We're on the pursuit of hoppiness.
Chicago women are crafting a beer community of their own to educate and empower.
Humulus Lupulus, commonly known as hops, grow male and female flowers on separate plants. Brewers only use the female ones in their recipes to achieve desired flavor and aroma. At the root of it all, beer doesn’t actually belong to the boys’ club. In fact, women possess a more diverse tasting palette to sense these female flowers.
Chitown’s female brewing community thrives in an industry dominated by men. This past year, Chicago Beer Gals Collective and Pink Boots Society formed to connect and empower women who drink and brew. Both groups hold events and collaborate with each other because the founders are friends. In an industry that’s traditionally ignored the fairer sex, these ladies are making their mark through craft beer.
During Chicago Craft Beer Week in May, Kim Leshinski, beverage label designer and founder of blog Hail to the Ale and Chicago Beer Gals Collective, organized an event to bring together the ladies of the industry. At “Celebrating Chicago’s Women of Craft Beer” held in Riverview Tavern, Leshinski passed out buttons featuring Rosie the Riveter holding a bundle of hops above her flexed arm tattooed with the Windy City’s flag. Women and men gathered to taste the collaboration pale ale, “When Life Gives You Melons.” Served in a Temperance Beer Company pint glass, the golden beverage tastes lightly bitter with a fruity aroma.
Hilary Jurinak, 24, founder of Chicago’s chapter of Pink Boots Society and communications coordinator for Binny’s Beverage Depot, says she has noticed women can sometimes smell and detect more in flavor than men do. “You don’t see a ton of women’s spirits drinkers out there, but the best ones out there are women and the same goes for wine,” she says. “Our two biggest people in the company are two females, and those are our spirits and wine buyers. There’s not many of us, but the ones that are out there are incredible.”
“There are thousands upon thousands of different beer flavors, and most of those differences lie in the aroma of the beer,” says Marcia Pelchat, an associate member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center and physiological psychologist specializing in food preferences and chemical senses. “In all different kinds of studies, whether you measure sensitivity, or ability to name odors, women seem to be better at it than men.”
Though they took possession of the drink, men were not the original brewers. According to beer anthropologist and founding director of the American Museum of Beer History and Fine Arts Alan D. Eames, women likely created beer over 10,000 years ago in the Amazon basin. In the ancient civilization Sumeria, where only women were allowed to practice the beer making, goddesses watched over daily brewing. Beer, in some ancient mythology, was a gift to women from the goddesses. Females would chew grains and spit them into a pot to ferment. Brewsters, the female version of brewers, continued to make beer in Norse society, medieval taverns and the New World. The transition to the male-oriented business of beer occurred in the late 18th century when the household art of brewing declined.
Beer as known in the United States pairs with stereotypically masculine pastimes. When men get together to watch other dudes ram into each other at high speeds on the football field, they’ve got to have a Bud. Fraternity guys arrange red Solo cups on questionably wet tables, flinging ping-pong balls into the opposing couple’s Natty Lite-filled containers. Scantily clad women in snug white tank tops serve men chowing down on over-sauced ribs their beverage of choice during commercials. The associations are classic: American sports, red meat, hot girls, crazy parties, BEER. But the brew isn’t that for everyone, especially as the craft industry keeps booming.
Exchange these macho activities with some more feminine hobbies such as spa days, chocolate, food pairings and, dare it be said, education. Kim Leshinski’s Chicago Beer Gals Collective partakes in all of these activities. In August 2011, Leshinski started her blog, Hail to the Ale, to write about package design and her home-brewing experiences. Because beer and graphics was untouched territory, her website grew rapidly, and she gained the chance to interview brewers and to brew with various Chicagoans from places such as Metropolitan Brewing. With this success, she began working for herself, writing, designing and planning events for the community. She found women, in particular, responded enthusiastically to the beer outings she organized. Chicago had some groups focused on female fans of the beverage, but none, she says, had consistent planning. Leshinski founded Chicago Beer Gals Collective one year ago to fill the gap and has been doing monthly meet-ups ever since.
Men may have their sports to match their ales, but these ladies have spa days to accompany their lagers. In April, Noktivo Spa, a non-toxic beauty boutique in Lincoln Square, hosted an event with the ladies, using hop oil (great for the skin, according to Leshinski) in some of the pampering products such as exfoliants, face cleansers and shampoos. The theme of the night was ingredients—a woman from Goose Island also came to talk about some new beers and their contents. One meet-up discussed chocolate pairings for various beers. To appeal to a different crowd, Leshinski even held a cider event featuring gluten-free food to match the drinks for women who have celiacs, which can prevent beer drinking. “My main focus has been having some type of educational focus for each, as well as highlighting women in the industry and also providing an opportunity for them to be accepted,” Leshinski says. Tracy Hurst, owner of Metropolitan Brewing, led a lager session, bringing four different German style beers and food that went well with them. For those curious about beer but unfamiliar with it, Hurst explained the differences between the brews.
Society falsely believes women dislike beers according to Leshinski. She says the big beer companies cater toward men, completely neglecting women. The industry misses out on this large segment, and females actually tend to have a much more diverse palate, she says. Women can detect tastes more specifically in their drinks.
Pelchat of the Monell Chemical Senses Center says female sensitivity to the brews is stronger, yet she poses another theory to the idea of female aversion to the taste. “Traditionally women haven’t liked to drink beer as much as men do,” she says. “One argument is that although hops smell nice, are bitter. Women are more sensitive to bitter than men are, they don’t like that.”
According to a 2013 Gallup report, 20 percent of women prefer beer as their choice in alcohol as opposed to 53 percent of men who do. From 2012, the number for women decreased by 3 percent. Most often, women prefer wine at 52 percent. Data supports that beer is less popular and even declining among women, but considering the one in five women who do drink beer most often could be an interesting segment for marketers who have traditionally focused on men. Perhaps that number would rise if the advertising and consumer strategy were less masculine as Leshinski says.
Karl Klockars, cofounder and editor of the beer blog, Guys Drinking Beer (not a pull on the stereotype, he says—it just happened they were dudes), says marketing of beer has been traditionally divided, catering toward men and sports, yet microbrewing may be breaking it down because it’s more upscale than your average Super Bowl brand. “Craft brewing is inclusive by nature of being smaller,” he says. “They want everybody to come in and try it, and as an industry, it attracts people who are open-minded.”
Klockars’ own wife is an example of the disintegrating divide. She actually introduced him to the world of craft brewing whereas before he drank up the mainstream ales. Ironically, the gender reversals in their relationship didn’t stop there. When he was featured in the feminist magazine Bitch for his blog, she was quoted on a Detroit Tigers website the same day. As he put it, men will try to “mansplain” women about craft beer, but the ladies should never be underestimated on their knowledge of the industry. In Chicago alone, he says, women lead brewing, including Tracy Hurst at Metropolitan, Claudia Jendron at Temperance and Mary Bauer at Chicago’s branch of Lagunitas.
Hilary Jurinak, founder of Chicago’s Pink Boots Society chapter, has faced plenty of “mansplanations” of their superior expertise. “Everyday people don’t necessarily take me seriously,” she says. “I’ve seen it with a lot of my coworkers and friends as well. It’s kind of those little things that make you want to overcome it and overpower it. You know what, I do know more than you think, and this is just the same hobby for me as it is for you. I wouldn’t even call those struggles, they’re motivations.” Although Jurinak faces these gendered experiences, she says she owes a lot of what she knows about beer to the men with whom she works. “They’re not bad for the industry, but they need to be a little more accepting of the women in the industry,” she says. To her, it’s not about making it boys against girls.
Jurinak connected with the Pink Boots Society (PBS), back in January to look into forming a chapter in Chicago. PBS networks women who earn money from beer—brewing, packaging, designing, serving, writing, photographing—any profession associated with the beverage. The mission of the organization, founded in 2008 by Portland craft brewer, Teri Fahrendorf, is to educate and help each other advance in beer careers. The group also serves as a way to calculate the number of women involved in the industry, as the question often found its way to Fahrendorf. At the moment, there are 1,138 members and counting. To join, individuals must provide their job position from which they earn money from beer.
Jurinak’s vision for the Chicago chapter differs a bit from the larger organization. “In Chicago we’re pushing the limit and saying anyone who has a passion for beer and loves beer can come out,” she says. “They may not necessarily be able to be a registered member, but we’re going to bring them into our chapter and let them advance their passion and grow their knowledge of beer.” Jurinak doesn’t personally own a pair of pink boots for brewing. “The name doesn’t necessarily define us, it’s just what the society is there for,” she says. “Some people don’t like pink. You can wear whatever color boots you want.”
PBS Chicago held its inaugural meeting on April 29 at the new Goose Island Wine Barrel Aging Warehouse. Jurinak and her colleagues expected five or 10 people to come because they only sent out an email for it a week in advance, but 25 women found their way to the gathering. At the meeting, the ladies decided they wanted to see all aspects of the industry from brewing to distribution. They’ll go from beer 101, sensing flavor profiles, to events for brewers who already know everything. For Jurinak, the atmosphere between the barrels is one in which people can feel comfortable mentoring each other no matter their experience levels.
“You go to a lot of beer events and it’s mainly guys, which is fine, but it’s always kind of hard to point out the other girl in the room, so that was something we wanted to do with getting the chapter started and creating more camaraderie with women in the industry,” she says. Jurinak expects, with the number of people and interest exemplified at the inauguration, PBS Chicago will grow to be incredible.
A common word between the two founders of the Chicago women’s beer groups, Jurinak and Leshinski, is camaraderie. At many of the networking events Leshinski planned, she’s found mostly women, and she thinks they’re looking for just that—a connection with other females who also love the beverage despite stereotypes. “A lot of times when you go to beer festivals it’s like 90 percent guys, and I think some of those situations can be intimidating,” she says. “I wanted to create an environment where it wasn’t for people who had extreme knowledge, it was anyone who was interested in and wanted to learn more and build vocabulary to have conversations when you were in these situations.” The educational aspect of her events appeals to the attendees, Leshinksi says. Being able to talk the talk can make a huge difference in preparing women to feel comfortable in an environment dominated by men.
Leshinski’s Chicago Beer Gals Collective has worked to connect women in the industry. Creating an educational environment in which females can feel at home, much like Jurinak hopes to do with PBS, has made an impact on the community. “There are times when I think I’m just planning events, it’s not making a huge difference—then I’ll realize after an event how many people connected who have now moved on in their careers and exceeded in their jobs and found mentors,” Leshinski says. “I realize that the role of being a social connector is really important.” In Chicago especially, she’s noticed strong growth of women in the community compared to other parts of the country. The Windy City attracts brewers due to the amount of education and new breweries popping up. Both the Siebel Institute of Technology, America’s oldest brewing school, and the Cicerone Certification Program, an organization that ensures beer serving knowledge, are located in the area.
Because of popular demand seen at past events, these lager ladies’ groups began. Chicago Beer Gals Collective originated from a Chicago Craft Beer Week 2013 event about the city’s talented women of the industry, same as the one held this year. Last year, over 200 people showed up to the first gathering of its kind focusing on women in Chicago brewing. Because the event blew up, Leshinski decided to further the meet-ups with her collective and to hold Chicago Women of Craft Beer annually. In its second year, over 35 ladies, including Jurinak, showed up to Temperance Beer Company, largely staffed by women, to brew a pale ale full of German Hull hops from Michigan’s Hop Head Farms, co-owned by a woman. The hops have a strawberry, melon flavor, lending to its playfully feminine name, “When Life Gives You Melons.” In 2012, they named the collaborative beverage, “99 Problems,” brewed at Rock Bottom Chicago. This saison with ginger and chamomile plays off of the popular Jay-Z song featuring the b-word. The gathering not only celebrates women, but it also benefits them. Some proceeds raised through limited edition tappings of the collaboration and raffles will go toward the Chicago Chapter of “Dress For Success” to help disadvantaged women by giving them professional clothing to promote economic independence.
Leshinski has found herself at the head of this pack of female brewers and enthusiasts as the social connector and event planner. “It’s kind of funny that I’ve ended up in this role because I’ve never considered myself an extreme feminist or anything like that,” she says. “It wasn’t really my intent. I was looking for an opportunity to do something different, and it just so happened to appeal to women.” The female hops or beer goddesses must have gotten to her and this new generation of lady brewing enthusiasts.