Shattering Beer's Glass Ceiling: The Rise of Women Brewers

Women have always been involved in craft beer—but their ranks are growing, and they don't want to be like the boys

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Last month employees from three breweries met in Cambridge, Massachusetts to cook up a beer. That's nothing special: these days any brewery worth its hops is involved in at least one collaboration project. What made this brew session notable were the people involved: Cambridge Brewing's Megan Parisi, Victory Brewing's Whitney Thompson, and Stone Brewing's Laura Ulrich—three women working in an industry long defined as the manliest of male domains.

Women have been a part of the craft beer renaissance since its beginnings in the 1980s—most notably Carol Stoudt, who founded and still helps run Stoudt's Brewing Co. in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. But it's only in the last decade that women have gone from being a novelty presence to a regular sight on the brewery floor. And it's only in the last few years that they've been building a collective identity as women brewers, and not just "one of the boys."

What's changing? Partly it's a matter of the numbers reaching a critical mass. "More women are starting to realize there's a place in the industry for them," Parisi said.

"The mindset shift is definitely there," said Thompson, who works in quality control at Victory. "It's only been in the last two and a half years that I've met my first woman brewer."

Indeed, the trio's beer, a Belgian dubbel they have named "Project Venus," offered a chance not only to work together but also to call attention to the growing role of women in beer-making. "We were talking about all these collaborations going on, and the absence of any women from any collaboration we could recognize," said Parisi, who has been the brewmaster at Cambridge for four years.

What's changing? Partly it's a matter of the numbers reaching a critical mass. "More women are starting to realize there's a place in the industry for them," Parisi said. But it's also part of the changing place of beer in American culture. "More women are drinking beer on their own, and that's led to greater awareness. I see it at the bar. I was here at our bar doing a tasting, and there were three women with a tower of beer. It was a great sight."

The number of women involved in brewing is still a small slice of the total workforce, particularly when the count excludes office staff, sales teams, and bartenders and waitstaff. And even though all three women say they've felt welcome at their respective breweries, they still face a challenge when it comes to dealing with suppliers, distributors, and, especially, customers.

"When I'm with a group of brewers, people will walk up straight to the men and not even acknowledge me being a part of it," said Ulrich, who trains new brewery staff at Stone. "Unless I introduce myself, it's almost like I'm not there."

Still, it's a lot better today than in 1987, when Stoudt, a former kindergarten teacher, opened her brewery next to the restaurant owned by her husband, Ed. Wholesalers and restaurant owners "just didn't take me seriously; they figured probably it was her husband doing it," she recalled. "I went into a bar in Lancaster once, and one of our beers was on the menu with Eddie Stoudt's name next to it."

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Clay Risen is an editor at The New York Times, and is the author of A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination. He has written for The New Republic, Smithsonian, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

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