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Beer: The Mother's Day pour

Teri Fahrendorf in the mash tun at Capital Brewing Co. in Middleton, Wis., during her 2007 brewery road trip. (Kirby Nelson)

Take Mom to the local brewpub this Mother's Day, urges Teri Fahrendorf, an outspoken advocate for women in the brewing industry.

In addition to her day job as specialty malt accounts manager for the Great Western Malting Co., Fahrendorf is president of the Pink Boots Society, a trade organization she founded in 2007 after a cross-country trek visiting America’s breweries.

The Pink Boots Society (named for the footgear that brewers wear on the job, although the standard issue is black) is open to all women who earn at least part of their living from beer: making it, selling it, slinging it over the bar or writing about it. There are no dues; click on the Web site and register to join up.

“Women in the industry are really coming onto the radar. It’s part of the Zeitgeist,” she says.

The 350-member roster lists such Washington-area beer professionals as Jessica Muskey, marketing manager for Premium Distributors in the District; and two brewers, Melissa Camire of Shenandoah Brewing Co. and Kristi Mathews Griner of Hops Grill and Brewery, both in Alexandria. 

Griner worked at Hops as a server, bartender and trainer before taking over the seven-barrel brewhouse. “I was smitten,” she says of her intro to beermaking. At Hops, she keeps four year-round offerings on tap plus a rotating seasonal (her latest, “a traditional, well-hopped pilsner,” will debut Wednesday). Griner praises the Pink Boots Society for the networking opportunities it provides for women, but notes that much work remains to be done. Last November, she took a course in brewing technology at Chicago’s Siebel Institute; out of a class of 46, only two students were female.

How to change that?

Step one, says Fahrendorf, is exposing women to better beer.

Inspired by California wineries, which open en masse for tours and tastings every Memorial Day and Thanksgiving weekend, the Pink Boots Society is urging all brewpubs and packaging breweries to offer tours and beer samplings this Sunday, on Mother’s Day, between 1 and 4 p.m.

If they want to go the extra mile and hand out pink carnations or hire a string quartet to serenade moms, so much the better.

Fahrendorf says she has gotten responses from a handful of breweries across the country, although none in the Washington area (for now). This is a grass-roots effort, she adds, and says that if enough women contact their local breweries to inquire about Mother’s Day promotions, “at least they’ll know that their customers are interested.”

“At one time, all beer was brewed by mothers in their homes for their family,” Fahrendorf says. But the Industrial Revolution turned a household activity into a business, and brewing became stereotyped as a big-muscle, men-only job.

Fahrendorf has held several brewing positions in her career, most recently with the Steelhead brewpub chain in California and Oregon. When she began interviewing for brewery jobs in 1988, Fahrendorf (who is 5-foot-5 and weighs about 140 pounds) recalls fielding questions such as, “Can you lift a 50-pound malt sack above your head?” and “Can you carry a 160-pound keg up a flight of stairs?”

Requiring such feats of strength for any employee is stupid and will only lead to expensive workers' comp claims, Fahrendorf says. As an independent consultant, she has recommended that breweries reduce heavy lifting by installing ramps, pulleys and winches.

But before she can persuade more women to consider careers in brewing, Fahrendorf realizes she has to get more of them to try beer in the first place.

Bars can be less than female-friendly: “I see a lot of guy bartenders who ignore women sitting alone,” she says. Fahrendorf likes to try different beers, for example, and suggests that an eight-ounce pour rather than the standard pint could be a major draw for female customers.

Occasionally, Fahrendorf is called upon to play “beer matchmaker.” When she worked at Belmont Station, a beer retailer in Portland, Ore., she turned one reluctant female customer into a beer lover by pairing Young’s Double Chocolate Stout with the woman's favorite ice cream: Ben and Jerry’s Rocky Road.

Fahrendorf does not accept the generalization that women don’t like highly hopped beers. She does think women are more sensitive to bitter taste sensations than men. This might stem from humans' hunter-gatherer history, when women sampled roots, berries and other foodstuffs for safety, she says.

But, adds Fahrendorf, “when I worked at Belmont Station, I had grandmothers 60 years old and up saying that they loved IPAs -- and the more bitter, the better.”

-- Greg Kitsock

By The Food Section  |  May 3, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags: Greg Kitsock, beer  
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Capital Brewing Co.! I'm glad to hear they're still around. It was my regular beer when I spent a year in Madison.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | May 3, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

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