Vancouver’s Female Brewers Talk About Their Industry

They'll tell you themselves: a revolution is brewing.

June 24, 2015

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Vancouver Magazine.

Scan any liquor store’s craft beers and the industry’s perception of women is clear. Take Silver Moon’s Panty Dropper Ale, featuring a curvy female baseball player straddling home plate (sans pants). Or Central City’s Red Racer, whose suspendered schoolgirl also has a fondness for straddling—in this case, a bike.

Such obvious sexism in 2015 is astonishing. And it holds true behind the scenes, too. Facing yet another interview about gender and beer, the brewers gathered today seem, to a person, fed up. “If there were actually a large proportion of women in the industry, we wouldn’t constantly be asked to be the token females in these interviews,” points out Claire Wilson, owner of Dogwood Brewing. The others nod. Their industry experience ranges from months to decades, but all have confronted the same pervasive “Don’t worry, sweetheart; I’ve got this” attitude from male couterparts.

These views aren’t confined to Vancouver. Howe Sound Brewing’s Leslie Fenn notes that several events at this year’s craft brewing conference in Portland were held in strip clubs. One colleague told her to relax: the performers “are more gymnasts than strippers,” he assured her. Last summer, the Chicagoist ran a story surveying the neanderthal end of the spectrum; connecting comic-book geeks and craft drinkers, it included a quote from onetime brewer Penny Sokody: “I see what happens to the one female who may well brew beers herself,” she said. “And at the end of it, she’s still a girl. She still has to listen to the macho dick-swinging that goes on whenever craft meets art meets nerd.”

Fenn compares the current state of brewery staffs to those in law firms circa Mad Men. But at least the legal profession’s gender ratio has improved. Ashley Brooks at Yaletown Brewing says that of her 28 classmates in Kwantlen’s inaugural brewing course this year, only two are female.

When will the brewing industry catch up? If anyone can turn the tide, it’s this motley crew. “You need to get tough, fast,” says Wilson, whose Dogwood opened in March. “If I’m brewing until 3 in the morning with sweat pouring down my face, I can’t be worried about how my hair is looking.”

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