Women showing craft breweries: Yes, we can

Lauren Salazar drinks beer for a living.

Salazar, 43, is New Belgium Brewing Co.’s wood cellar manager, sensory analyst, specialty brand manager, Lips of Faith program creator and beer recipe designer. She also is part of a movement that is gaining momentum across the nation and throughout Colorado: women in craft beer.

“We’re seeing more and more women brewers emerge,´ said Steve Kurkowski, marketing and communications director for the Colorado Brewers Guild. “They’re wearing boots and walking around the brew house and making beer. Additionally, we’re seeing more women in the production, sales and management side of craft beer as well.”

Salazar prefers flipflops over boots. A Georgia native, she got her start at New Belgium in 1997 as an assistant to Kim Jordan, owner and founder of the brewery. Through education and dedication, Salazar went from pursuing a career in geriatric social work to pioneering New Belgium’s sour beer program and designing iconic brews such as La Terroir.

“No one has ever treated me like a ‘girl,’ ” Salazar said. “I don’t think it ever really dawned on me how much of a minority I was.”

While the female presence may be increasing in craft beer, the industry is still largely male dominated.

A recent study at Auburn University by Erol Sozen and Martin O’Neill found that just 29 percent of brewery workers were female.

Some breweries, such as Renegade Brewing Co. in Denver, are changing that statistic. Owner and Chief Beer Officer Brian O’Connell said he has 11 employees, five of whom are women including head brewer Ali Fisher, 24. She started in January 2013 as assistant brewer and was promoted in June.

“Brewing is a pretty friendly community,” O’Connell said. “We don’t look at Ali any differently because she’s a woman. She’s very knowledgeable and very serious about her work, and because of that she gets a lot of respect from her coworkers.”

Fisher’s flagship beer is Beetnik, a French-style saison brewed with purple beets. The fruit-punch colored brew is scheduled to be available this fall in liquor stores around the state.

“Having women as part of the industry is great because they bring a different perspective and new ideas for beers,” O’Connell said.

According to Kurkowski, craft beer still generally is very new, making up only 6 percent to 7 percent of beer sales nationwide.

“As the craft segment grows, as craft beer continues our revolution across the country and more people become aware of what this is, I believe there will be more gender equality,” he said.

The percentage of women who drink craft beer is slowly increasing.

According to a July 2012 Gallup poll, beer has been the preferred beverage among drinkers since 1985. Beer typically held second place as the adult beverage of choice for females, but recently it has edged out wine among women ages 18 to 34. The poll found the percentage of women who said they prefer beer over wine or liquor is 23 percent. That’s up 2 percent from their 2009 poll.

The Brewers Association reports there were 2,483 craft breweries in the nation as of June 2013, up from 2,347 in 2012 and 1,970 in 2011. Growth of the craft brewing industry in 2013 was 18 percent by volume and 20 percent by dollars compared with growth in 2012 of 15 percent by volume and 17 percent by dollars.

Colorado has issued licenses to 232 brewing establishments. That number, too, is rising.

Carol and Tim Cochran are working to open Horse & Dragon Brewery in Fort Collins this spring. Of the 49 people who applied for the position of head brewer, just four were women, said Carol Cochran. Ultimately, the Cochrans selected one of them: Linsey Cornish.

The statistics suggest why female brewers are almost a curiosity, but Carol Cochran wishes it weren’t so.

“Although I understand the interest in female brewers,” she said in an e-mail. “I think it’s a shame if Linsey becomes known in the brewing world because she’s female. Tim and I both feel very strongly that she should be known in the brewing world as a great brewer, regardless of her XX/XY status. We hired her because of her brewing prowess, not her sex.”

Women are not only making waves in the craft beer industry as brewers, but also in support industries. Twila Henley is founder of Grouse Malting & Roasting Co. in Wellington, a start-up company that creates gluten-free craft malts for breweries and home brewers. She is an alumna of Colorado State University’s food science and food safety graduate program and second-place winner of the University of Northern Colorado’s 2013 Monfort College of Business Entrepreneurial Challenge.

Craft-beer connoisseur groups specifically for women are popping up across the nation. These women-only tasting clubs often provide beer education, special tours, guest speakers and tasting demonstrations for those looking to increase their knowledge of the industry. Some of the groups in Colorado include the Beer Bettys, tied to The Mayor of Old Town brewpub in Fort Collins; Ales4Females, associated with Left Hand Brewing in Longmont; and the Can Can Girls, linked to Oskar Blues in Longmont.

Most prominent, however, is the Pink Boots Society. Founded in 2008 by Portland, Ore., craft brewer Teri Fahrendorf, Pink Boots is a national networking and promotional organization for women working in the industry.

As the craft beer industry grows, New Belgium’s Salazar encourages women who are interested to look for a chance to break into the business.

“Because we’re the minority, there’s opportunity,” she said. “In an industry that is saturated with men, the diversity is welcome. I would encourage women not to think about what they can’t do, but instead take every opportunity they can.”

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