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Women In Beer Raising the Bar

Posted by Holly Slater on 8th Mar 2021

Women In Beer

tow woman holding clear glass full drinking glasses

Today, women are becoming increasingly involved in the craft beer industry, from brewery owners to tap-room bartenders. Though this is promising, there is still a lack of diversity within our much-loved industry - from the drinking to the selling of beer.

Over 79% of beer consumers in Australia are men, and less than 2% of breweries are female-owned. This serves as a significant barrier for women wanting to succeed in the industry, and have to work harder to establish authority or influence. Frustratingly, I know from personal experience that being asked “where’s the boss?” or “do you know anything about beer?” is an only too common occurrence. Ironically, while writing this a female (yep, women can be sexist too) customer asked me if I knew anything about beer, then immediately decided that I mustn't because I'm a ‘chick’.

Despite tired comments and preconceptions, female-lead breweries are growing - and for good reason. People are now becoming vocal in confronting archaic biases and challenging injustices. As a result, women feel increasingly confident working in male-lead arenas like the Craft Beer Industry.  

Sparkke-ing Change

Bad-ass beer company Sparkke is one of the few Australian breweries founded and led by women. Sparkke are all about inclusivity, equity and having important conversations. Not only do co-founders Rose Kentish and Kari Allen raise awareness about important social issues, they also strongly advocate for environmental issues - giving 100% of profits from their Black IPA to 

Save The Bees Australia. The fact that they exclusively use natural ingredients in their beers, coupled with provoking tough conversations, means they're raising the bar.

Two Birds And A Brewery

Founded in 2011, Two Birds are Australia's very first brewery founded by - you guessed it - two birds. Co-founders Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen had a vision to create approachable and sophisticated beers for everyone. They are an award-winning brewery with a well-loved taproom in Melbourne affectionately referred to as ‘The Nest’. I was lucky enough to grab an opportunity to do a Q&A with these fierce women in beer - so have a read and get inspired.

How did you get into the craft beer industry?

Kari: Rose and I wanted to prove a model that put values at the centre of the company. Our values were inclusivity, social equity, authenticity and a passion for excellence. Rose is a winemaker so alcohol was a natural area of expertise for her. What we discovered is how profoundly male-dominated the industry is. What an oligopoly, or actually a duopoly it is. Where it's controlled on both sides - the making side and the distribution side - by two companies. So it's a very hard industry to operate in and it's a deeply, deeply conservative industry. Also from a global perspective, the beer industry in Australia is one of the most profitable in the world. So it was all of the challenges around thinking of doing an inclusive company with a new model that made it interesting and appealing. We really felt that if we could build a company driven by values in an industry that is frequently seen as the dark player with no redeeming social value, that we would be achieving something really, really special.

Jayne: It feels like a lifetime ago now, but I was previously a winemaker. When I started to see what was happening in beer I had to get involved! I saw beer and in particular, craft beer, as an opportunity to really embrace creativity and freedom, so when an opportunity came up to make the leap from wine, I went for it.

Do you feel that we've got a long way to go in terms of stereotypes and sexism surrounding women in this industry?

Jayne: Craft beer for the most part is a really loving, supportive community. But some pretty gross displays of sexism and behaviour that discredits people who don't fit into a straight white male identity still happen. The good thing is, our industry is getting better and better at calling this out. The more that people band 

together to say, "no, we do not tolerate this" the more time we can spend celebrating the diverse range of people doing great things in beer.

Rose: We actually had an example the other day of an external brewer who kind of went "duh, this equals this" - so the way that we communicate is always about calling it out when you're being spoken to like that. It's not limited just to brewing, but I think brewing - and this industry - is steeped with history around men and pubs and drinking in a way that makes it more amplified as an issue generally, but it also makes it right to have these conversations. We built an alcohol-focused environment that allows people to raise the bar just by walking into it. Where you drink, what you drink and how you drink all has a profound impact on yourself, the people around you and society in general. We certainly don't believe that alcohol solves social problems, but we're a company that actually fully is prepared to have a dialogue about the negative impacts societally of alcohol. But you know what? Milk doesn't solve your problems either.

woman inside factory

What challenges have you faced that you believe are due to you being a female in the industry?

Kari: One of the biggest challenges is that all of the machinery that supports all of the infrastructure, all the distribution channels, all of the gatekeepers and decision makers - are 90% (or more) male in the industry. So every single thing that we do every day requires that we jump through higher, harder hoops, and we have to be more right and we have to be more fearless. We have to be more insistent to get anywhere. I can honestly tell you that if we were not basically f***ing bulletproof, we would never have gotten out of the gate, through our first year, had our first brewpub open, and now live through COVID. So we are essentially elephant hide.

Rose: If gatekeepers don't want to have a brand that talks about things that they socially don't agree with or are challenged by, they can just say, "no, I'm not going to buy that. I'm not going to put that in my store." So that's a real challenge that we get because of who the brand is. You don't get that kind of initial resistance that leaves people crack and fall, but if you’ve got someone who's not aligned socially, they're just not even going to open the can, let alone put it on the shelf. So that's why we like to play differently, because in some ways, our messages are too risky for some of the very traditional people and outlet - that's been one of the main challenges.

Jayne: I think the greatest challenge in being two women who wanted to open a brewery is well, just that! Owning a brewery is bloody hard work and I think at the end of the day, our greatest challenges haven't really had much to do with being women at all.

What positive changes have you experienced since starting off in the industry?

Jayne: Probably the most positive thing I have experienced is the growth of women across all parts of the industry and the way that diversity is being embraced. I think a lot of this has to do with the rise of craft beer in general. It wasn't that long ago that the industry only had a handful of breweries operating. With the industry growth, we've got more women serving, selling and brewing beer, plus more people drinking it and wanting to learn about it. People are thirsty for knowledge! The joke is on you if you're choosing not to pick the brains of your local beer expert behind the bar or in a store, woman or not!

Rose: I haven't seen the numbers, so I'm not sure if, for example, women involved in the industry have grown. What I do hope, and what I do see, is that we get a lot of great feedback that we are empowering. It is great to see women step forward and be brave in this space, not just as business leaders but being in this industry which is traditionally very male. So hopefully we're having a lot of positive impact just by the next generation and our generation by seeing that, they can then imagine themselves doing it in the future.

person holding white happy birthday throw pillow

What do you think the future of females in the craft beer industry looks like?

Jayne: It's really exciting! I think that old trope that beer is a man's drink is very close to extinction, making beer a very real and barrier-free pathway for anyone who has the passion and drive for it!

Rose: If I were speaking to people who want to start the journey of brewing in the future, it is to just be brave and show up and be prepared to do the hard yards in terms of study, physical work and most importantly, believe in yourself - that you're going to be good at this and are as good as any of your colleagues!

Kari: We welcome inclusivity and diversity, and we are always up for contact from people and creating a community of support that embraces the notion of inclusivity. So one of the things that I think is really important is that women entering the industry find other women that can help support them so that they have a place to take any of the challenges and workshop them, which is not to say you don't engage with men. I'm not saying that at all, but find somebody who's going to back you.

Prefer to listen to this as a podcast? Hear our interview with the ladies at Sparkke here

Browse our range of Sparkke beers

Browse our range of Two Birds beers

Love to be a female in the beer industry? Check out Pink Boots Society Australia, created to support the growth of females in the industry.