Beer has never been “a man’s business.”
Many of history’s first brewers were women: The ancient Sumerians worshiped Ninkasi, a goddess of beer. Beermaking, related to breadmaking, was considered a domestic duty, usually assumed by wives and mothers.
So perhaps it’s strange that our 21st-century image of the standard beermaker (or drinker) is almost always male.
A new Nebraska organization is hoping to change that.
Last weekend, the Nebraska chapter of the international Pink Boots Society held its debut event — a collaborative brew day featuring women from 15 of the state’s craft breweries. The new group aims to raise the profile of the female influence in modern brewing.
Sign up for the Go newsletter
This complete guide of local music, movies, dining and entertainment will have you weekend ready.
The Nebraska chapter is one of dozens worldwide for the Pink Boots Society, which boasts more than 2,700 members. Its mission, according to the organization, is to “assist, encourage and inspire women beer professionals to advance their careers through education.”
The group has 23 members, with plenty of room to grow, said Megan Arrington-Williams, chapter leader of the Pink Boots Society: Nebraska. Though the group hasn’t yet determined how many women are working in the beer industry statewide, the majority of the state’s more than 50 craft breweries are owned by husband-and-wife couples, Arrington-Williams said.
“(The beer industry) is very male-driven, so to have an organization where women can come together and learn things that they may not know or share things that they do know with other women in the industry is going to be huge for us,” said Arrington-Williams, who works as director of operations and marketing for First Street Brewing Co. in Hastings.
The group is open to women in all roles — brewers, communicators, taproom servers and others. In Nebraska’s breweries, most women work in taproom service or in operations and event planning; far fewer work in the brewhouse, creating the beer, said Gabriela Ayala, executive director of the Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild and co-leader of the Pink Boots Nebraska chapter.
“In that side of the industry there’s an opportunity for a lot of growth and raising women into those positions,” Ayala said.
The process of making beer has traditionally been considered “man’s work” because of the physical labor involved in hauling heavy sacks of grain around, Ayala said. This, coupled with the fact that men outnumber women as hobbyist homebrewers, likely contributes to a gendered view of the beverage, she said.
“We as a society think of men being able to fulfill those kinds of roles more than women. Of course that isn’t true,” Ayala said. “It’s very interesting how gender divides happen with so many things, especially in the world of drinks. (Beer) certainly isn’t inherently masculine.”
And recent research shows that notion may be changing among craft beer consumers. In 2018, the Colorado-based Brewers Association reported that 31.5 percent of craft beer drinkers were female, up from about 29 percent in 2015, a gain of about 6.6 million women.
Encouraging a strong female presence in the beer industry extends to the taproom and the beer aisle, said Lindsey Clements, co-owner of Vis Major Brewing Co. and a member of the Nebraska Pink Boots chapter.
“I think that we all have to change our mindset sometimes about women’s appreciation for beer,” Clements said.
Often, women craft beer enthusiasts hear a kind of patronizing refrain: “ ‘Oh you’ll like this because it’s lighter. You’ll like this because it’s fruity,’ ” she said. “Our industry is growing so much that it’s become really clear that there is a place for women to enjoy beer.
“Don’t make assumptions that just because I’m a girl I won’t be able to enjoy a specific style. That’s one of the challenges we’re facing right now: encouraging women to feel more confident.”
At the collaboration brew day, women from the 15 participating breweries pitched in to make a special beer that will be available on tap at the breweries on April 7, National Beer Day. The kickoff event was a resounding success, Arrington-Williams said, for both the women brewers and the members of the public who showed up just for fun.
“Craft beer specifically is about community. It’s about just sort of connecting,” Clements said. “We’ve created a space for the women behind the bar … and that will help encourage women in our taproom feel really comfortable ordering whatever beer they please.”