Where are all my Lady Brewers at?! A focus on 5 ladies in the Craft Beer Industry

Happy 200th post, all! I’ve been busy being trained and integrated into the Boulder Beer family this week. I worked on the bottling line, cleaned tanks, dry hopped 200 barrel fermentation tanks from a 20 foot high catwalk, lugged bags and boxes of ingredients, played Mad Scientist while checking for proper chemical strengths in tanks, and met some really awesome people that will become my new brewing family. I’m pooped and grateful for this day of to rest, enjoy the snow, and get back to you all on Inky Beer!


“BC Brewers Create ‘All-Women’ Brew” photo courtesy of www.eatmagazine.ca

I’ve been thinking lately… How many other women are brewing beer professionally across the USA? Who were our Lady Brewer pioneers? I feel grateful to join the ranks of women brewing craft beer and thought I’d share my history lesson with my wonderful readers. Here is my quick focus study of five females brewing in the USA today (in no particular order), their entry into brewing, and their influence on other female brewers.

Thank you to all the Lady Brewers before me for paving the way and I hope I can do the same for the future ladies in craft beer.


Photo courtesy of lancasteronline.com

1. Carol Stoudt – Founder of Stoudt Brewing

Carol Stoudt founded the family-owned brewery that bears her name. Launched in 1987 in Pennsylvania, its success marks Stoudt not only as a pioneering female brewer, but also as a craft-beer pioneer in general. At the time small brewers struggled to get retailers and bars even to carry their products. It was doubly hard for Stoudt, who says potential clients figured she was just shilling for her husband, because she was a woman.

“People thought ‘why is Ed’s wife out peddling his beer?’ ” she remembers.

But in fact it was Carol Stoudt who was doing the brewing, filling the kegs, filing the paperwork, and pounding the pavement to turn bars and restaurants onto her beer. It was slow going at first. She says some of her best early clients were restaurants owned and operated by women. But eventually, driven by awards and strong reviews, more clients came, the brewery grew, and she didn’t have to do all the work by herself. It’s now a family business that includes a restaurant run by her and her husband. Two daughters and a son have followed them into the beer business, both at Stoudt’s and elsewhere. Many women in the beer industry point to Carol Stoudt as an inspiration. (2011, The Hops Ceiling by Mark Garrison)


Photo courtesy of thebeersessions.com

2. Teri Fahrendorf – Brewmaster at Steelhead Brewery and Founder of the Pink Boots Society

Another veteran brewer, Teri Fahrendorf, wants more women in the beer industry. She is the founder of the Pink Boots Society (the name references brewmasters’ galoshes), which aims to empower women as brewmasters and in other beer-industry jobs. She started it after a beer-soaked road trip where she visited breweries across America. Most women she visited along the way had never met another female brewer. Pink Boots began with 22 women in 2008 and now has nearly 700 members.

Fahrendorf says many of the barriers challenging would-be female brewmasters are similar to those in other male-dominated professions: outdated attitudes, and the belief that women will focus more on family than career. One special challenge they face in brewing is that it’s an undeniably physical and sometimes messy job, requiring the management of powerful equipment, cumbersome kegs, and bulky sacks of barley and hops.

Fahrendorf points out that women who don’t measure up in muscle find smart ways to work around brute force. She recalls a prospective employer saying he would hire only workers who could hoist 50-pound sacks over their heads and dump them into tall brewing tanks. The men and women who worked with Fahrendorf never had to pass this atavistic physical challenge. They used ladders. Simple teamwork and ingenuity meant their employers didn’t pay out budget-crushing injury claims to workers with wrecked backs. (2011, The Hops Ceiling by Mark Garrison)


Photo courtesy of queenofbeer.hazeclub.org

3A &3B. Beth Sangeri and Donna Bettencourt – Founders of the Queen of Beer Homebrew Competition

The Queen of Beer homebrew competition was founded on 16 April l994 in Placerville, California. Although the event was like any other national homebrew competition, it had one unusual entry criterion – it was for women only. Organizers Beth Sangeri, president of HAZE homebrew club, and Donna Bettencourt, president of Gold County Brewers Association of Sacramento, intended to encourage women to brew independently and to become more active participants in the brewing community. The event not only succeeded in that goal but also in bringing to the fore some sensitive issues associated with women in the brewing community.

The Queen of Beer competition is interesting not only because it is a women-only event but because of people’s reactions to it. An announcement of the event on the Home Brew Digest, an online mailing list for brewers, sparked spirited discussion. Some viewed the competition as “sexist,” “self-defeating,” and “patronizing.” Some complained that men and women must compete on the same level if “they are to gain the respect and equality they desire and deserve.” Others viewed the event as an act of exclusivity.

Sangeri said the controversy surrounding the competition was due to lack of understanding. The Queen of Beer competition, she says, was not created because “women are no better or no worse than men in brewing beer.” It was created as a forum where women could brew independently from their boyfriends or husbands.

The idea originated when Sangeri tried to ask a group of male brewers some brewing questions. Their advice began with, “What your husband should do is . . .” Their response reflected the stereotype that only men brew beer. Sangeri believes there is a “silent group of women brewers” that need encouragement to start actively participating in brewing competitions. She knows of some women who are intimidated from entering competitions because generally the events are “male dominated and sometimes fraternity-like.”

“The more people that brew, the better,” she said. If the Queen of Beer competition reached some women who would not normally have entered a competition, for whatever reason, then Sangeri believes the event served its purpose.  (1994, The Queens of Beer by Stephanie Montell)


Photo courtesy of www.wbez.org

4. Wendy Littlefield – Co-Founder, Vanberg & DeWulf

Founded in 1982 by Wendy Littlefield and her husband Don, Vanberg & DeWulf pioneered the importation of artisan ales from Belgium. From 1997 to 2003, Wendy and her husband Don co-founded and ran Brewery Ommegang, the first brewery to produce cork-finished, bottle conditioned Belgian style beers in America. Wendy was the first American woman inducted into the Belgian Brewers Guild in its more than 500 year history.

Wendy is also the founder of Pi Group, a marketing consulting firm with special interest in women’s issues, girls’ education, widening participation for minorities, sustainable dining on campus – and how non-profits can use social networking to advance their causes. She graduated magna cum laude from Yale University with a Bachelors degree in Architectural History.

As fate would have it, I met Wendy [on] a pinnacle moment in my life as a female beer blogger and aspiring beer professional. Wendy’s resume is quite possibly the most impressive of all the women in the craft beer industry. If anyone should be deemed the first woman pioneer of craft beer in the U.S., Wendy gets my vote. I’m proud to call her a friend and mentor. I look forward to the day when I can join in on one her adventures in Belgium. (2012, 10 Amazing Women in the Craft Beer Industry You Should Know and Follow by Ashley Routson)

Tonya Brewing

Photo courtesy of www.newschoolbeer.com

5. Tonya Cornett – First Woman to Win the Champion Brewer Award

In 2008, Tonya Cornett of Oregon’s Bend Brewing became the first woman to win a champion brewer award at the World Beer Cup.

I asked Herz how many of the winning beers in the dozens of subcategories were brewed by women. She didn’t know, saying she prefers letting the beers stand on their own merits. She looks forward to a time where the modern heirs to Ninkasi will be recognized solely as great brewers, not for their gender. The return of women to brewing is bringing fresh ideas and perspectives, which can only mean more new and exciting beers. And that’s something women and men alike should toast. (2011, The Hops Ceiling by Mark Garrison)

Cheers! This will be the first post of many related to the recent history of female brewers. Who would you like me to feature next?

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