• Wed. Oct 5th, 2022

Women are breaking the glass ceiling of the craft beer industry in western Michigan

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Sep 11, 2022

Grand Rapids’ massive craft brewing industry apparently has something for every beer drinker. Yet despite ranking 13th nationally for breweries per capita, the local industry has one glaring omission: gender representation.

Of the 36 Grand Rapids breweries surveyed, only 2% are wholly owned by women. And the lack of representation is a bigger challenge than Grand Rapids. Last year, the Brewers Association, based in Boulder, Colorado, released an updated demographic audit of brewery owners in the United States, which showed that 2.9% of breweries in the country were 100% owned. to women.

The BA revealed that it collected the data using a methodology aimed at reducing response bias, which skewed past results.

Despite their small numbers, women are making their mark on the Grand Rapids brewing scene.

Jess Stricklen is one of the 2% women who own breweries in Grand Rapids. Last year it opened Nyx BreweryMichigan’s first and so far only gluten-free brewery.

Stricklen’s path to the industry didn’t start with a homebrew kit, but rather with a desire to fill a huge hole in Michigan’s craft beer market. After years of drinking Bell’s Brewery’s Two Hearted Ale as her beer of choice, she developed an intolerance to gluten, which is found in almost all beers. While living in Oregon and working as the financial manager of a winery, she discovered a gluten-free brewery.

“I was totally blown away,” Stricklen said. “When I came back to Grand Rapids, there were no gluten-free breweries.”

Stricklen and his brewer have worked to create a gluten-free beer that they believe rivals the best the city has to offer.

“Gluten-free beer usually tastes metallic, but ours doesn’t because we use premium grains,” Stricklen said. “Our beer tastes like real ale. Our double IPA is our best seller.

Stricklen is the only fully female-owned brewery in town. She points out that the more women are involved in the industry, the more innovation can flourish.

“I’m not saying you can’t be innovative and creative if you have a very undiverse group,” Stricklen said. “But when you have that diversity, it opens the door to evolution. It is important to have more diverse leadership, including women, to drive innovation. Women need to believe they are capable. This can be difficult to do when you rarely see him.

At the table

Heather Van Dyke, co-owner of Harmony Brewing Co.opened the Grand Rapids brewery in 2012 with his two brothers, Barry and Jason Van Dyke, then expanded west of town with Harmony Hall in 2015. (The company announced last week that it plans to close Harmony Hall after ArtPrize.)

For Van Dyke, including women in the industry is simply good for the bottom line.

“In a purely practical sense, women have a lot of buying power at home,” Van Dyke said. MiBiz. “Not including women can be a total loss. We try to create a culture where women are at the table and think about putting women in leadership positions. »

Van Dyke points out that while she’s often the only woman in the room, the Grand Rapids brewing community remains very collaborative.

“It’s an incredibly supportive community,” Van Dyke said. “People have been known to pass bags of cereal to each other when someone’s running out.”

She encourages women who want to get involved in the industry to connect with their peers and ask questions.

“Make connections and introduce yourself,” Van Dyke said. “Become a regular and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

“Hit the Needle”

In 2018, the Journal of Archaeological Science reported the oldest known evidence of human brewing with the discovery of traces of barley-based beer on 13,000-year-old stone mortars.

For most working-class families in the Middle Ages, beer was a staple that women brewed at home for their families. Then, business savvy women brought their beers to market and an industry was born.

Some sources report that a medieval smear campaign aimed at portraying brewing women as witches drove them out of the market.

Tara Nurin, official historian of the Pink Boots Societywritten for Beer and brewery magazine that German brewing purity laws in the 1600s led to the formation of production breweries and international trade guilds, excluding women from the industry altogether.

Pink Boots Society is a national organization that supports women in brewing through scholarships, networking, seminars and events. Abbie Groff-Blaszak, the head brewer of Creston Breweryis the leader of the Pink Boots Grand Rapids Chapter.

Groff-Blaszak is a recent addition to the city’s beer scene. It has obtained a certificate of craft brewing, packaging and service operations from Grand Rapids Community College in 2021. She says she was thrilled to be taught by women, including certified cicerone Allison Hoekstra, assistant professor, and Railtown Brewing Co.is Molly Daniels, assistant professor.

Groff-Blaszak notes that programs like the GRCC’s can create formalized pathways for women to enter brewing.

“Hotspots to brewing have long been through personal relationships or informal learning,” Groff-Blaszak said. “These organizations, programs and education are a way to attract women to the industry because they can see themselves in it.”

Given the city’s passionate beer market and ever-rising industry profile, West Michigan has an opportunity to elevate women in brewing nationwide. To this end, Kris Spaulding, President of Live Brewery and Broad Leaf Brewery and Spiritswas elected Co-Chair of the Brewers Association Technical Committee this year, while Executive Vice President Carrie Yunker leads the day-to-day operations of Bell Brewery Inc.the 16th largest brewery in the country.

“I think we have an opportunity here to drop the needle on the women at the helm of brewing,” Groff-Blaszak said. “If we bring the community together, with programs and mentorship and opportunity, if we really focus, we can do it.”

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