Pink Boots Society: Sisters are brewing it for themselves
Women drinkers ages 18 to 34 are increasingly choosing beer over wine as their preferred alcoholic beverage. Whether that is due to the craft beer revolution or other causes doesn’t matter to Teri Fahrendorf of the Pink Boots Society (PBS). She founded PBS in 2007 to “empower women beer professionals to advance their careers in the beer industry through education.” The nonprofit began with a few dozen women members; the ranks have now reached over 900 internationally.
“Baby boomer women are drinking their wine, but wine is not hip with young women,” Fahrendorf says. “Beer is hip. I think that’s a sea change for everybody.”
Fahrendorf was brewmaster at Eugene Oregon’s Steelhead Brewing Company from 1990 until 2007, when she embarked on an adventure to visit brewing peers across the country. Calling herself the Road Brewer, by the end of the five-month trip she realized a community of fellow female brewers was forming.
Fahrendorf’s knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm are considerable; she has a lot to share. Here’s some of our conversation:
When you started Pink Boots Society in 2007, there were fewer than 100 members. Now there are almost 1000. Talk about that growth.
It started out as basically a list of women brewers. There’s still this misconception that you have to be a brewer [to join]. You just have to be a female anywhere in the world and earn income from beer. [That money] doesn’t have to support you – you just have to be “pro” in some manner. I’d rather that we represent all of the women in the beer industry to the best of our ability, and the best way to do that is to let everybody in.
After our first meeting [at the 2008 Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego], I felt like we needed to have a cause that we could rally around. So I decided we were going to help our members advance their careers through education, because I think education is key. Some of the younger women I was in touch with were saying, “If I just had some formal education under my belt I might be able to stretch and get to that next level, hit that next income bracket, or get to be the brewmaster.” If there was a glass ceiling, it was an education ceiling. And at Pink Boots, we want to help them fight through that. Nobody makes a dime off of Pink Boots – every dime that comes in supports the scholarship program.
You’ve had help along the way, right?
Yeah. We ended up with some lawyer members, because their customers are breweries. They’re doing intellectual property law; they’re doing brewery licensing. So there’s a law firm that volunteered to help me because I was getting back information from the IRS that I wasn’t doing things correctly – it was so overwhelming for me.
We have a member in Seattle named Sybil Perkins who has donated our new website. She rocks! There are a lot of women brewers who don’t even check e-mail – they’re hands on, in the trenches, doing the production work, and they are not sitting around on the computer. Now we’re doing our whole scholarship program through e-forms.
We’re using the breadth of experience within our membership. It took a lot of work, but it’s really been worth it.
Has the male-dominated sector of the brewing industry been outwardly hostile towards female brewers?
No. But there are times when you’re in a room with men, and they’re almost speaking a different language. You’re trying to fit in, but it’s not always that easy. So one of the cool things that Pink Boots has done is we have this forum on Yahoo Groups. There was a woman who wrote in saying “I’m pregnant and I’m a brewer and I’m concerned about chemicals in the brewery. Does anybody have any advice that they can give me?” That’s a question a woman would only feel comfortable asking another woman.
There are some men out there – none are hostile and we love our beer brothers, they have always embraced us and encouraged us – but there are a few here and there who have not understood us. When I was looking for my first brewing job I had one guy say, “Can you lift a 50-pound sack over your head?” Now personally, I don’t think anybody should lift a 50-pound sack over their head because it throws you off balance and it’s bad for your back; the big injuries in breweries are knee injuries and back injuries. And so the good thing about women being in the industry is people will stop doing stupid shit like that—lifting a 50-pound sack over their heads—and figure out a smarter way to do it. Since the craft brewing industry has been around for 30 years now, some of us are older and we still want to brew. An older guy who’s already got a bad back is facing the same issues that, let’s say, a five-foot-tall woman may have with the physical side of the job.
A woman can do any job a guy can do, even if she’s not lifting a 50-pound sack over her head. Maybe she has to make two trips with a pail. She’ll always do the job right, it won’t affect the beer. The extra 30 seconds won’t impact the production day. She’ll do it safer and she won’t end up with a back injury at 35 years old.
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