The welcome vat

More and more women are finding professional homes in the beer industry

Gabrielle Saulsbery//March 25, 2019//

The welcome vat

More and more women are finding professional homes in the beer industry

Gabrielle Saulsbery//March 25, 2019//

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Cindy DeRama, owner, Twin Elephant Brewing Co.

Cindy DeRama opened Twin Elephant Brewing Co. nearly three years ago in Chatham but got her start in brewing a decade or so back in a kitchen she shared with her roommate. She’s been to countless craft beer events and brewing conferences, and in all cases, men outnumbered women.

Until this year.

DeRama attended a women’s brewing day hosted by the New Jersey Brewers Association in honor of International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day, which originated in 2014 to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8.

The purpose of the day is for women who are passionate about beer to join forces and brew. Women on five continents participated this year, according to the IWCBD website.

New Jersey women in beer joined together two days earlier — March 8 was a Friday, and that’s typically a busy taproom day — at Forgotten Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Twenty women showed up. Together, they brewed two batches of beer.

“In New Jersey we’re all spread out, so it’s hard even from brewery to brewery to see each other,” DeRama said. “It was really cool to spend time with these women and be able to hear their stories, hear their experiences, trade tips and tricks from brewing to managing the retail side. A lot of us don’t get to spend time [like that].”

Women from all roles in the craft beer industry attended, DeRama said.

“Some people knew the technical side, some didn’t, so it was a good space for people to learn whether they were a veteran of beer brewing for years, or new to it. At the end of the day we all have the same goal: to brew a good beer,” she said.

‘A lot of mansplaining’

A 2014 report from the Brewer’s Association found that women consume 32 percent of craft beer by volume. But only 29 percent of brewery workers were women, according to an Auburn University study released the same year; Stanford University found only 4 percent of breweries have female master brewers.

These stats are a little old. Anecdotally, women say these numbers have increased in the last five years. And women like DeRama and Czig Meister Brewing Program Coordinator Kirsten Stout say they’ve seldom experienced overt sexism in the industry. Instead, it comes in from people on the other side of the bar.

“I feel like it’s a male dominated industry just by chance. It’s not because they’re not welcoming of women. Everyone I’ve met has been incredibly kind and I’ve never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome,” Stout said.  “If anything, it’s people from outside the industry who just assume you don’t know what you’re talking about. It comes with a lot of mansplaining.”

Stout’s title may be a tad misleading; her position actually encompasses a lot of responsibility. She’s the liaison between the brewery and the artists who design its cans and bottles. She works with the mobile canning company on scheduling. She runs all of Hackettstown-based Czig Meister’s social media, and she stages innovative events: StoutFest, in February, has 55 beers on tap, and this year drew 1,500 attendees. In April, she hosts a 90s-themed biergarten party. During Oktoberfest, she procures dachshunds from around the area for a wiener dog race. Last year, she had 27 entrants.

“If there’s a gap, I try to fill it,” Stout said, adding that she’s found her place in the industry and that she’s never had more fun at work.

Keeping the taps open

Twin Elephant Brewing Co. in Chatham.

Though the insurance business wasn’t for Stout — she left that industry to join Czig Meister — Rachel Grieder found her niche in it. The former bartender and bar manager brokers insurance exclusively for craft beer businesses. She runs Cedar Brew, a brew-focused subsidiary of Flemington-based Cedar Risk Management, with Malena Farrell.

Most insurance brokers don’t know as intimately what to keep in mind at breweries, she said. A policy may sound great on paper, but it might not cover the types of issues that a particular type of brewery needs.

“That coverage isn’t gonna be there if it’s your run of the mill policy,” Grieder said. “They’re missing coverages like beer spoilage and contamination, tank leakage, utilities — you’re brewing on these massive pieces of equipment, so you need to make sure your water and electrical are completely covered.

“If you’re down business income because of a fire, was the box checked properly to cover paying your employees, the rent, utilities? If you still have to keep producing, do you have coverage to pay the other brewers and facilities you [rent space] from?”

Some agents will sell brewers the wrong policy to come up cheaper, she said. If they show the brewery to an insurance carrier as a production brewery, that could look more attractive and come up at a lower price. But if the brewery is mostly on premises and the agent isn’t relaying that to the carrier, she said, the price is wrong and their coverage may be insufficient.

Working at Cedar Brew is a natural progression from her previous beer jobs. Greider started tending bar 17 years ago and made a few typical career moves, graduating into bar manager and then moving into distribution for Sam Adams. At the time, she said women were less common in the beer scene.

“[When] I was a bar manager, there wasn’t one woman beer rep coming in to sell me beer, and when I started with Sam Adams I’d walk into a bar, restaurant, or liquor store, and the guys were like ‘oh…okay,’” she said.

Though she noticed she was a rarity in the field, she said no one ever refused to work with her because she was a woman. In her current role, she brokers insurance for breweries across the country. As time goes on, she said, she comes across more and more women in the craft beer industry.

Push for diversity

Industry newcomer Denise Ford Sawadogo, owner and general manager at Montclair Brewery, tells her co-owner and brewer husband Leo that he can make all the beer he wants, but if no one comes to drink it, what’s the point?

Twin Elephant Brewing Co. in Chatham.

“My job is to get people in, in its simplest form,” she said. She’s also a senior marketing manager at safety products manufacturer Ansell Ltd. in Iselin, and originally saw Montclair Brewery as more of a business than a brewery. The more Leo got into it, though, the more she did. She found an industry she really liked.

“I like that it’s very community-focused, where it’s not as cutthroat as some industries. It’s really collaborative,” Sawadogo said.

Sawadogo is however one of the only African American women on the New Jersey craft beer scene, and Montclair Brewery is the state’s only fully black-owned brewery.

“There’s a big push right now to diversify the industry. It’s a business call. They know that to grow you need to reach out to other customers and you can’t just rely on the same customer base,” Sawadogo said.

Last year, the national Brewers Association named its first diversity ambassador to speak on diversity and inclusion across the country. In February, the BA launched a grant program to fund local events that promote and foster diversity and inclusion in the craft beer community.

“African Americans love craft beer as well. Some don’t know about it, so it’s really about educating them. That’s one of our missions, to bring new people in but also provide service to the traditional craft beer fans. We definitely want to expand the base,” Sawadogo said.

NJBA Executive Director Alexis Deegan has been featuring women, including some of those mentioned above, on its Facebook page all March in honor of Women’s History Month. She hopes to demystify beer and brewery jobs for women who think it’s unattainable.

“[It’s for] women who might think it’s a men’s industry or just folks who think ‘I’ll never like craft beer because I like wine or spirits or macro beer,” Deegan said. “In these interviews I’m doing, I’ve incorporated ‘What beer do you like? What do you drink?’ so that folks can see people that they recognize themselves in. ‘If they like that, maybe I will too.’”

And in talking to these women, Deegan said, she hears something refreshing: Many of her subjects have said that, with their peers, their gender is never a factor.

“It’s one of the great industries of collaboration and openness,” she said. Deegan plans to partner with more women-forward organizations at IWCBD next year, and hopes to capture as many women in the industry as possible.