It’s easy to think of the beer business as the domain of bearded dudes in cargo shorts — but that not only overlooks the growing number of women in today’s industry, it ignores centuries of history.
In ancient Egypt and Sumeria, women brewed beer at home and many made a modest income running taverns as well. In medieval England, alewives and brewsters did the same.
Established in 2007 as a way of advancing women in beer, the Pink Boots Society is a non-profit that’s grown to include a chapter that started in Edmonton earlier this year.
“It allows for women who work in the beer industry to get together, it’s a support system for women looking to get into beer. They see it’s not just a boys’ club,” says Wynn Smith, one of five local women who started the Edmonton chapter.
The non-profit society has grown from its American roots to an organization with chapters around the world, including one that started in Edmonton earlier this year.
Nor is Pink Boots just for brewers: women who earn at least 25 per cent of their income from beer can join, opening the door to a wider range of related occupations like sales reps, hospitality industry workers and retail employees.
The Pink Boots Society is likely best known to the larger community for annual collaboration beers that chapters brew with local breweries in honour of International Women’s Day. For women who aren’t brewers, the event is a fun and educational way to participate in the process of making beer.
“It’s a great way to showcase so many women in this industry who aren’t always at the forefront,” says Smith.
Organizers say local breweries have embraced the arrival of Edmonton’s Pink Boots chapter, but many women working in beer have stories that demonstrate the continued need to break down barriers — whether its overtly sexist behaviour, or something more subtle, like assuming a woman can’t handle the physical demands of working in a brewery.
“I worked in breweries before where women have applied for a job and people would say, ‘She’s too tiny,’” says Cassandra Durocher, a chapter founder who works as a sales rep for Phillips Brewing.
Each Pink Boots chapter is mandated to hold four events a year, and the Edmonton group is eyeing two educational functions this fall: a guided tasting session to identify faults in beer, and an outing to Northern Girls Hops, a women-owned hop producer 75 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.
Events will be open to non-members to encourage people to come out and learn more about the organization, say Smith and Durocher. Pink Boots puts revenue into scholarships and educational opportunities for its 2,500 members worldwide, but when a chapter reaches 30 members, it gains some autonomy to earmark educational funds locally. That’s a big incentive to grow the Edmonton chapter, says Smith.
“I’d like to see our chapter grow big enough that one our members gets to go to a brewers’ conference … or goes to Olds College,” she says.
Learn more about the Pink Boots Society at pinkbootssociety.org You can follow the Edmonton chapter on Twitter (@BootsSociety) or visit its Facebook group, Pink Boots Society Edmonton, for information about local events.