Women hold influential roles in Texas craft beer
This story was originally published in the October issue of Austin Woman Magazine. Photos by Rudy Arocha.
It’s a man’s world. At least that’s what they say about the beer industry. It’s simple: More men drink beer than women and more men brew beer than women. Big beer companies clearly recognize this and fill the airwaves with advertisements featuring attractive women, ads obviously aimed at titillating men.
The rise of craft brewing in the 1990s has significantly changed the game. Women are increasingly drinking the more flavorful brews. A recent survey by Consumer Edge found that 26 percent of women named beer as their favorite alcoholic beverage in September 2013, compared with only 24 percent in 2012. The old boys’ club has cracked the doors open a smidge, giving women like Kim Jordan and Lauren Salazar at New Belgium, and Tonya Cornett of Bend Brewing an opportunity to show what they can do in the breweries.
Not only are women entering the beer world as brewers, but also throughout the industry as distributors, beverage directors and bloggers. The Austin beer scene mirrors what’s going on in the rest of the country, with several women in prominent roles. The city has several women shaping the craft-beer industry in multiple ways.
What it Takes to Run a Brewery
If it weren’t for a man, Amy Cartwright, president of Independence Brewing Co., probably wouldn’t be in the beer business. Sure, she got to know craft beer while working at Bitter End Brew Pub during college, and developed a taste for it while living in Portland, Ore. and visiting Germany, but it was the influence of Rob Cartwright that set the wheels in motion. Cartwright met her now husband, Rob, when he was brewing beer at the Copper Tank Brewing Co. She was keeping a busy schedule in communications and website development, but the two bonded over a shared passion for home-brewing.
“Early in our relationship, Rob and I had this old, nasty couch in the garage next to a kegerator and a dart board,” Cartwright reminisces. “It wasn’t a man cave, but more like a cheap man’s garage lounge. I would sit on that couch and drink Rob’s home-brew pale ale and think about starting our own brewery. That pale ale convinced me that we could start a brewery. One day I said, ‘You know, Rob, we could do this.’ Back then, the only craft breweries in the state were Live Oak, Real Ale and St. Arnold.”
The two started scheming to start a new brewery in 2001, and by 2004, Cartwright had left her corporate job and had Independence Brewing up and running. She took the lead, running the business right from the beginning.
“When we first started, I quickly realized that the amount of work it takes to fine tune the beer recipe, to get better and make a unique style,” Cartwright says. “At the same time, I had to figure out the regulatory work with the feds, states and health department while also learning everything it takes to run a small business, like payroll tax. In the beginning, I did everything from sales and customer service, to delivering the beer and answering phones, to marketing and creating the website.”
Even though Cartwright was the first woman to run a craft brewery in Austin, it didn’t occur to her that she was a female trailblazer. She was just dealing in the moment and working to stay afloat on a shoestring budget. The first three years, the Cartwrights were in survival mode, sleeping on a futon in the back office and working nonstop. She was focused on the daunting obstacle of breaking into the good-ol’-boy system of mass-produced beers that dominated the taps at most bars.
It was difficult to convince people to replace Budweiser, Miller or Coors with Independence, to be poured alongside Shiner, Real Ale or Live Oak. She realized she was a pioneer for women in the beer industry when The Ginger Man invited her to host a Women’s Beer Night, along with Diane Conner from Real Ale. It dawned on her that it was a rarity to have a woman host an event like this.
“Normally, that wouldn’t be appealing because I don’t like being called out on the gender thing,” Cartwright says. “It goes against the grain of what we are doing every day. We just are part of the field like anyone else. But a patio full of women would show up, and it actually is really fun.”
The next time gender became a prominent issue at work was when she was pregnant with their first child. She was used to being a jack-of-all-trades, including the delivery driver. That had to change with a child on the way, and she hired her first driver. That was just the beginning of the changes.
“When I got pregnant, we were at a transformative time with the brewery. To grow, we needed new fermenters, new tanks, a new van and new driver. We had to make a decision on doing that or just making beer. We chose to sign on a distributor in 2010,” she says. “It was a relief because I was bearing so much of the business myself. That’s not sustainable when doubling growth. It was an important lesson for me in business to find the right people to divest myself of some of the responsibility.”
While transferring a big part of the business to others was scary for Cartwright, she knew it was the right thing to do. Having a newborn was momentous for her and somehow made the business feel a little less important in comparison. It turns out that a shift in priorities was essential not only in the next phase of growth for the brewery, but also for the next phase of the Cartwrights’ lives. The couple chose to have a second child right away. The extra help at the brewery gave them that freedom. That extra help became incredibly necessary when their daughter, Bonnie, was diagnosed with leukemia at 8 months of age.
“It was a big shock,” Cartwright says. “We had to change everything to focus on the important things. I had to hand over responsibilities, cultivate our team and put the right people in place. We named the brewery Independence because we were going out on our own. Now we have to rely on others to help run the business and have faith in them to do what they are good at doing. Now we have to rely on doctors who have our child’s life in their hands.”
Bonnie is now 2 years old and has been undergoing chemo longer than she’s been alive. She is scheduled to complete her treatment in January 2015.
“I’m learning to rely on other people more and engage people more,” Cartwright says. “Making the choice to prioritize family over business while finding ways to still run and grow a business has been great for me. I don’t think choosing to spend time with family is just something a woman would do. That’s something anyone would do.”
While dealing with harrowing personal issues, Cartwright’s tenacity, hard work and drive to stick with the brewery’s mission have led to success. The business has undergone a major expansion, with the Cartwrights adding gleaming new equipment and significantly increased the amount of beer Independence brews every day. Independence Brewing has come a long way since the early days.
Bringing Science to Brewing
Armed with a master’s degree in biochemistry and experience as a high school chemistry teacher, Bree Clark joined the team at Hops & Grain Brewery as a lab technician to ensure consistency and quality of its beers. Hops & Grain puts a premium on quality control and safety. It’s Clark’s job to get that right.
“In graduate school, I used yeast as a model organism for human cells to study cancer,” Clark says. “My goal was to do cancer research, but I chose teaching high-school chemistry. I got bored during the summer break and wandered into the brewery to volunteer. Before school started again, I had a full-time job at Hops & Grain.”
Clark converted the former tasting room into a new lab that she built to her specifications. She chose the equipment. She determined the tests to run. While most large craft breweries have this type of facility, it is a rarity for craft breweries in Central Texas. Clark speculates that Real Ale may be the only other brewery with a full-sized lab with a full-time employee dedicated to testing.
When the brewery started, it relied on Josh Hare, Hops & Grain’s owner and brewer, for his “super taster” abilities to be the cornerstone of quality control. It’s not possible to count on his sensory receptors alone to ensure the beer is good as the brewery grows. The company has tripled production in the past year in an attempt to keep up with demand from thirsty Austinites. The brewery is at capacity and looking to expand in a new building.
“It’s easier to fix problems early when a brewery is small, but it’s essential to have the right methods in place to maintain consistency and high quality as the operation gets larger,” Clark says. “We’re not concerned about messing up the recipe or having unsanitary conditions as we grow or add a new facility because I’m here to monitor it.”
Clark started a sensory education program for employees, with a weekly tasting panel to test their ability to taste flaws in the beer. They also examine beer stored for various ages in varying conditions versus fresh beer to understand how time and temperature affect the flavor. This allows the team to educate distributors and retailers on the best ways to store and sell the beer. As one of the only beer lab technicians in Texas, Clark is in demand as an expert in the field. She relishes the opportunity to demonstrate how women can be successful in the male-dominated fields of science and beer.
“Craft beer is on the rise in general and particularly with women,” Clark says. “We have a lot of women who visit and our customers see me walk through the employee door and want to hear about what I do. It’s a great way to show that beer is friendly to women.”
Even though the field has traditionally been male dominated, Clark doesn’t feel that men discount her abilities. She chalks it up to a welcoming community among brewers with a collaborative approach to helping each other. She is active in the Pink Boots Society, a national networking and educational group dedicated to advancing women’s careers in the brewing industry. Clark has hosted monthly meetings at Hops & Grain and is inspired to see women’s dedication to continuing education in every phase of the industry.
Clark is having fun working with new beers. Hops & Grain just finished brewing an imperial stout and is aging it in Angel’s Envy whiskey barrels. At that point, she gives up all control to the gods of the barrel to influence the final flavor. She is also excited about releasing the new Porter Culture this fall, which is the brewery’s fourth beer released in cans.
Elegant Food and Beer Pairings at the Award-Winning Barley Swine
“In wine, the hand of God is foremost. But in brewing, it’s the hand of man that is clearly visible, and that, to me, is one of its greatest fascinations.”
Barley Swine’s general manager and beer and wine director, Christina “Billy” Timms, spouts off that quote from Randy Mosher with a grin. She simply couldn’t contain her excitement to talk about beer.
Barley Swine recently landed a spot on the Wine Enthusiast 100 Best Wine Restaurants 2014, but it’s also well known for its stellar beer list. The restaurant specializes in carrying a variety of large-format bottles for sharing beers. In total, it has about 50 types of beer on the menu.
“I try to have a lot of different styles of beer so we have something to please everyone,” Timms says. “We have everything from easy-drinking German pilsner to artisan ales to yeasty Flemish sours. I love dropping a German ice bock beer for dessert. It is delicious, sweet and boozy with concentrated fig and raisin fruit notes.”
During the past few years, Timms has moved from head bartender and assistant manager to running the show. Along the way, her taste for beer has progressed from hankering for Red Stripe—the first six-pack she bought when she turned 21—to a love for the Real Ale Phoenix double IPA, which comes out every summer near her birthday. She’s become a student of beer, with an insatiable thirst for learning more.
“I dove in pretty hard after going to my first beer dinner at Barley Swine with Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver,” Timms says. “We were doing ghost beer pairing. You know, the beers they brew but don’t sell. I loved tasting the interesting tinkerings Oliver made.”
That set her on a path to take and pass the Cicerone Certified Beer Server exam as a part of the prominent certification program for beer professionals. She is still studying beer, doing a lot of tasting with friends and visiting breweries to learn in a relaxed setting. She’s eager to take the second-level Certified Cicerone beer exam soon.
“I fell in love with the history and what goes into making the beer,” Timms says. “It’s interesting to learn where styles come from and what parts of the world are bringing different yeasts and hops to the table. It’s a world community that tells a story.”
While studying beer, she learned that throughout history, women dominated the beer industry. In fact, in England in the 1700s, about 80 percent of licensed brewers were women who were responsible for brewing for their houses. The move to mass-market beers made in factories transformed it into a male-dominated industry. The rise of craft brewing in the past two decades has brought many more women back to the industry.
“Both men and women are more excited about unique beers,” Timms says. “Lots of breweries are doing interesting things like whiskey-barrel aging, adding fruit and playing with what beer can be. The spectrum of what beer is is getting bigger and drawing in more people. We’re really fortunate to have great new breweries in town. And the established breweries, like Independence, are reinventing and doing cool stuff.”
Timms doesn’t see gender as a barrier in the beer industry.
“Craft beer is a very welcoming community and young women in this town are super involved in the craft scene in multiple ways,” she says. “The Central Market beer buyer is a woman. Amy Cartwright is doing great at Independence. There are women working at Jester King and enjoying beer. Gender doesn’t make much of a difference.”
The Woman Behind One of the Best Beer Gardens in the U.S.
Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden has piled up the accolades recently, including being listed among the Top 10 Best Beer Gardens by Food & Wine Magazine, and ranked one of the Great Beer Gardens with Bites by USA Today. The Sixth Street bakery and pub is recognized for its easygoing vibe, well-appointed selection of beers and its every-other-month beer-flight nights.
Yvonne Sharik, the general manager of Easy Tiger, continually updates the beer list with fresh seasonal brews while keeping a core list of go-to beers. She likes to have a mix of new and interesting beers for the adventurous drinkers and accessible beers like Avery White Rascal and Real Ale Firemans #4 to please the crowd.
“Whether they are beer lovers or not, we are determined to find a beer that people like,” Sharik says. “We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable and beer is accessible.”
Sharik fell in love with craft beer when she discovered Boundary Bay IPA while living in Washington State.
“Craft beer is one of those communities where you can find common ground with anyone,” she says. “It is so dynamic and there are so many different styles that allow people to come together and geek out on beer. Austin has a growing craft community that is really fun and fresh. It is great to be a part of it.”
Bitching About Beer
With more women entering the beer industry and drinking beer, it makes sense that a team of women started a blog dedicated to beer. Bitch Beer took the beer-blogger world by storm in early 2012, with the intention of destroying the notion that women only drink watery, low-cal alternatives to beer. Caroline Wallace, one of the Bitch Beer founders, explains how it got started.
“The blog started for fun,” she says. “Several of us went to college together and were on newspaper staff. We were at a Thirsty Planet brewery tour and noticed that we were the only group of all women, but there were lots of groups of all men. We wondered why. We all love craft beer. Why not start a blog about beer? It was just a drunken idea, but we got passionate about it, went and bought the name and started Bitch Beer.”
Using a team approach, the blog is prolific and covers the culture and community of beer to make it more accessible to people, particularly for woman and people in their 20s. The team is made up of Wallace, Ari Auber, Jessica Deahl and Sarah Wood in Austin, along with Wendy Cawthon in Dallas and Shaun Martin and Kat McCullough in Seattle. The group treats the blog like a publication, with monthly editorial planning meetings held on Google hangouts. There is no lead editor for Bitch Beer. The blog follows a collaborative model, calling on contributors’ individual skills in writing, graphic design and photography, along with a shared passion for excellent beer.
“We all have a creative flair that comes together cohesively,” Wood says. “I’m really proud of it.”
The approach is working. Bitch Beer has picked up accolades and awards in its short life. The fresh approach even led to a book deal, with the ladies publishing Austin Beer: Capital City History on Tap in 2013.
“The book was a huge growing point for us,” Wallace says. “It forced us to own it. The book pushed us to hone in and be experts. We want to do that as journalists. The swagger has to be genuine. This thing is going to be out there forever, and we have to know it’s right.”
Even before the book was published, brewers were welcoming of the ladies. They greeted the Bitch Beer bloggers with excitement, not only because of their expertise, but because they realized the blog could introduce their beers to a younger female demographic. Bitch Beer champions women beer drinkers without pandering to them.
“We definitely write for women, but it’s not gender specific,” Wood explains. “We think our readership is probably 50/50 male and female. When you consider that more men are beer drinkers, that is a great thing. Where we differ from other female beer groups like Barleys Angels, Pink Boots Society or Women Enjoying Beer is that we are a news outlet rather than a drinking group.”
Bitch Beer celebrates the community spirit and drive for excellence that the founders see among craft brewers. They are particularly thrilled to see so many women shaping the beer culture and significantly contributing to the industry in Central Texas. The ladies easily rattle off several examples, including Amy Cartwright at Independence Brewing, Diane Rogness at Rogness Brewing Company and Christine Celis at Celis Brewery. Much has changed in the past two years since Bitch Beer was started. Craft beer is no longer marketed just to men or women. It’s marketed to people. Women are responding to the better quality and the bikini-free marketing by buying more beer.
Wallace puts it this way, “We might not be able to go to a taproom and not see a group of woman like the day we got the inspiration for the blog. However, you wouldn’t be writing this story if beer wasn’t still male dominated, but there is a change. Women and beer is not a novelty anymore.”
What are you drinking?