Beauty and the Beer: Women in the Irish Craft Beer Scene
A Google Images search of the phrases “craft beer expert”, “craft beer brewer” and “craft beer drinker” will leave you with the idea of a scene formed mainly by bearded guys with tattooed arms and hipster haircuts (or lack of them).
But the passion for beer is not exclusive to Mumford and Son’s lookalikes and the Irish scene is filled with faces and personalities as diverse as what they are brewing: “a fascinating melange of IT workers, accountants, engineers, ex-bankers plumbers and marine biologists who decided to follow their own dream”, Darina Allen describes them on the foreword of Sláinte The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider, by Caroline Henessy and Kristin Jensen.
Many of these beer lovers have something else in common, they’re women and their hops and dreams are becoming true in Ireland.
Christina Wade, originally from America, is the President and founder of the Ladies Craft Beer Society of Ireland. She recalls how in the US and Canada “women’s craft beer groups are a massive movement”. You have to love the names they come up with: “Stouts and Stilettos”, “Barley’s Angels”, “Beer Bunnies” to name a few, but beyond witty hashtag material, these groups gather thousands of women in North America and inspired Christina to pioneer and create the Irish meetup in 2013.
It currently has over 700 registered members, although she points out that at any given times there are about a hundred of them really active and from them, twenty are the most involved.
We host a variety of events including monthly catch up pints out, tasting sessions, brewery tours, festival outings and beer dinners. While we do have women’s only events, we have plenty of mixed activities as well.”
Many of the events are highly educational (and fun) since she and the groups’s VP Kelly Dawson are both BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program). When asked what’s been the funniest thing organised for the meetup, she smiles… “we have done loads of awesome things”… for example, a tour of Brehon Brewhouse which she defines as one of her favourites ever, “we also brewed a beer with Trouble Brewing in October called #TeamTrouble”, she adds.
Susan Boyle from Two Sisters Brewing, has nothing but praise for the meetup and recalls having had a great time with their events. She and her sister Judith -who is a beer sommelier- are also very active in the craft beer stage. They gypsy-brew Brigid’s Ale at Trouble Brewing and sell it at their family’s pub and off-license Boyle’s in Co. Kildare as well as in selected festivals and events across the country.
“We are lucky to have a lot of forward-thinking women that are into beer”, Susan says, and she doesn’t think that there is a boy’s club culture in brewing. “When you have people really passionate about something it can seem intimidating but I didn’t find it difficult to fit in”. All the opposite, she finds people in the industry in general a remarkably welcoming and positive crowd.
Christina feels the same, and disagrees when asked if there is a difference in the way men and women approach beer-making: “I don’t think so, at the end of the day brewing is an art that all brewers I have encountered take very seriously, so I wouldn’t see any difference in the level of quality, creativity, or design of the beer being made.”
Caroline Henessy, founder of award-winning blog BiblioCook and co-author of Sláinte also believes that, no matter who brews it “quality will out, whether it’s a female or male brewer at the helm!”
The three of them, however, acknowledge that there are two factors that might influence a ladies’ beers of choice: a more developed set of taste buds and marketing. Both Caroline and Christina point out that women are likely to have a more sensitive sense of taste. “The only thing related to biological factors would be an increased likelihood of women being supertasters, I think something like 35% versus 15% for men, which would affect a person’s palate”, explains Christina.
Susan points out that females tend to be more sensitive to bitter flavours -a survival skill developed in pre-historical times when they were responsible for gathering the good and dismissing the poisonous fruit- and therefore malty and chocolatey beers tend to do well with the ladies, and are a good style to begin with.
Christina, however, doesn’t believe that this biological difference reflects in today’s women’s ability to appreciate stronger beers. “I think one big misconception is that the female craft beer consumer is looking for something different than the male beer drinker.”
I have fielded queries where someone is asking my input on a special craft beer designed for women, which is inevitably playing to stereotypes. Just no. Women who drink craft beer are looking for what everyone who drinks craft beer is looking for: flavor, complexity, taste based on their own personal preferences.”
Caroline finds the middle ground and recognises that there is a marketing pattern of pushing sugary drinks, but according to her it’s not a one-gender issue.
Sugar is being ramped up everywhere. So many of the mainstream macro-made drinks, not necessarily those marketed at women, are full of sugar as they focus on the generation raised on high-sugar high-energy drinks. The marketing for thinks like sweet insipid cider, fruit-flavoured cider and ultra sugary alcopops is not just aimed at women.”
Christina does think that there is still a bit of a stigma about women who drink beer. She mentions a recent article from a UK-based beer blogger “insisting that women who drink beer are ‘unfeminine’ and ‘unattractive’, presupposing that feminine is the only way to perform womanhood and being attractive should be the central focus of beverage selection”, and she’s happy to knock down stereotypes. Yes, she says Prosecco and cocktails are “lovely”, but “so is an amazing IPA. I think we need to do away entirely with the association of beverages with gender, men should be free to drink a fruity cocktail and women a pint of lager without being judged for their drink choices.”
We’re moving towards a world where guys can enjoy their strawberry daiquiris -with a little umbrella on top- in peace and girls can indulge in sturdy stouts, a world where floor staff don’t assume that the bubbly flute is for her and the porter pint for him, and where old-fashioned thoughts are just about the kind you pour in lowball glasses.Thanks to suggestions by Susan, Christina and Caroline, we were able to compile a list of Irish craft beers made by women and that everyone will enjoy.
Two Sisters Brewing
Beer to try: Brigid’s Ale 5% ABV – Available at Boyle’s (Co. Kildare) – €4.60 a pint or €8 for a 750 ml tap filled bottle
A celebration of Kildare and the heritage of St. Brigid, Ireland’s patron saint of beer. It is the first commercial beer (only one currently) developed by Susan and Judith with the help of award winning qualified brewer Brendan Murphy.
More info: twosistersbrewing.com
Beer to try: Ironmonger IPA 6.5% ABV. Available at O’Briens Wines – €3.20
Metalman Brewing is the result of the enthusiasm and hard work of a couple of beer enthusiasts that wanted to bring something new and flavourful to the world of Irish beer. Inspired by some of the other small Irish brewers, they eventually decided to join the game.
More info: metalmanbrewing.com
Beer to try: Yankee White IPA 5% ABV. Available at O’Briens Wines – €2.75
Yankee White IPA is heavily hopped with American Amarillo and Citra, and it’s juicy, with tangerine and stone fruit flavours and aroma. It offers a lovely balance between the complexity of an IPA and the bright flavour of a wheat beer.
More info: rascalsbrewing.com
Beer to try: Black Elder 4.2% ABV – Available in selected Spars and SuperValu in Dingle, and at The Porterhouse in Dublin – €4,30
Adrienne is one of the pioneer ladies brewing craft beer in Ireland, she’s been in the business since 2008 and she also owns a bar. She adds local botanicals to her brews, giving them a sense of place that’s very rooted in the Dingle Peninsula.
More info: westkerrybrewery.ie
Beer to try: Rye Ale 5% – Available at Molloys Liquor Stores – €3.35
A smooth rye ale with a little kick of spice, made by a company that “squeezes every last drop out of the brewing process”, to the point that they make eight different products with what they “can get out of making a humble pint”.
More info: n17.com
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.
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