The Queens of Beer:
Women Make Gains in Brewing Scene

By Stephanie Montell
Republished from BrewingTechniques' July/August 1994.

Although men dominate the brewing industry, history tells us that brewing was traditionally a woman's job. Today, women are slowly returning to brewing and making significant strides (not to mention good beer) in the process.

As small-scale brewing becomes more and more popular, it has become evident that women both appreciate and brew good beer. Women, however, represent a small percentage of all home brewers. But some signs suggest that times are changing and with change often comes controversy.

One case in point is the Queen of Beer homebrew competition, held 16 April l994 in Placerville, California. Although the event was like any other national homebrew competition, it had one unusual entry criterion - it was for women only. Organizers Beth Sangeri, president of HAZE homebrew club, and Donna Bettencourt, president of Gold County Brewers Association of Sacramento, intended to encourage women to brew independently and to become more active participants in the brewing community. The event not only succeeded in that goal but also in bringing to the fore some sensitive issues associated with women in the brewing community.

With 55 participants, Sangeri thought the first-time event had a "strong and promising turnout." In fact, she is currently planning next year's competition and hopes to make it an annual event.

The Queen of Beer competition is interesting not only because it is a women-only event but because of people's reactions to it. An announcement of the event on the Home Brew Digest, an online mailing list for brewers, sparked spirited discussion. Some viewed the competition as "sexist," "self-defeating," and "patronizing." Some complained that men and women must compete on the same level if "they are to gain the respect and equality they desire and deserve." Others viewed the event as an act of exclusivity.

Writing in response to the hubbub the event sparked on the Digest, Bettencourt pointed out that many AHA-sanctioned competitions are restricted to a much smaller number of home brewers than this women-only event. There are club-only competitions, local-area competitions, and even competitions limited to deaf or hearing-impaired brewers (the Grateful Deaf homebrew club's successful brewing competition earlier this year). Exclusivity is nothing new to homebrew competitions.

Sangeri said the controversy surrounding the competition was due to lack of understanding. The Queen of Beer competition, she says, was not created because "women are no better or no worse than men in brewing beer." It was created as a forum where women could brew independently from their boyfriends or husbands.

The idea originated when Sangeri tried to ask a group of male brewers some brewing questions. Their advice began with, "What your husband should do is . . ." Their response reflected the stereotype that only men brew beer. Sangeri believes there is a "silent group of women brewers" that need encouragement to start actively participating in brewing competitions. She knows of some women who are intimidated from entering competitions because generally the events are "male dominated and sometimes fraternity-like."

"The more people that brew, the better," she said. If the Queen of Beer competition reached some women who would not normally have entered a competition, for whatever reason, then Sangeri believes the event served its purpose.


Is brewing beer a "guy thing"? Maybe it is perceived as such in today's society, but a look back through history shows that brewing began as a woman's job.

According to beer historian Alan Eames, the religious myths of ancient societies credit the creation of beer to women. For the Pharaonic Egyptians, the goddess Hathor invented beer. She was worshiped throughout the dynastic ages as the "queen of drunkness and dance and the inventress of beer" (1). For the ancient Fins, however, ale was created by three women: Osmotor, Kapo, and Kalevatar. While trying to prepare for a wedding feast, Kalevatar combined saliva from a bear with wild honey, added it to beer, and created the gift of ale (1).

In Europe, female brewers were the norm. In England during the 1700s, a survey found 78% of licensed brewers were women (1). Traditionally, it was a woman's job to brew beer for the household. In fact, certain laws stated that the tools used in brewing were solely the woman's property (2). Things changed in medieval times, when monasteries began brewing beer on a larger scale for passing travelers. Gradually, women became less and less involved in brewing. The industrial revolution transferred brewing from the home to the marketplace. Men began claiming local taverns as their domain, and women began drinking less beer (3). Alewives were replaced by male brewers, and brewers have tended to be male ever since.


It has taken women some time to regain a place in the brewing industry. In today's workplace, women often face barriers that prevent their participation, and the brewing industry is no exception. With prevailing stereotypes, sexist advertising, and lack of experience with female brewers, the industry includes few women.

This trend, however, is slowly changing. Some women make successful careers as brewers. They know that making good beer is independent of sex and show the brewing community by way of example.

One such individual is Teri Fahrendorf, brewmaster at the Steelhead Brewery & Cafe in Eugene, Oregon. Fahrendorf notes that her present position is the result of her brewing ability, not because she is a woman. She believes experience and education are essential qualifications of a professional brewer. Fahrendorf knew she had the homebrew experience but realized that to advance to a professional level she needed a brewing diploma. So, she spent a term at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago. "Without a degree and lacking professional experience, I knew I'd have a hard time getting hired."

Jennifer Talley of Salt Lake City's Squatter's Pub & Brewery understands how lack of experience can hinder job searches. Although she, too, had homebrew experience, it took her five months to land her job at Squatter's. Talley convinced the management to let her work for free, and after she proved what she could do they let her stay. She worked as an apprentice under the owner and is now an assistant brewer. Talley believes the reason why more women don't enter the brewing industry is because stereotypes perpetuate the perception that "women just can't brew."

Fahrendorf knows first-hand the stereotypes that women can face when looking for a job. She recalled that many pub owners wouldn't even interview her. In l989, there was no precedent of women brewing in micobreweries. One owner asked, "Can you lift a 50-lb sack over your head?" and "Can you carry a full half barrel up a flight of stairs?" When she told the owner she could not, he told her that she couldn't interview for the job because he required those physical abilities in all his brewers.

Male or female, no one should be required to lift heavy objects over the head or hand-carry a l60-lb barrel up a flight of stairs. Such practices are an open invitation to serious injury. Fahrendorf believes, however, that the pub owners she encountered didn't know what to do with her application, because women just did not apply for brewing positions at that time.

Now the precedent has been set, and many women brew professionally. How receptive is the industry?

Fahrendorf and Talley agreed they have received nothing but respect from other brewers in the field. Although Fahrendorf believes she is accepted in the field, she is also aware the stereotypes that women cannot brew still persist in the United States. She recalled several stories in which customers at the Steelhead were surprised to find a female brewmaster. She hopes that female professional brewers will become more active and visible to help counter such stereotypes. "The more stereotypes that are broken, the more likely we will see women in the field."


Beer advertising targets men, and in the process it tends to reinforce popular stereotypes about women. Laure Pomianowski, head brewer at the Sante Fe Brewing Co. in Galisteo, New Mexico, believes sexist advertising limits women's entry into the brewing industry. Pomianowski was in the engineering industry for seven years before becoming a professional brewer. She believes that more women would brew, but "the commercials and advertising are so sexist, it turns women off. Women are conditioned to tune out and in turn don't participate." Pomianowski wonders how women can relax surrounded by posters of "scantily clad women" on the walls of the brewery?

How damaging can these posters be to women who work in the brewing industry? In l992, five women filed sexual harassment lawsuits against the Stroh Brewery Co. (Detroit, Michigan). They charged that the portrayal of women in its beer advertising had come to symbolize the company's workplace attitude toward its female employees. Women at the St. Paul, Minnesota, bottling plant described being subjected to lewd and sexist comments and behavior, physical intimidation, and abuse by male co-workers. The women said the atmosphere was a result of the company's "sexist, degrading" advertising of the Swedish Bikini Team with Old Milwaukee beer (4).

Consensus among female brewers holds that the Swedish Bikini Team was a huge step backward for women in the brewing industry. Fahrendorf joked there are no role models for women in brewing "except the Swedish Bikini Team." She and Pomianowski believe that the women in the posters only further the stereotype that beer is a man's drink brewed by men.


How can women overcome these barriers? A good first step is for women to actively and visibly participate in the brewing community. The more women participate by consuming beer, by home brewing, by competing, or by applying for jobs at breweries, the more stereotypes will be broken.

Basic experience and education are the obvious starting points for any brewer; home brewing experience is necessary for an entry-level position at most breweries. The next step for women might be to join a homebrew club, which offers several benefits. Meeting other brewers and listening to their experience is a great way of learning, and the presence of women involved with clubs plants seeds of acceptance.

Women have nothing to lose and everything to gain by participating in the brewing community. In the words of Jennifer Talley, "Women can brew, it's just pure motivation."


(1) A. Eames, "Goddesses, Myths, and Beer," BarleyCorn 4 (3), 9-10,14 (1994).

(2) "Women in Beer," Alephanalia 1 (1), 19 (1993).

(3) W. Paul and R. Haiber, A Short but Foamy, History of Beer (Info Devel Press, La Grangeville, New York, 1993).

(4) "Beer commercials and working women," off our backs 22 (1), 3 (1992).

Dial in

Because of the lack of information about professional women brewers, BrewingTechniques is taking the first step of creating a brief directory. Currently, no association for professional women brewers exists. Below are the names of professionals who have volunteered their information to our readers. We hope by publishing this list it will encourage more women to participate in the brewing community.

If you are not on this list and wish to be - or know someone who should be - please contact BrewingTechniques. We plan to keep this list updated and to expand it as much as possible.

Sara Choler
Saint Louis Brewery
2100 Locust
St. Louis, MO 63103
(314) 241-2337
Brewing professionally for 2 years. P Teri Fahrendorf
Steelhead Brewery & Cafe
199 E. Fifth St.
Eugene, OR 97401
(503) 686-2739
Brewing professionally for 5 years.

Barbara Groom
Lost Coast Brewing Co.
617 Fourth St.
Eureka, CA 95501
(707) 445-4480
Brewing professionally for 4 years.

Melanie Miller
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
1075 E. 20th st.
Chico, CA 95928
(916) 893-3520
Brewing professionally for 5 years.

Mary Lou Moore
San Diego's Riptide Brewery/Brewski's Gaslamp Pub
310 5th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 231-7700
Brewing professionally for 2 years.

Carol Stoudt
Stoudt's Brewing Co.
PO Box 880
Adamstown, PA 19501
(717) 484-4387
Brewing professionally for 6 years.

Laure Pomianowski
Santa Fe Brewing Co.
Flying M Ranch
Box 83
Galisteo, NM 87540
(505) 466-3333
Brewing professionally for 11/2 years.

Debbie Svoboda
Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery
1535 Pearl St.
Boulder, CO 80302
Brewing professionally for 10 months.

Jennifer Talley
Squatters Pub & Brewery
147 W. 300 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
(801) 363-2739
Brewing professionally for 3 years.

Kristina Tiebel
Crane River Brew Pub & Cafe
200 N. 11th St.
Lincoln, NE 68508
(402) 476-7766
Brewing professionally for 11/2 years.

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