Betsy Lay, Kate Power, and Jen Cuesta were fighting to make the world a better place long before they set out to brew. After a decade of tackling bureaucracy and seeking out funding in the nonprofit sector, the three women gathered over beers at one of their local Denver watering holes. As they talked, they asked each other if there was a sustainable way to make a positive change.
The result was Lady Justice Brewery, a nonprofit venture run by women and designed to raise money for organizations that help women in Colorado. Since 2015, the trio has been doing everything from fighting human trafficking to supporting civil liberties, all by brewing kettle sours and IPAs. Rather than simply doling out funds, they also use the brewery as a platform to engage as many people as possible. As a community-supported brewery (CSB), they offer memberships in exchange for input into which beers go on tap next.
While the money raised by Lady Justice Brewing helps, the venture is as much about sparking dialogue as it is fundraising. So I sat down for a conversation with these social justice activists about the triumphs and challenges faced by women in brewing now.
What made you want to start Lady Justice Brewing?
Kate Power: Betsy and I were ruminating about this today. When we started out, the focus was really just to have a philanthropic brewery. The fact that we happen to all be women was sort of incidental. We knew that we shared a lot of the same work ethic and goals. We didn’t set out to be trailblazers by being all women.
Do you think the industry is moving in a positive direction in terms of incorporating women?
Betsy Lay: For the most part, I think that efforts within the brewing industry to be more inclusive have really ramped up. Women who are already in the industry know that it’s important to provide a platform for their colleagues. By doing that, it encourages women outside of the industry who have always had an interest in brewing to get involved. Overall, I think the industry is starting to look at who is drinking beer and how can we be a little more representative.
Jen Cuesta: Like Betsy says, I think there’s more recognition of who is drinking beer now. If you look at where growth is going to be in the market, in Colorado it’s with women and the Hispanic community. So I think everyone’s trying to figure out a way to tap into that market and make them feel like they’re a part of the beer community.
I think there’s been a lot of discussion about the discrepancy between the percentage of women who are craft beer enthusiasts and the percentage who are business owners within the field. Do you feel like there is support among female brewers? Do you talk to each other? Do you hang out?
Betsy: There’s just a lot of beer in Colorado already, so it naturally has more women in the industry than in other regions of the country. I know that there are plenty of places where having a female head brewer is still incredibly rare, where there aren’t a lot of opportunities for women in brewing. We’re lucky here in Denver.
Jen: When we were just getting into this, so many people reached out to collaborate and help us. The women within the industry here are very much connected with one another and support one another.
Kate: Just recently, we’ve had some really cool visits from women-owned breweries that are out of the state. The craft beer conference was here in Denver a couple of weeks ago and we had some women who reached out from Missouri. They actually made a special trip to come over and taste our beer. We got to hang out and talk shop. Even outside the brewing industry, there’s been a cool amount of camaraderie among other women-owned businesses. Jen and I are involved in the legal community and the Colorado Women’s Bar Association has been really supportive.
There will be people who engage with us in a really angry way and say, 'Oh, you’re all women? Well, you must hate men.' That’s not it at all!”
How do you deal with some of the problems that have historically plagued the beer industry, such as sexist marketing imagery? Do you have any thoughts on the way beer is marketed or how to shift it in a better direction?
Jen: I would say that the larger companies like AB InBev and MillerCoors are more guilty of gratuitous marketing. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen in the craft industry, but as craft brewing continues to grow, I think that will naturally move the pendulum in marketing.
I mean, it makes business sense. I don’t want to go too broad, but—
Jen: Broad it up!
Wow, I swear I didn’t mean to do that. I do, however, want to hear your take on the current political climate. It feels like we’re sliding backward with regards to women’s rights at the moment.
Kate: It’s been a hard week engaging with the news. From my personal perspective, it seems like for every step that we are able to make forward, whether it be women in the brewing community or women being able to have autonomy over their own choices, there are five steps backward. I think that we can see it on a smaller scale as women in the brewing community.
Kate: We’ll go to festivals and there will be people who engage with us in a really angry way and say, “Oh, you’re all women? Well, you must hate men.” We’re like, “That’s not it at all!”
Seeing women and people of color just literally being there and stepping up will shift the industry’s image as it grows.”
Where do you think that comes from?
Kate: It comes down to the fact that we’re women existing in a space that has been previously occupied by men. I’m not saying this is just about us. Women in general who move into those spaces may be part of the one step forward, but often also have to work with the five steps backward that come with every piece of progress.
How have you resolved or confronted this kind of harassment in the past?
Betsy: Basically any medium you can think of, we’ve seen it. We get it online, we get it in person. For me, the bigger challenge is how to confront the people who are actually working in the industry, who are actually hiring and managing women. We want to get those people to pay attention and start to realize that their actions and their statements could do harm. For me, that’s sort of where we start. Some drunk dude on a Saturday night at a beer festival is not to be reasoned with, but when we hear stories from our colleagues in the industry who are being assaulted or harassed or passed over for promotions, for me, that’s where the concern is bigger. And it happens all the time, unfortunately. I think that’s where we can provide a stage where women can feel like they can talk about this.
Kate: We didn’t set out to be a political grandstand. That wasn’t our intent, but I think what’s great is being able to make space at the table so women can be part of the conversation.
I want to talk specifically about the online harassment because I know women in the gaming community have taken just an unbelievable amount of flack from trolls for similar reasons to the ones you described. Have you come up against that?
Kate Power: We’ve gotten a few comments that are just ignorant and baiting. I would say though for every bad comment you get, there are 10 great ones. In the end, our positive community support has definitely outweighed that negative side, however, it is there and it is always something that continues to be a factor.
How would you hope to see the brewing industry evolve in the next few years?
Jen: I’m a Latina woman, so I want to see not just the growth of women in the industry, but also minorities. Seeing women and people of color just literally being there and stepping up will shift the industry’s image as it grows. For those that are in the industry, that means being more forward about your role, even if you’re not comfortable in that. We want to make this a welcoming environment for everyone and I think that will continue to happen.