On the night of her August Women’s Beer Forum, the Eagle Rock Brewery co-owner sits perched in a folding chair in the back of her taproom and production facility in Los Angeles’ Glassell Park neighborhood. Surrounded by six fermenting tanks, two bright tanks, and hundreds of kegs marked with the brewery’s orange, social labor-inspired logo reading “beer for the people,” she’s sipping on water, seemingly in preparation for the five kettle sours she’ll soon dissect but also to help fend off the aftermath from an impromptu tasting adventure the night before.
Clad in a charcoal gray Eagle Rock tee that shows off the hop-and-vine tattoo crawling up her left arm, she seems eager to get started. Ever since a self-described men’s rights activist put these sort of gatherings and the brewery itself in jeopardy with a legal claim, the forums have an added sense of importance to the local beer community. “The moment that a men’s rights activist decided to target the Women’s Beer Forum made me realize how important it is to offer an environment where women don’t have to feel marginalized in the beer community,” Su says.
Co-founded by Su, her husband Jeremy Raub, and her father-in-law,Steven Raub, Eagle Rock is one of the founding members of Los Angeles' craft beer scene. November will mark the tenth anniversary of Eagle Rock’s first brew day, as well as five years of its sister restaurant, the Eagle Rock Public House, where Su is the general manager.
Su introduced the Women’s Beer Forums in 2011, after years of watching men speak over their female counterparts trying to ask questions at the bar. Su decided an education was in order. Growing up in a restaurant family obsessed with food, the South Florida native’s palette was honed at a young age, and today she’s highly knowledgeable about the brewing process, flavor profiles, and microbiology of beer. She wanted other women to be able to have a similar beer vocabulary, and she’s certainly improved the conversation—her regulars have since become savvy consumers, with some even starting their own breweries and businesses.
“Ting is amazing. I love her,” admits Corissa Hernandez, co-owner of the nearby Craft Beer Cellar and two other beer bars. “She is so resourceful, helpful, and welcoming and makes sure that you're taken care of and you get to know the right people. That matters to her.”
The forums should have been an empowering place created by one of the few female brewery owners in Los Angeles, and they were, until Steve Frye came along. In October 2018, Su went public with the legal issues the brewery had been dealing with for almost a year. Through a GoFundMe page, Su explained that Eagle Rock received an email in November 2017 from someone claiming to be a men’s rights activist. He claimed to have written into their general email line, where a staff member told him that an upcoming Women’s Beer Forum was only for females. He then reportedly demanded thousands of dollars and threatened to file a discriminaton complaint if the brewery refused to pay. Eagle Rock apologized and offered up the opportunity to learn about the same flight of beers that were being showcased at that forum, but he apparently declined, instead filing a discrimination claim through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
“Look, not everybody understands the concept of having a women's beer forum, and men still attend and are more than welcome to,” she says. “It's always been like that. I call it a women's beer forum because most guys don't want to attend by virtue of the name, but every once in a while, there's a topic that is so fascinating to a guy that he's willing to come out. But it is one of the only spaces within the beer community where there are more women.”
Eagle Rock was left with a no-win situation: defending, a prohibitively expensive option, or settling. They chose the latter. Their GoFundMe page quickly raised well over the $10,000 they initially hoped to receive to help offset litigation costs, including the $1,500 to settle with Frye, and the reach went well beyond California. Sheer tenacity may have also helped Su handle the pressure of a lawsuit. “I have been called dragon lady by more than one person. I run with it,” she says with a hint of a mischievous smile.
Su sits up straighter as she discusses the litigation. She has been working with a lobbyist for the past few months to close loopholes so people won’t be incentivized to go after small businesses while still upholding the heart of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. That piece of legislation “provides protection from discrimination” on the basis of things like race, color, and religion “by all business establishments in California.” It’s also, ironically, what Frye used in his claim, as well as many others he’s filed in California. She has traveled up to Sacramento to meet with lawmakers, including a visit to Senator Maria Elena Durazo’s office in March and June. Huge corporations may have economies of scale on their side, she explains, but mom-and-pop shops can’t afford to keep up with opportunistic lawsuits.
“It's a gross abuse of the law,” she says. “One of the biggest things I realized in the past year in working with legislation is how incredibly anti-business California is and that's one of the saddest things to me. They just don't make any concessions if you're tiny. The financial burden ends up being so gigantic on small businesses, and then you exacerbate that even more by basically making it open season because there's these bits of legislation out there people can exploit for financial gain.”
Nearly a year after the incident that almost cost her the brewery, the gravity of the situation has more than sunk in. “Sadly, the current social climate dictates that potential litigation needs to be a key factor when creating spaces and events that benefit the community,” she says. Su is now “a lot more cautious with regards to the messaging” of her events, which also include an annual “Battle of the Bands” during Los Angeles Beer Week and a “Sip & Savor” food-and-beer pairing.
Before beginning the August forum, Su pours herself a half-pint of her current favorite on tap, Milo, an oatmeal pale ale brewed annually in honor of her and Raub’s four-year-old son. She finishes it off in between the evening’s offerings, a menu of five brews she handpicked to teach the intricacies of kettle sours, including Eagle Rock’s blood orange and mango gose, Warmer Weather. Quick with a laugh, the self-described “science nerd” lights up when talking about the history of sours, merrily throwing around words like yeast plugs and lactobacillus as she looks out at the attendees, who range in age from recent college grads to retirees.
While many of the women are white, there are also Hispanic and Asian women in attendance. It’s a snapshot of the future Su wants to see for the beer community, especially after all she’s been through. “I definitely feel that there have been positive changes in the gender disparity issues. That said, women are still a minority in the beer and business worlds and in leadership roles in general,” she says. “Additionally, people of color and the LGBTQ communities are all under-represented among these same environments. When the faces within an industry reflect the diversity within the general population of that region, engagement of the community in its entirety will have been achieved.”
“Until then,” she adds, “There’s still work to be done.”