Sometimes male customers are so convinced that Mariah Billian, taproom manager at Outer Light Brewing Co. in Groton, can’t possibly know anything about beer that they’ll test her. “They’ll try to catch me not knowing what I’m talking about,” she says. “They’ll quiz me about our own beer.”
Ryan Galligan, a sensory technician at Two Roads Brewing Co. in Stratford and certified beer judge from the the Beer Judge Certification Program, has been subjected to similar condescending challenges from customers. “With my first name being Ryan, people are expecting to encounter a male when they have a face-to-face interaction, and are usually taken aback,” she says. “I’ve had customers be like, ‘You don’t know anything about beer. You can’t be a beer judge.’ And I am, I’m a beer judge. I’ve been a beer judge for 10 years.”
Both are involved with the Connecticut chapter of the Pink Boots Society, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting women in the brewing industry through education and community. Billian is chapter co-lead and Galligan is a member.
The vital need for such support was recently highlighted by the brewing industry’s #MeToo moment. The overdue reckoning with sexism and abuse in the industry began in May when Brienne Allan, production manager at Notch Brewing in Salem, Massachusetts, invited women to share their stories of sexism and harassment on her Instagram account, @ratmagnet. Women told of caustic comments, abuse from supervisors and worse, sending shockwaves through the industry and resulting in employees being fired and owners stepping away from prominent breweries. In Connecticut, an employee at Connecticut Valley Brewing in South Windsor was fired after accusations of sexual harassment and predatory behavior toward woman against the employee surfaced on Allan’s Instagram.
“I hope that by this coming to light and allowing more room for conversations to happen, that we’re going to invite more people to the table to do something,” says Abigail Bibens, taproom manager at Still Hill Brewery and co-lead of the Pink Boots Connecticut Chapter. “We’re working with the [Connecticut Brewer’s] Guild to provide resources for small businesses that might be a three-person operation, where you don’t always have the right outlets to direct your complaints or talk about things in a safe setting.”
The Pink Boots Society is also continuing to support and educate women in the industry with a variety of events. Each year there is a Pink Boots Collaboration Brew where women at participating breweries use a special hop blend to brew a beer style of their choosing. Sales from this beer help support local Pink Boots chapters.
Though the brewing industry remains majority white and male, there is a significant female presence in the industry — according to 2019 data compiled by the Brewers Association, only 7.5 percent of breweries employed a female brewer, but women made up 37 percent of employees in the non-production, non-service staff roles and 54 percent of the service staff. “There is a lot more diversity than you would actually think,” Bibens says, but, she adds, males tend to be more vocal and prominent within industry meetings. “By having these open conversations, I think it will make more people feel comfortable about coming to meetings and knowing that their voice actually matters.”
Those in the Pink Boots Connecticut Chapter want to encourage more women to join the industry in different roles. “Apply for the job you want; don’t just apply for the taproom because you know you’ll get that job,” says Billian, adding that women should not hesitate to apply for brewing and lab positions. “We need more people of color in the industry, more women of color in the industry. They’re here, but very underrepresented.”
As to what beer fans can do to support women in the beer industry, it can start simple. “It starts with open mindedness,” Galligan says. “There are many wonderful female brewers. So I think that for consumers, it’s just being open to possibility.”
First steps: The Pink Boots Society grew out of a 2007 road trip taken by Oregon brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf. Carrying a pair of pink brewer’s boots, she visited dozens of breweries and discovered that many women working in the industry were unaware of one another, but wanted a way to connect and form a community.
According to the society’s website, the name stands for: Passion, Integrity & Inspiration, Networking, Knowledge, Beer & Brewing, Opportunity, Open Exchange of Ideas, Teach and Success