Jamie Baertsch worked as brewmaster at Wisconsin Dells Brewing Company, coming up with all the beer recipes, lugging around the malt, leaning over huge vats of wort and stirring, until the day before she gave birth to her son, Wyatt.
Four days after she and Wyatt came home from the hospital, she was back in the brewery.
Baertsch was the first female brewmaster in Wisconsin. In 2005, when she was named the boss at Wisconsin Dells Brewing Company, she only knew a couple other women in the industry.
“Going to meetings, it was always just the guys,” she said. “I guess I just figured that was how it was.”
“Some industries don’t have women,” she thought at the time.
But that’s changed.
Over the past few years, there’s been a slow-but-steady increase in the number of women working in craft brewing in Wisconsin. In 2012, Allyson Rolph was named the brewmaster at Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior. Last year, Ashley Kinart took the top job at Capital Brewery in Middleton.
“It’s becoming more common to have females interested in brewing,” said Keith Lemcke, vice president of the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago. Siebel houses the World Brewing Academy, one of a few professional brewing schools in the United States. “Fifteen years ago, the only women you found in the courses were women sent by large breweries.”
Now, he says, the first professional-level brewing class at Siebel has about 20 percent female students.
And the number of women drinking beer has increased, too. According to the Brewers Association, a national trade group, data from 2014 showed that woman consume about 30 percent of the craft beer on the market. In fact, according to the data, women aged 21-24 consume about 4 percent of total craft beer volume, which is 14 percent more than their percentage of the drinking age population. That makes them one of the strongest market demographics for the industry.
Why are more women moving into brewhouses and developing their porter and IPA palates? A whole host of reasons are thrown around, but two seem particularly popular with local brewers: Women’s discerning palates appreciate the strong flavors of craft beer and, compared to mainstream brewing behemoths, craft beer marketing doesn’t objectify them - at least, not as much.
Brewers and industry insiders agree: women are more open to trying new, adventurous beers than men.
“Women’s palates are generally more sophisticated than men’s,” said Robyn Klinge, founder of Madison’s Females Enjoying Microbrews (FEM) tasting group. “Women tend to like more flavorful beverages.”
(While the science is debatable, some even claim that women may even be better tasters than men: In the early ‘90s, psychologist Linda Bartoshuck coined the term “supertaster,” a person with a heightened sense of taste, and found that women are more likely to be supertasters than men.)
And while light lagers dominate the brewing industry, craft beer packs a sensory punch. IPAs inundate the senses with heady citrus and tropical fruit aromas (smell is a big part of taste), Marzens and doppelbocks are toasty and nutty, porters and stouts bring in caramel and chocolate and espresso notes.
“I don’t blame women for not being brewers beforehand,” said Baertsch, brewmaster at Wisconsin Dells Brewing Company. “Because, guess what? Before craft beer really took off in the 1980s, beer was terrible. Why would anyone want to put in their time and go through all of this hard work to make yellow, fizzy, flavorless beer?”
Baertsch said she got into brewing by “accident.” She didn’t drink before she was 21 — “I was one of those kids that never got invited to a keg party,” she said — and, honestly, didn’t have a huge interest in beer.
She was studying biotechnology at Madison Area Technical College when, in a biology class that involved some beer brewing, she discovered a knack for working with yeast.
“I did this trick with my yeast, instead of making a nut brown ale at 5 percent [alcohol by volume], I got, like, 8 percent,” she said. “It turned into this robust porter. And I changed the recipe all around, and (my teachers) were like, ‘You should be a brewer.’ And was like, ‘That’s a job option?’”
Her final project in school involved using champagne yeast and enzymes and chopping DNA to create a hybrid yeast that could achieve 16 to 19 percent ABV (alcohol by volume).
That was in 2004, at which point she’d been working for about two years at the Wisconsin Dells Brewing Company. (Her first five months there were as an unpaid intern, scrubbing tanks and sweeping floors.)
A year later, after completing the Master Brewers Association of the Americas’ brewing and malting program, she was named brewmaster.
Since then, she’s shepherded the small craft brewery to higher production, a distribution deal and a new canning line. She’s also released two beers named after her two children: Betty’s Breakfast Stout and Wyatt’s Barleywine.
In addition to coming back to work four days after giving birth to Wyatt, she singlehandedly cleaned out a 1,000-pound mash tun, a piece of brewing equipment, the day Betty was born.
All in a brewmaster-mom’s day’s work.
Deb Carey, co-founder of New Glarus Brewing, agrees with Baertsch: women are embracing craft beer because of the strong, unique flavors.
“What I’ve found is women are by far the more adventurous drinkers,” she said.
Carey was the first woman to found and operate a brewery in the United States. She launched New Glarus with her husband, Dan, in 1993. She said she always felt accepted in the male-dominated industry, even in the beginning — and especially by the craft brewers themselves.
“It was [workers] in the distribution tier and in the taverns that had a lot more comments about me being a woman,” she said. “It’s just the thing — it’s just a rough crowd. Sure, they pick on me, but they pick on the boys, too. I mean, come on, this is the beer industry. It’s not daycare.”
Carey says pushback they got early on their flagship beer, Spotted Cow, came mostly from men who visited the brewery, who were quick to push off tasting the brew onto wives and girlfriends, who Carey said were usually up for the challenge.
“When we [debuted] Spotted Cow, there weren’t other unfiltered beers out in the market. It used to happen routinely, when some man who looked like he just came off the football field would come into the brewery, and he’d be holding up the beer and saying, ‘You taste it,’ to his wife or girlfriend,” she said.
Carey is quick to dismiss the notion that light-colored beers, like Spotted Cow, are all that women are interested in.
Likewise, Ashley Kinart, the first female brewmaster at Capital Brewery, dispelled that idea almost immediately after taking the top job.
Kinart’s first brew as Capital’s brewmaster was a Schwarzbier, a German dark lager. Fishin’ in the Dark is considered an imperial Schwarzbier, because its alcohol content and flavors are slightly higher and more pronounced than traditional Schwarzbiers.
“I had a really open task to pretty much brew literally anything I chose,” said Kinart. “So I started by thinking about a style we haven’t done that I really like to drink. My two final choices were either a Schwarzbier or a Red IPA.”
She ruled out the Red IPA after she learned it was already on the brew schedule for Capital (the beer is set to be released in the next few months). So the Schwarbier it was. As the first female brewmaster for Capital, she didn’t think about whether it would be a ‘girl beer’ at all. She just wanted to make her debut a good one. And it was – Capital will re-release Fishin’ in the Dark this year.
Kinart got into brewing when she was working as a bartender at The Old Fashioned in Madison.
There, Kinart, who was a biology major at the UW-Madison, got interested in beer styles and the science of brewing. Encouraged by Jennifer DeBolt, owner of The Old Fashioned, she started homebrewing, toured breweries statewide and signed up for classes at the World Brewing Academy. She earned her degree there, after doing a stint at the Doemens Academy in Germany.
Like Baertsch, Kinart started doing free labor at the brewery. She worked there for two years before she was named brewmaster in October 2014.
Kinart said she didn’t think Capital had any expectations for her to reach out or appeal to female consumers, but that may be happening anyway.
“I’ve had plenty of people tell me, ‘Oh, my wife or my neighbor or my sister, they never drink beer, but when your Fishin’ in the Dark came out, I made her try it — and at first she wouldn’t — and I told her that a girl did it, and then they tried it and they loved it,” Kinart said.
“That wasn’t something I saw happening — more women are going to drink beer because I made this,” she said. “But once it did start happening, it was like, ‘Yeah! That’s awesome!’ I guess it’s a sense of ‘Oh, women are in this, too. It’s not just a bunch of dudes running around.”
A “bunch of dudes,” has been the target audience for most contemporary beer ads. But that hasn’t always been the case.
“One of the really interesting historical things that happened after Prohibition was the brewers trying to develop a strategy for marketing beer to ensure that Prohibition didn’t return, and one of the strategies was to begin to market beer to women,” said Jim Draeger, historian and author of “Bottoms Up: A Toast to Wisconsin’s Historic Bars & Breweries.”
“If you look at ads the brewers published after World War II, you’re going to see a lot of imagery involving women: women are serving beer to themselves and their husband,” Draeger said. “They wanted to empower women.”
Draeger said that lasted for a little while. And then: “There’s a machismo that becomes associated with beer in the ‘60s and ‘70s.”
That “machismo” helped create a social stereotype that beer drinking wasn’t “ladylike.”
“In the past, I think there has been a perception that beer was sort of a ‘manly’ drink,” said Anna Post, the great-great-granddaughter of renowned etiquette expert Emily Post, and spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, a nearly 100-year-old etiquette education center.
Margery Sinclair, an etiquette expert based in Milwaukee, agrees.
“Women are still held to a higher social standard,” she said. “Recently I heard a gentleman, aged in his mid-50s, in a nice bar/restaurant, gesture in the direction of a young woman who was drinking beer from a bottle say disparagingly, ‘Classy.’”
Post said there were never any “specific rules saying women shouldn’t drink beer,” but some social norms did exist – especially if, say, a woman wanted to crack open a can of beer in public.
Those social norms were tangled up with decades of beer advertisements that featured buxom blondes in dirndls and Bud Light Girls.
That’s one thing craft beer has mostly stayed away from.
“What I tend to notice about how craft brewers market their beverages is, generally speaking, that it’s a non-gender-specific beverage,” said Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association. “Generally, we’ve seen big brewers targeting men.”
“I think it’s stupid business for someone to do that, because you’re cutting off more than 50 percent of your audience,” said Dan Carey, co-founder and brewmaster at New Glarus Brewing.
And, aside from being bad business, it sends negative shockwaves through the industry that’s about, well, having a good time, he said.
“There are a lot of women who say they won’t drink beer, and I know that’s because of the image that beer connotes,” Dan Carey said. “Beer is a social, pleasurable thing. So why would you want to denigrate somebody or conjure negative images? I think that if you had a beer called, ‘Beefcake,’ that had, you know, a burly man in tight shorts [on the label], most men would say, ‘I’m not going to drink that.’”
The bottom line is, most craft breweries want as many consumers as they can get. They’re competing with the big guys, after all, and are only pulling in about eight percent of all beer consumption in the United States, as of 2013.
“Beer itself shouldn’t be looked at as a gender specific beverage,” said Herz. “You can have preconceived notions about beer because of the past, but the bottom line is that beer is king in the U.S., and with craft beer now it’s a flavorful revolution. And both women and men are into flavor.”
On a gray Wisconsin winter day, about 40 women are gathered in the Wisconsin Brewing Company brewery in Verona, Ashley Kinart and Jamie Baertsch are there, as are women who work at Wisconsin Brewing Company, Titletown Brewing Company and Pearl Street Brewery. There’s a female hops distributor, too, and a few female brewery and brewpub co-owners milling around.
The women have gathered for a meeting of Madison’s FEMs. That’s “Females Enjoying Microbrews,” a local, ladies-only tasting group.
Today, the members of FEM — a diverse group of women ranging in age from their early ‘20s to post-retirement — are going to watch and learn as Ashley, Jamie and assistants shepherd a test batch of the Madison Craft Beer Week Common Thread brew through Wisconsin Brewing Company’s pilot brewing system.
The Common Thread is a collaboration beer made every year for the weeklong celebration of craft brewing in May. This year, it’s going to be developed and brewed entirely by women.
The women here to watch and learn have also attended FEMs tasting events at Madison bars.
A trio of women — Linda Fehd, Ros Zeltins and Sue Wilz — drive a couple of hours to get to the FEM events. They live in Rio, Portage and Pardeeville, respectively.
“We learn so much about the process — it just opens up a whole new world,” Fehd said.
“Our husbands would all like to be included. The presumption is that men already drink beer, like beer (so they don’t need events like these), but they don’t know anything about it,” Wilz said. “We tell them.”
The women watch as Ashley, Jamie and several other women check the wort, testing for starch conversion.
The brew is going to be a Belgian tripel, a strong, assertive beer.
“Tripels are just a fun, exciting beer to try,” said Rochelle Francois, an assistant brewer at Wisconsin Brewing Company who helped come up with the idea for the beer. “Also, coming up with this, with it being women brewers, I didn’t walk to do anything that was, shall I say, the stereotypical ‘girly.’”
“It’s something fun that’ll hopefully go to everyone’s palate,” she said.
So, when the ladies of FEM, other enthusiasts, professional brewers and homebrewers alike, tip back the suds at Craft Beer Week, it could be seen as a nod and welcome to the female brewers who have made, and continue to make, their mark in a male-dominated industry.
But maybe it’s more of a, “Welcome back.” Women were the “brewmasters” in Ancient Egypt and pastoral Europe, after all. And the ancient Sumerians had a goddess of beer, Ninkasi.
“It wasn’t really until the Renaissance that men took (the brewing industry) over,” said Robyn Klinge, creator of FEM. “So it’s, to me, it’s almost like we’re just reclaiming our place.” ￼
￼What I’ve found is women are by far the more adventurous drinkers. Deb Carey, co-founder
New Glarus Brewery
￼If you look at ads the brewers published after World War II, you’re going to see a lot of imagery involving women: women are serving beer to themselves and their husband. They wanted to empower women. Jim Draeger, historian and author
￼It’s becoming more common to have females interested in brewing. Fifteen years ago, the only women you found in the courses were women sent by large breweries. Keith Lemcke, vice president.
Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago