Gone are the days when women are found only drinking fru-fru cocktails with little umbrellas. For years women didn’t drink a great deal of beer, it was classified as “a man’s beverage of choice” but that thought process is gone by the wayside as women are not only becoming very diversified in beer types but they are also brewing beer. Now women are ordering a Blonde Ale, Vanilla Stout, Belgian Tripel, Lambic or an IPA.
Female brewers are still something of a novelty but they do exist and the good ones, like Rachael Holland, are well respected by their fellow male brewers. I met Rachael almost a year ago at a homebrew club Christmas party. At first, my thought process was “ oh I wonder if she is a newby like me in the brew world”, but that foolish notion went right out the window when a man came up to Rachael and wanted her opinion about a certain yeast combination he used in his beer! Before I knew it, more men were coming up congratulating Rachael on a recent brew she made and wanting to discuss water chemistry or other brewing questions with her. Rachael Holland definitely was not a “newby” like me, this was a woman I definitely wanted to get to know better and like normal for me, I needed to ask a ton of questions!
I recently sat down with Rachael to talk about female brewers in Sparta at Michigan Beer Cellars where she has been a professional brewer for the past two years (Rachael started off working for free at the brewery so the owner, Dan, could see she really knew about beer brewing). Rachael told me she has been homebrewing beer since 2007 and “cut her teeth” on a book by John Palmer, How To Brew. As I learned more about Rachael, it didn’t surprise me when she told me she started right out brewing with all grain and not a Mr. Beer type of system. Yes, Rachael is that woman, you know the type go big or go home! Although she does not compete much anymore in homebrew competitions, Rachael’s boss Dan won Best in Show at the 2011 World Expo of Homebrew Competition with her recipe for Dunkelweizen.
We talked about women brewers and how tough it might be for a woman to break into the world of brewing. Rachael is totally aware that she has been fortunate in this arena; most men really respect her as a brewer. She has proved that she not only can talk about brewing but she is really good at it. There are not a lot of female brewers but Rachael told me about another woman, Manda Geiger, who is working at a brewery called The Hideout (Rachael’s boss Dan’s son).
Manda started out at Hideout Brewery as a bar tender (she still does work part time) but always had an interest in craft beers. She had not done any homebrewing but found herself intrigued with the brewing process at the brewery. That is when Wob, the head brewer at Hideout, took her under his wing and began teaching Manda the process of brewing. Now she does pilot brews, which is brewing a 25-30 gallon batch of beer. This step allows the brewery to try out a recipe and tweak it before it’s passed to Wob who will make the recipe in the larger system. The experience of pilot brewing has been great for Manda as she learns more about the whole brewing process and she loves it! Wob has been a patient teacher and even asks for her opinion on some of the specialty recipes they have been working on, like the recipe for peanut butter cayenne beer. Manda hopes in time she will be doing pilot brews at least 5 days a week but for now she is only brewing for two and the rest of her time is tending bar at the brewery (a girl has to pay her bills). Manda has found that stepping into the brew world has not been easy but she said due to her independent, competitive nature (with men) in time Manda feels she will gain the respect from men after they try a batch of her beer and really like it!
I asked both women if their taste in beer has changed since they have gotten into the brewing business. Manda said at first she was more into wheat beers but now she considers herself a “hophead” (this type of beer is made with selected hops and the beer can have 3 different types so the beer has a very strong flavor). Rachael likes a huge variety of beer types and enjoys specialty beers like Sours.
I discovered that Rachael is a foodie like myself and cooking is the other passion in her life. Lately she has been working on ideas of how to blend different herbs to develop herbal beers. After learning this I knew I had to tell her about my homemade beer marshmallows! It was awesome to see Rachael’s eyes light up and I could see her trying to picture what beers the brewery had so she could make some too. I told her about some of the other recipes I had made with our homebrew and Rachael was taking mental notes as fast as I was writing my notes for the interview! Manda shared with me some ideas about making breads and granola out of the spent grain. I can’t wait to share some of the recipes with you that I’m working on the grain.
So, what do you do if you are a woman who has been homebrewing for a long time and you think you are ready to venture out into the world of owning your own brewery? You contact the next woman I recently came across who is part of a group called the Brewers Professional Alliance (BPA) and her name is Lynda Nance. Lynda works for H&S Companies in their brewery division where she actually was the first member of the alliance and helped create the steering committee. Lynda’s specialty is the internal part of the brewery business and makes sure you know what your SWOT is (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).
Lynda told me she was introduced to craft beer about 25 years ago and was hooked. Although she doesn’t homebrew herself, believe me when I say, by the end of our conversation this woman knows her stuff! Currently the BPA has about 8 breweries they work with around the state (Mount Pleasant, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Saugatuck, etc) but are hopeful in three to five years they will have breweries in the surrounding states and eventually be nationwide. Lynda writes for the newsletter the BPA puts out and believe me there is a ton of information on the ins and outs of brewing, the industry, laws, taxes and a great deal more.
I love the motto of BPA that Lynda told me about, “if we are drinking we are working”. I guess that says it all. I have really wanted to start a brewery and I think I have found my head brewer in Rachael, my fellow pilot brewer with Manda and Lynda with BPA to consult us with the internal issues, yup we are set!
Be sure to check my blog all month long for some taste tempting recipes (like a chocolate espresso stout float) that you and your friends/family will surly enjoy!!