"Facial hair does not give you rank when it comes to brewing," says Chris Winn, brewer at Tradesmen Brewing Co. Winn should know — he's watched his brewing partner Sara Gayle McConnell, along with Frothy Beard's Macey Martin and Holy City's Julie Stallings create BREWSTER, an ever-growing series of women-only brew days at local breweries. Each brewery hosts their own six-hour brewing day on a Saturday or Sunday every few months, where attendees are given a behind-the-scenes look at the brewing process. After an initial brewing session back in March, seven local breweries have hopped on board with BREWSTER, which stands for Building Relationships and Empowering Women Striving to Exist Responsibly — a mouthful of awesome intentions. Basically, it's a ladies only group of brewers who brew beer for charity every few months.
There are certainly preconceived notions about the gender of brewers, namely that men are the ones behind the hops and barrels. While Winn says you don't need a beard to brew, he does point out that the heavy machinery involved in beer-making can be intimidating. "When they see the industrial nature [of a brewhouse] everyone gets that Laverne and Shirley look," he says.
We spoke to McConnell in July, when the series was just starting to gain some traction. At the time McConnell shared some brewing history, most notably the fact that women dominated the brewing industry for 4,000 years. Yes — an Egyptian goddess of brewing existed long before Johnny Lumbersexual grabbed a sack of hops. McConnell views women brewers as a natural fit in the brewing world, and her dedication to this idea has led to the creation of a successful series, with approximately 10 women showing up to each BREWSTER event.
As Leah Kathryn Miller, a three-time attendee of BREWSTER sessions says, "It's about bringing women together." Miller says that the sessions have helped a curiosity grow into a hobby; she recently brewed some of her own beer at home with her neighbor.
But, you don't have to want to be the next Sam(antha) Adams to brew beers; plenty of attendees come simply out of curiosity. As for common misconceptions? Well, Winn says that most people are surprised by how much cleaning is involved. Miller can attest to that, and to the fact that brewing simply takes a long time. "I thought I'd get a tour, press three buttons, and it would happen," she says. "But it really does take six hours."
Dawn Patrick, who has attended two Tradesman brewing sessions, started coming to the brewery because it's near her office. She kept coming simply because she liked what was on tap. A natural transition from drinking to brewing followed. "They're building in the community," says Patrick, who appreciates the intimacy of the brewing sessions. "You can tell it's a grassroots organization."
Despite the lengthy process and the hard work involved, these sessions continue to grow, mainly through word of mouth (Miller found out about BREWSTER from Charleston Beer's Twitter account.) "Some just want to learn more about what their husbands are doing," says Miller.
Unlike Miller and Patrick, Diane Mott started coming to BREWSTER sessions as a way of enhancing her own brewing practices. Mott was home-brewing for about six months before she attended her first BREWSTER session at Frothy Beard. "My daughter bought my husband a Mr. Brew kit and he didn't want it, and I said that I would use it if it were mine." Eventually her husband joined her and the two have been brewing ever since.
Mott says she enjoys the BREWSTER sessions because she can see firsthand how women get turned onto brewing. She's also picking up practical tips. "I'm learning a lot about how to follow directions [for larger batches]," she says. Mott is currently working on her own, yet-to-be-named womens' beer blog.
Craft beer is growing and naturally, home-brewing follows. BREWSTER sessions allow women a sneak peek into a world that is open to them on a big or small scale. "There's shared energy and everyone does a little piece," says Winn. "They're working on a project with shared beliefs. It's proof of community building."
Beyond feeling like a part of the community, the beer you make becomes something personal. After drinking the final pint of Madam Basil (a beer brewed at July's Holy City session) at Moe's Crosstown, Miller got to cross the beer off of the kicked kegs list. That means an entire keg's worth of beer that Miller helped brew was consumed by Moe's customers. "I still feel ownership," she says.
The next BREWSTER event, held in conjunction with Charleston Beer Week and aptly titled She's Crafty, is on Wed. Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Craftsmen Kitchen & Tap House downtown.
The next BREWSTER session is slated for mid-December and will take place at multiple breweries. Check charlestoncitypaper.com for updates. Contact Sara Gayle McConnell, email@example.com, Macey Martin, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Winn, email@example.com, for more information.