It might be news to some, but female brewmasters are not a new phenomenon. Women's history in the craft dates back to its origin thousands of years ago. However, the industry as it stands is a stereotype of burly men with beards. Enter Grace Weitz, Hop Culture's Head of Partnerships, who is determined to change this perception.
The Birth of Beers With(out) Beards
After moving to New York in 2017 to attend New York University's Food Studies graduate program, she connected with other women in the industry. "I found this cohort of women that were creating a community in the industry," said Grace. "I was at a Pink Boots Brew Day in Queens, brewing a beer for International Women's Day, and there were 40 women present. It was a great feeling to be part of an all-women craft beer crowd."
Grace took this experience to friends, asking them to describe tasting notes of a beer—hoppy, citrusy, dark, thick, chocolatey, dense. The responses were creative, but collective when prompted to describe the person behind the brew—they always circled back to the same, "big, burly dude with facial hair, overalls, and a beard," said Grace. This inspired Grace's NYU capstone project, establishing Beers With(out) Beards. She used her industry knowledge to create a week-long series of events around the city dedicated to inclusivity and equality in craft beer.
Beers With(out) Beards has since grown into an annual multi-day festival, supporting female-owned breweries and brewmasters across the United States and is one of many beer-centric events presented by Hop Culture.
2020 was bound to be a banner year for the festival with their 3rd annual celebration in New York, dozens of breweries booked to attend, and plans to expand to the West Coast before they were forced to cancel all in-person events. Like most within the industry, Grace and the Hop Culture team pivoted, creating Beards With(out) Beards 2020 Craft Beer Virtual Festival, an online-only model series.
The virtual format opened up Beers With(out) Beards to a national and global audience, allowing Grace and her team to introduce new programming like brewer-guided tastings, cooking classes, beer sensory workshops, and a roundtable discussion on women's leadership in the beer industry.
"It's important for breweries, companies, magazines, anyone in the craft beer space to represent a more diverse palette and create a platform for more diverse voices to be heard to help the industry be more equitable and just."
While the festival's purpose is to celebrate women in beer, Grace's vision includes everyone who loves beer. "The goal is hopefully, one day, Beers With(out) Beards won't need to be a festival. It'll just be an equal amount of women and men drinking, and people will be aware that there is a colorful and vibrant craft beer community. But, we're not quite there yet."
We rounded up six female-owned breweries you need to know:
Harlem Brewing Co. started brewing beers out of a New York City studio apartment in the early 90s. The brewery has since become an internationally recognized, award-winning brewery with roots deeply planted in Uptown Manhattan.
Officially founded in 2000 by Celeste Beatty, they are the first African American woman-owned brewery in the United States. Harlem Brewing Co. creates beers inspired by Harlem's vibrant history. Their beer is timeless with an innovative twist; Beatty doesn't shy away from experimenting with new styles and ingredients. But perhaps they are best known for the ability to tell cultural narratives through beer, capturing (and celebrating) Harlem's rich history
The Lady Justice Brewing in Aurora, Colorado is putting a different twist on the craft beer game. If the name didn't give it away, their mission addresses justice in their community by providing financial, space, and time contributions to local nonprofits. They also happen to make exciting beers, from sour ales to IPAs.
Founded by Betsy Lay, Kate Power, and Jen Cuesta, the idea for their brewery was developed in 2010 while in service for AmeriCorps. Starting with a small homebrew system based in a storage unit, The Lady Justice crew has grown into their own space with a booming taproom. Their brews empower women and girls in the Colorado area through their Community-Supported Beer (CSB) memberships, with 100% of the profits donated to nonprofit partners. Find the complete list of charitable partnerships on their website.
Founded in March 2018 by brewmaster and CEO Alisa Bowens-Mercado, Rhythm Brewing Co. is the first African-American, woman-owned beer company in Connecticut. Alisa, known as "lady lager," connected her love for music, dance (she also owns a salsa dance studio!), and beer into lively brews that fill the beer industry's craft-lager gap. But this isn't your standard industrial lager, it's crisp, bubbly, and full-flavored thanks to South African hops—she mastered the modern American-style beer. And much like in cooking, the best recipes are inspired by family. In Alisa's case, it was her grandmothers, lifelong-lager drinkers, who urged Alisa that the key to success was about "finding your rhythm in life."
In New York City, Mary Izett, co-owner of Fifth Hammer Brewing, is a beer legend. Mary is the President of the New York chapter of Pink Boots Society, a celebrated nonprofit organization supporting women working in the beer industry. She also serves as President of the New York Homebrewers Guild, is a published author, and podcast host. Thanks to her biology and horticulture background, Mary puts her fermentation expertise to great use. Perhaps best known for her speed ferments and extensive beer menu, Fifth Hammer has a large rotation of beers in their 15-barrel brewery and taproom in Long Island City.
The Alchemist is one of Vermont's most famous breweries, known across the US among beer-enthusiasts, thanks to their innovative Heady Topper beer. Beyond their national recognition for excellent beer, owners Jen and John Kimmich created one of the industry's most substantial sustainability programs, including onsite composting and their own wastewater treatment facility. In addition to the sustainability factor, which earned Jen the Terry Ehrich Lifetime Achievement Award from Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) in 2018, The Alchemist is dedicated to diversity and inclusivity. They created an action plan in collaboration with Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity to "leverage our power and work together with community partners to help build an anti-racist society," according to their website.
It's only fitting to include a classic on this list! Lost Coast Brewery, founded in 1989, was one of the first craft breweries to open in California. Co-owners Wendy Pound and Barbara Groom are true originals in the industry. In the 30+ years since launching, they've come a long way, outgrowing several breweries due to expansion and now operate a massive (but efficient) state-of-the-art brewery that can produce enough beer to fill 1,400 kegs per day. But beyond volume, they're loved for their awarded winning beers and colorful, whimsy designs.