There’s an age-old adage about imbibing and gender: Men drink beer and women drink wine. But is this assumption accurate anymore?
On the one hand, even as the culture surrounding craft beer evolves, it continues to feel like a men’s club. On the other hand, we don’t have to look far to find women disproving this dated presumption. Conveniently, I was able to join three of these women at the Federal Taphouse in Harrisburg for a chat about this change in beer culture.
We introduced you to one of the women, Brandalynn Armstrong, a year ago in an article about Alter Ego Brewing Co., which she co-founded with her husband Theo. She was joined by Tierney Pomone, the founder of the craft beer blog, Stouts and Stilettos, aimed at a female audience, and Sara Bozich, a PennLive columnist, the owner and editor of the nightlife blog SaraBozich.com and the host of “What’s on Tap,” a local interview program.
It didn’t take long to witness one of them turning the tables.
Tierney, who arrived before the rest of us, is waiting at the bar. As I walk in, I see her sitting next to a couple of men in suits, your typical downtown happy hour patrons. They are obviously new to the Taphouse, are intimidated by the exhaustive tap list and are doing a poor job of hiding it. They coolly try to outsource their anxiety to Tierney by asking her what she is drinking.
“Allagash Victor,” responds Tierney.
“Uh… what’s that?”
She proceeds to provide them with an unexpected lesson on Belgian strong ales. After seeing me, she cuts her explanation short, and we relocate to a corner booth, leaving the gentlemen dumbfounded.
“I don’t think they knew what they were getting into,” quips Tierney.
Sara and Brandalynn arrive just as I put in my own beer order, a Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point. Sara orders an Ommegang Belgian Independence Limited Release IPA, while Brandalynn asks for a Collette Saison from Great Divide Brewing Company.
All three women know each other well, so there is no need for introductions. Instead, we get right to heart of the issue.
As co-founder of Alter Ego, Brandalynn has as much to do with their product as her husband. Yet, all too often, she is nagged by the assumption that she’s just along for the ride, or at most, the public relations face of the beer-making start-up.
“True, Theo is the brewer,” says Brandalynn. “But we developed our recipes together. I can brew all of our beers, as well.”
Fittingly, when Alter Ego was asked to join in a beer collaboration with other area brewers, Brandalynn put on her heavy rubber brewer’s boots and got to work.
Tierney, a beer writer and expert, also stays sharp by home brewing. But even being a brewer doesn’t guarantee a man’s respect.
“At a recent home brew event, I asked my boyfriend to come along to help me serve in case I had to step away or go to the bathroom,” says Tierney. “Yet men would come to our booth and ask my boyfriend about the beer, despite the fact that I was the one pouring, and he didn’t know anything about it.”
But for Brandalynn, Tierney and Sara, it is equally important that they take themselves seriously.
“When I was starting my blog,” says Tierney, “I thought a lot about credibility.”
Bloggers often don’t have resumes when they are starting a new venture. Tierney had to believe that what she was writing was worth reading. She had to know she was an expert from day one and not ask readers for permission.
“We have to break down our own assumptions about our role in beer culture,” adds Brandalynn.
For Sara, it has been a little easier.
“I’m lucky because of my experience,” says Sara. “I came to appreciate craft beer on the job.”
Sara has spent many years as the go-to ambassador for Harrisburg social life. As a woman respected for her taste, she was swept into the craft beer scene as it gained popularity.
But all three have had to focus on not buying into the status quo themselves, just as they have had to work hard to convince others not to buy it either.
Change Is Coming
Thankfully, the craft beer scene does seem to be taking notice of the changing demographics.
For example, Stoudt’s Brewing Company, located in Lancaster County, was founded by Carol Stoudt, who has earned the nickname “The Queen of Hops.” Other famed craft breweries are adding women to their brew staffs, not just their sales departments.
“Just look around,” says Sara. “Places like Federal Taphouse know they need women if they want
Tierney recently hosted an “IPA Day” at Sturges Speakeasy on Forster Street. The place was packed, starting at 4 p.m., a testimony to Tierney’s power and influence within the Harrisburg beer scene.
Unfortunately, some men continue to treat beer culture as their territory and women as guests who have to play by men’s rules. Thankfully, women like Sara, Tierney and Brandalynn are doing well to break down the invisible walls that segregate this culture by gender.
And it seems that most men, myself included, are overjoyed to see craft beer becoming more inclusive. I suspect those who aren’t are soon going to find themselves drinking alone.
For more information on what Brandalynn, Tierney and Sara are up to, check out alteregobrewing.com, stoutsandstilettos.com and sarabozich.com, respectively.
This article has been updated with additional biographical information about Sara Bozich.