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Erica Campbell, left, and Jaime Dobbs host a Society of Beer Drinking Ladies event in Toronto.Lucy Lu

In 2013, Erica Campbell and Jaime Dobbs started a casual meetup in Toronto where women working in the beer industry in Ontario could connect and share ideas. The following year, they launched a ticketed event and expected 15 guests. Within days, 90 tickets were sold.

Subsequent gatherings, called “bevies,” have hosted up to 400 women and inspired a larger event called Lady Beer Fest which launched in 2016. Known as Canada’s first and largest beer festival for women, the biannual event has attracted over 1000 attendees. Every meetup (open to 19+ individuals who identify as women or non-binary) is operated under Ms. Campbell’s and Ms. Dobb’s event brand, Society of Beer Drinking Ladies.

Reflecting on the popularity of their events, Ms. Dobbs says, “There just wasn’t a space where women felt safe and welcome to drink and talk about beer. It was a space that was needed and to our surprise, even more than we realized.”

Written out of beer history

Women enjoying beer and working in the beer industry is not a new trend. In fact, Nancy More was the first female brewmaster in North America when she took the position in 1985 at Oland Brewery in Saint John, N.B.

She’s quick to applaud the women who came before her.

“I was the first in the modern era, the corporate world,” Ms. More says. “What I’ve come to realize is that history has written out so many women [in the beer industry] like Susannah Oland, Eliza Labatt, Sarah Vaughn (Molson), Margaret Routledge (Carling). As the business moved from small to large companies, women were replaced by men and now we are reclaiming our space.”

Ms. More is currently an instructor at Kwantlan Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C., teaching brewing and brewery operations, a curriculum she co-founded. During her career, she managed major operations including tenures in Canada, Siberia and Ireland.

“There was a bartender in Dublin that asked my Guinness colleagues if I would be more comfortable in the restaurant part of the bar,” she remembers. “We didn’t move because they knew how much I could drink.”

While working in Germany, Ms. More recalls concerns about her entering the fermentation cellar when she was menstruating. There was a fear that the yeast necessary to make beer would quit and as a result, production would be lost.

Ms. More, however, persisted and found managerial success despite the myths and microaggressions which continue today.

A reckoning in the industry

Earlier this year, U.S. brewer Brienne Allan sparked a #MeToo-like movement on Instagram specific to chronicling acts of sexism in the beer industry. Under the handle @ratmagnet, Ms. Allan asked followers the question: “Do you get sexist comments on the job?”

A barrage of harrowing stories were shared, resulting in positive change. Senior management at prominent breweries accused of harassment resigned, and there’s been a call-to-action demanding the industry evolve into a more respectful and inclusive environment. A collaborative beer called Brave Noise was launched, with more than 160 brewers across the country signing on to take part and advocate for “a safe and discrimination-free beer industry.”

Amber Sarraillon is the president of Good Neighbour Brewing, a new and female-owned craft brewery in Winnipeg which she co-founded with Morgan Wielgosz, the brand’s brewmaster. Ms. Sarrillion says both she and Ms. Wielgosz witnessed a men’s locker-room mentality throughout their careers in the beer industry and often, women were excluded from conversations.

“There were always sly comments. Thankfully, we were strong enough to stick up for ourselves or be surrounded by leaders that had zero tolerance for it,” Ms. Sarrillion says. “[Today] we position ourselves in a market where the majority of craft beer consumers and craft brewery owners and teams have an equity-first approach.”

Six Pints Collective, the craft beer arm of Molson Coors, recently announced the launch of financial awards for BIPOC and female students entering postsecondary brewing programs across Canada. The company is the first in the country to do so.

“An important part of our mission is finding ways to break down barriers of entry into the beer industry,” says Daniel Lundberg, the commercial director for Six Pints Collective.

“We’re proud to have women strongly represented in most areas of our business. However, one area where we have yet to reach that same level of gender diversity is in our brewing team,” he says. “We believe that our teams and our brewers should be as diverse as the people who enjoy our great brands.”

While there are no statistics on female ownership of breweries in Canada, numbers in the U.S. show definite room for improvement. According to recent stats published by U.S. non-profit Brewer’s Association, 23 per cent of brewery owners in the U.S. are female, and only 2.9 per cent of breweries are fully women-owned. (The Canadian Craft Brewers Association conducted an industry-wide survey this summer to assess the state of diversity and inclusivity in craft beer, and plan to share the results with breweries when they are available.)

There are some prominent women in positions of leadership in the Canadian industry, such as Manjit Minhas, co-owner of Minhas Breweries; Tracey Joubert, chief financial officer at Molson Coors and Julia Hanlon, brewmaster at Steamworks Brewing Company. But a fully women-owned brewery like Good Neighbour Brewing stands out in an industry where it’s still not common.

“Our approach is to humanize beer and connect with every consumer,” Ms. Sarrillion says of her company. “We want to be a part of the movement removing the stigma of genderizing beer and welcoming more women and minorities into this male-dominated industry.”

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