By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Women beer professionals from all over the world are converging on San Diego for the Pink Boots Society’s 10th Anniversary Conference & Beer Festival June 2-3. In addition to the decadal birthday celebration, the conference brings together all-female faculty — a first for beer conferences — who will lead workshops and discussions on a range of topics.
Yet the conference represents far more. It kicks off the future of what executive director Emily Engdahl calls a “sisterhood” of craft beer professionals in the 1,200-member organization, which has 50 chapters in 10 countries from Australia to Spain.
Engdahl first became involved with Pink Boots in 2013. The Society had recently received 501(c)(3) status, and Engdahl wanted to help out at a fundraising party held that February. By June she had assumed her role of executive director (though she also has a full-time career as an office manager and fiduciary at a family business). “I’ve seen these women not just on a professional — but personal level. They come together,” says Engdahl. “I loved the tribe, everyone I met, the camaraderie, the amazing wealth of knowledge I found in the beer industry.”
And yes, that includes the pink, which has also made the organization a sometimes-lightning rod for controversy.
“I take issue when people tell us we shouldn’t be pink. If you are a feminist, why the hell would you let anyone tell you what color you’re supposed to wear?” says Engdahl. “I love pink. It’s one of my favorite colors.”
She also points out that in the 18th century and until World War I, pink was a masculine color: softer than the more aggressive red, but still manly. Girls wore blue. “We are reclaiming pink. It’s the ultimate feminist movement to wear pink,” says Engdahl. “Just as you shouldn’t tell a girl she should only like fruity beers and not stout, why would you tell a girl she shouldn’t wear pink if that’s the color she wants to wear?”
Pink Boots evolved out of co-founder Teri Fahrendorf’s 2007 road trip, where she worked to connect with female brewers and help further their careers all while donning a pair of brewhouse-ready pink boots (a pre-trip gift from Fahrendorf’s mother-in-law). While traversing some of America’s 1,511 craft breweries, she kept hearing the same thing from the women brewers she met: “I thought I was the only one.”
Fast-forward 10 years, and Fahrendorf can see how much has changed. “We were pioneers,” she says. “Having Pink Boots, whether members or not, gives women confidence to shoot for the top. Some women don’t need it, but some do. Sometimes it takes a very simple role model. We’ve changed the dialogue, and the dialogue now includes women.”
From fewer than two-dozen women at their inaugural lunch in 2008, Pink Boots had grown to about 2,500 members in 2015. At that point, membership was free (though many members would donate funds) for women making any portion of their income in the beer industry. In 2016, Pink Boots made some big changes: they established a more organized board, started charging membership dues and gave chapters more control over money and communication. And to qualify for membership, a 25 percent income threshold was instituted.
“We wiped out our entire membership database,” says Engdahl. “Now we’ve already rebuilt over half those numbers. It’s a more professionally and educationally centered organization.” By 2018, Engdahl estimates membership will be above 2,250.
With U.S. craft breweries potentially topping 6,000 by the end of 2017, Engdahl is not surprised by Pink Boots’ growth — or the number of women joining the industry, though how that’s happening has changed. People often found a job in craft beer either through family business ties or via a winding, indirect path. Now Engdahl sees young adults enrolling in college or vocational programs specifically to launch careers. “Brewing and brewing science is a viable lifestyle, one you can enter deliberately and with intent,” she explains. “That’s very exciting and very different from any other way that we’ve seen brewing become a vocation before.”
The anniversary event was made possible thanks to “an amazing team of women who dreamed up this whole conference,” says Fahrendorf. As the Society’s most active chapter, San Diego was a natural location. But in addition to providing education and motivation, Engdahl wants women to come out of the conference knowing “they can do what they want to do in the industry and nothing holds them back,” she says. “I want these women to be seen as role models and as heroes in the industry. Breweries exact a lot of social change, and I think it’s important to remember the social magic we do in beer.”
As Engdahl looks ahead to the next 10 years, she hopes she will be able to look back and see that Pink Boots has changed the industry and overall awareness of broader societal problems that can make it difficult for women to advance. “I want it to not matter if you’re a man or a woman in the beer industry. Do you make good beer? Are you a nice person?”
She also suggests ways men can support women in craft beer. “Speak out and make sure you are being the best feminist you can be. It doesn’t have to look big or heroic. It just has to be the normal everyday things we do to encourage society toward equity,” says Engdahl. “Make sure your daughter isn’t getting left out of STEM in middle school. Get your sister a homebrew kit. Patronize businesses that support Pink Boots and tell them you are glad they support women in the beer industry. For associations, ask for more diversity in the board and in presenters.”
Pink Boots, though, isn’t about special treatment — it’s about equity and betterment for all. “I hope I can work myself out of a job,” says Engdahl, but cites educational system deficiencies, sexual harassment issues and inequality around the world as proof we’re not there yet.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
For Colleen Sheehan and her husband Stephen, the choice was simple. They were tired of working “cubicle life jobs” for other people and wanted to work for themselves. So in 2010 they opened a food cart. Delacata became a Eugene sensation — but it also set the couple’s sights higher. In 2014 they opened Elk Horn Brewing and never looked back. The campus-area brewpub seats 150 inside and outside, has garnered accolades for being a local favorite and brewed 328 barrels of beer on their 20-barrel system last year.
“We live once. Let's try and enjoy this life to the fullest,” says Colleen Sheehan, “which for me, is experiencing the trials and tribulations of running your own business.”
Pub culture was nothing new to Sheehan. During her middle school years she and her family lived in London. After school her parents would take her to local pubs, where over a shandy she absorbed the English pub scene. “Nowadays, I enjoy all types of beers, depending mainly on the environment around me,” she says. “I like everything from a chewy stout to a bitter IPA to a summer wit. My husband and I have become real fans of sours in the last few years.”
Those travel experiences also broadened her perspective on the world and as an entrepreneur, helping Sheehan feel more willing to identify new possibilities and take chances. But the Eugene native and graduate of the University of Oregon also credits her education with instilling and honing the skills she needed to develop and implement her and Stephen’s business plan for Elk Horn.
“I do everything from payroll, accounting, scheduling, hiring, cooking, managing, to just making sure the daily operations are in order,” explains Sheehan. “My husband calls me the Oz behind the curtain.”
However, Sheehan also realized that her husband’s people and persuasion skills would be key in making Elk Horn not just a dream, but a reality. “Stephen is the sales guy — the schmoozer that brought in investors and made sure that the bank approved my plans,” says Sheehan. “I came up with the business plan and worked all the logistics of how, when, where and why the brewery would operate.” Despite her meticulous planning, Sheehan acknowledges that women entering business face hurdles based on sex and gender. “I honestly don't think I would have gotten investors or the bank loan needed without a man being involved.”
With Elk Horn now open for nearly two years, the Sheehans continue working as a team. “I excel in bookwork and planning, and he excels in running a solid staff and talking with the customers,” Sheehan explains. “We continually drive each other to work harder and be better at what we do.”
Sheehan knows that she is a woman who owns a brewery in a business dominated by men, but she sees that merely as an opportunity for more women to become involved. “I like beer as much as any man out there, so why not work with a medium that I love and enjoy.” However, she also hopes to be a pioneer who helps other women realize they can be part of a brewery, from the brewhouse to the boardroom. “Women just need to be more interested in the craft brewery scene,” says Sheehan. “The more they become interested and want to be a part of it, the more they can. I know when it comes to hiring more brewers when I expand, I'm going to, of course, give any woman with good experience a shot.”
Elk Horn currently has more than 40 employees, with plans to add more this summer. Providing economic opportunity and good jobs is one of the positives of owning a brewery, says Sheehan, as it is both personally fulfilling and improves the broader community. Another benefit of being a woman who owns the brewery? Closing the wage gap. “I set my wage, and I set others’ pay as well,” says Sheehan. “I am not biased when it comes to male or female and setting their pay based on gender. I believe in equal pay for individuals who do the same job, and then those who excel are paid accordingly.”
Sheehan sees the current craft beer industry as only just having scratched the surface of beer’s full potential. She and Stephen talk regularly with Elk Horn’s brewers to come up with a different take on beers, ciders and even meads. “It's cool to think of different bittering agents to use, different additions, what herbs can do, what fruits or vegetables can do, how different bacteria creates different mouth reactions,” says Sheehan. “It's a wonderful platform to tantalize your taste buds while giving you a buzz. It's so exciting to come up with a new flavor profile, watch it be executed and then watch a customer’s reaction to it.”
Sheehan plans more tastings and blending parties for women, and she and Stephen are at work to expand distribution from in-house to an expanded local and regional tap presence. They are hard at work on other plans too: their first child is due in August. For Sheehan, though, starting a family is another evolution for the brewery and another way to dovetail life and business.
“I love running a business” she says. “I love challenging, hard work. I love the ups and downs.”
As Sheehan keeps the brewery going day after day, while also planning for the future, she also sees craft beer as similar to man’s — or woman’s — best friend. “Craft beer is like having a dog,” she explains. “It eases a stressful day, it gives you something to do in the Oregon rain. It’s great to take to the beach during a hot summer, and it's always there for you when you need it.” And it’s something to look forward to.
“Right now my favorite beer is the non-alcoholic one, but once I have this baby, I'm really looking forward to our Wapiti Pilsner on a hot August day.”
Elk Horn Brewery
[a] 686 E. Broadway, Eugene
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