Winter is starting to take its toll, so [head brewer] Gary [Sernack] and I came up with a tart New England IPA with Hawaiian bird chiles, pineapple and hibiscus,” says Allison​ Simpkins, Bhramari’s director of marketing and operations. “Spicy to warm us up and just tropical enough to pull us through the last bit of winter.”

Along with a brewing demonstration and ingredient showcases, this year’s festival includes a photo booth with such props as hops hair, a display from a UNC Greensboro historian featuring artifacts and recipe books pertaining to the history of women in beer in North Carolina, and the opportunity to play water pong with members of the Raleigh-based Carolina Rollergirls roller derby team. “It’s going to be a lot more fun and interactive,” Riley says. “Not just, ‘Hey, drink this beer,’ but ‘Hey, drink this beer, but also get involved with the women that are really moving and shaking in this state.’”

All proceeds from Biere de Femme go toward scholarships to help women improve their lives by giving them marketable skills in the beer industry. Riley says Pink Boots hopes to be able to award scholarships to North Carolina community colleges, a goal she’s been working toward for several years. At the very least, the proceeds will fund a trip to Bavaria, a scholarship awarded last year to Katie Smith, a brewer at Highland Brewing Co. and co-chapter leader of Pink Boots Asheville.

The 12-day journey through what Smith calls “beer paradise” with a dozen Pink Boots members from across the globe taught her about the distinct German brewing processes. She also got to meet Sister Doris Engelhard, known as the last brewing nun in the world. “She was so welcoming and the typical headstrong woman you would expect to put any male brewer in his place,” Smith says. “After returning, I quickly created a Helles beer for Highland to show my appreciation for German beer. It’s on tap now.“

Local gains

Over the past year, Smith has organized a sensory training at Tasty Beverage Co. that got women in the area together to sample and discuss the flavors, aromas and mouthfeel of beers. She then set up a marketing panel with local experts to discuss a range of topics related to festivals, social media and connecting with one’s demographic. Next up is the annual collaboration brew for International Women’s Day on Saturday, March 10, at Highland, using an IPA recipe developed by Smith.

“We have so many talented women in this area ready to lead an event and share their knowledge, and because these women are so passionate, the encouragement of others comes naturally,” Smith says. “The meetings and events also provide a good environment to discuss with other women their experiences, both good and bad. We want any woman attending to feel empowered and supported after leaving a meetup.”

One encouraging sign of progress Riley identifies is that more women are becoming involved on the production side. “Their traditional role might be sales or marketing or administration, but then they’re able to find a way in,” she says. Meanwhile, Smith feels that the present women’s movement has been especially helpful in promoting women in conventionally male-dominated industries like brewing and has personally seen a change in the way she’s treated while ordering a beer or asking “geeky beer questions.”

In her 10 years of experience in the North Carolina brewing industry, Bhramari sales manager Rhea Lidowski has witnessed a gradual shrinking of the gender gap. When she first became a brewery sales rep four years ago, all of her accounts had male beer buyers. Women now hold half of those positions, and her own role — which once had what she describes as “more bearded men than you could shake a stick at” — has seen a similar balancing.

She credits some of the shift to a higher level of professionalism in beer’s presentation, moving away from female exploitation in advertising as more women enter the field. As craft beer continues to grow, she wholeheartedly believes the number of women in the industry will likewise increase and says Pink Boots has done an amazing job in supporting the journey, even though it’s far from over.

“I still hear of a lot of complaints when it comes to upward movement and equal pay for the careers of women in the industry, especially when it comes to the brew side of things,” Lidowski says. “Also, for those not in the industry, it seems a little harder to convince them that women can certainly know as much as men when it comes to beer. Everyone has pictured that male beer nerd in their head, and they can’t seem to shake it without a lot of convincing.

“Biere de Femme is important because it isn’t about demonizing the industry for its lack of female employment,” she continues. “It’s about changing perceptions and providing an opportunity to showcase that, every day, there are many more women joining the brew game, inspiring even more young women that there’s an opportunity for them as well.”


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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