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Women in brewing is certainly not a new concept. In fact, beer was originally brewed by women.

Women in Brewing

Brewing is a testosterone-heavy industry — there’s really no getting around that. The common concept of a brewer is a big, burly guy with a big, burly beard making big, burly brews. And at CMBC, we’ve got some big, burly guys.

But we also have our fair share of women working at CMBC. And thank goodness! We love our big, burly guys with their big, burly beards, but having a well-diversified gender base at any workplace is certainly a welcome thing.

So, for Mother’s Day, Straight to the Pint is happily saluting women in brewing, particularly those who, on a daily basis, work tirelessly to make CMBC a brewery in which we all find pride and accomplishment.

Women in brewing is certainly not a new concept. In fact, beer was originally brewed by women.

“While men were out hunting, women were out gathering the ingredients they needed to make other foods and drink to go with the wooly mammoth or mastodon,” says Dr. Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Beer & Brewing Magazine reports.

And, thankfully, one of those drinks was beer. The ancient Sumerian women brewed a low-octane beer for religious ceremonies and for daily consumption. Ancient female brewers (called “brewsters”) held some of the highest esteem in the community, probably because they also served as priestesses to the goddess of beer, Ninkasi.

In Europe, Baltic and Slavic legends credit goddesses as bringing beer to the masses — and we know how those Northern Europeans love their beer! The Finns credit a woman named Kalevatar with bringing beer to earth by mixing honey and bear saliva (let’s not let Brian or Jimmy know about that recipe), and Norse women brewed the ale the Vikings took on their conquests.

When beer came to America, women continued to serve as the family brewers, creating rich brews from the new grains and produce they found here. Recipes including corn, pumpkin, artichokes, oats, wheat, honey, and molasses were often brewed by women in the home.

But when people arrived in America, so did capitalism. When the economy of the US moved from an agricultural base to manufacturing, money got involved in brewing and women were thrust to the sidelines. Women were not seen as fit for factory work — indeed, it wasn’t even acceptable for a woman to set foot inside a place where “man’s work” was taking place.

During Prohibition, just about everyone suffered. Illegal brewing was taking place inside the home, with women keeping the tradition alive, passing recipes and techniques from mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter.

It wasn’t until 1986 that America saw its first female brewmaster. Homebre(st)er Mellie Pullman of Wasatch Brewery in Park City, Utah, found a business plan on a friend’s table, glanced through it, saw a position for a manager, and thought, “I can do that.”

Women had been in the industry for a few years before that, though the heavy lifting of making the beer was usually relegated to their husbands. Beth Hartwell opened Hart Brewing in 1984 and Rosemarie Certo opened Dock Street in 1985, acting as administrators while their husbands brewed the beer.

It wasn’t until 1987 when Carol Stoudt opened Stoudt’s in Pennsylvania that we’d see a female brewer-proprietor. Barbara Groom and Wendy Pound opened Lost Coast Brewing in California in 1990, and Teri Fahrendorf at Berkeley’s Golden Gate Brewing and Jennifer Talley at Squatter’s in Salt Lake City eventually joined their ranks.

Yet, for all of the history of women in brewing, beer — particularly craft beer — is commonly seen as a man’s world. There’s footage of bartenders delivering drinks and making the incorrect assumption that the beer goes to the guy. This is a vestige of Mad Men in their 50s-era Madison Avenue offices who decided that beer was a man’s drink, and marketed it as such. Women were only valued as a prize to be won by drinking their product.

Now, according to WomenInCraftBeer.com, only 4% of brewmasters in America are women and 29% of the overall industry, even though 26% of weekly beer drinkers are female, according to the Brewers Association.  

Nonetheless, we’re bucking the trend at CMBC. Company-wide, we’re almost 41% female, but this number drops precipitously when you look at production and administration. Including sales, where there are sadly no women, administration is at about 36%, but on the production side, we’ve got two women — Dawn and Lauren, both of whom you met over the past few weeks — making up just 18% of the brewhouse.

(Marketing, on the other hand, is 75% female, but the lonely male Storyteller never puts up a fuss. NEVER!)

If you ask around the brewery, it’s certainly not for lack of trying. We want to see more women in roles around here. However, we get sadly few applicants. Nonetheless, we wanted to find out why there are so few women around here.

“It’s intimidating,” says Graphic Designer and Social Media Coordinator Courtney Rosenberg. “You have to be ready to show up and grow in a male dominated culture. BRING. IT. ON!”

Courtney’s not intimidated by the “boy’s club”. (Frankly, Courtney’s not intimidated by a whole lot.)

“No, I’m not the secretary, and no, I’m not dating the owner,” she says. “I am the second-longest employee at the company. I started here slinging kegs and working long hours behind the bar. Now, I have a full-time marketing position and know more about the industry than many of the guys brewing the actual beer.”

Lauren, our recently-hired lab tech agrees that it can be a little intimidating, but has been loving it nonetheless.

“It may be a bit intimidating walking into a male-dominated field,” she says, “but I have felt nothing but support.

“One thing I’ve really noticed in this industry is that there is this great camaraderie,” she continues. “Everybody was so inviting to me when I started that it didn’t take long for me to feel like I was part of the crew. This is now my fourth week of being here and I have been loving it. I still find myself in awe that I get to do this. It hasn’t felt like a job, so I guess the cliche — it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love — must be true.”

Marketing Director Alicia Grasso agrees that we’ve got a great culture of friendship and collaboration at CMBC.

“When I first came on the scene here, I had no idea what to expect,” she says. “I’m happy to report that working at Cape May Brewery is very inclusive. I have yet to feel that my gender limits my capacity to participate and contribute in any way.  It’s a very collaborative and supportive atmosphere, and that spirit opens doors for creativity.  From recipes, to releases, to events, to sales, we are all working together to build our brewery.”

Our Events Guru, Randi Friel, gets a different perspective than most of the women working here. She’s constantly in contact with our fans, our future fans, and other beer reps at events.

“It is hard to gain respect in this industry being a female,” she says. “People automatically assume since I am a female that I don’t know the first thing about beer, when in reality I can probably teach them some things. My name usually throws a wrench into the game, too. They expect a man to show up, then bam!, it’s me.”

Our Accounting Manager, Nakeya Barreto, says that people have mixed reactions when she tells them she works at a brewery.

“Usually an excited oooooh followed by a very curious, ‘Oh. What’s that like?’ But my favorite reaction is the very excited, ‘Oh, I love that place!’”

As for what it’s like to work here, Nakeya usually “goes full disclosure by saying it is my first and only experience, but that it’s fast-paced, challenging and, so far, has met or exceeded my hopes in terms of culture and opportunities to learn and grow.”

Alicia agrees. “Being direct, honest, and respectful, is a CMBC core value for a reason; it was borne out of our company culture and it rings true on a daily basis.”

We were wondering what it might take for the industry to get more women involved, and Lauren had some good points to make.

“I’m not sure I would want too much to change in the industry just to get more women represented,” she says. “I think it would be better to take the stigma away.”

Courtney has some ideas on how we can do just that.

“Stop showing men in photos and videos as the brewers and the ones doing all the labor,” she says. “Ladies can get sweaty and dirty, too, and drink craft beer. In the three-and-a-half years working at CMBC, I have noticed a massive growth of women in the industry, and to that I quote the Spice Girls ‘girl power.’”

Randi agrees. “The industry isn’t just for males anymore, I definitely feel a part of the community and it didn’t take long to feel that way. Things are a-changin’.”

We wanted some advice for women looking to enter the industry, and Randi offered her thoughts.

“If women want to work in this industry, you better not take shit from people,” she says, “and be prepared to be treated like one of the guys, too.”

Nakeya’s advice was a little more pragmatic.

“If you don’t have your own bathroom,” she says, “make sure you have a good bladder because guys use the bathroom A LOT.”

We’re breaking down stereotypes left and right at CMBC.

Ultimately, the lack of women in brewing may be attributed to the lack of women in industries across the workforce.

Erin Wallace, Chapter Leader of the Philadelphia chapter of the Pink Boots Society, a professional organization bringing together women in the brewing profession, says, “Why aren’t more women scientists, bankers, etc, etc.? We were raised with gender roles and they are starting to change, but it will take time.”

Regardless of the preponderance of the Y-chromosome in brewing, we’re happy to have the women we have at Cape May Brew Co. The women of CMBC are some of the smartest, hardest-working, most passionate, unbelievably capable, and tremendous women we know.

And they keep us humble. It can get a little locker-room-after-a-big-win around here sometimes, but the women at the brewery don’t put up with our shit. For as much as we put them through — and we put them through a lot — they give as good as they get, and they’re not above reminding us that we all put our boots on one foot at a time.

We’re lucky to have such strong, independent, and intelligent women working at CMBC. We’re grateful for them day in and day out, but as we near Mother’s Day this year, we’d like to give them an extra special word of thanks.

If you think you’ve got what it takes to work in brewing — and, frankly, if you’ve made it this far, you probably do — take a look at our careers page. We’ve got a few positions currently open and would love to have you aboard.