category-iconWomen of Beer

Meet the Women Who Are Leading the UK Beer Scene

April 10, 2020

By Nicci Peet, April 10, 2020

Over the past decade in the UK—and in the world more broadly—the beer industry has undergone serious growth and change. One unifying factor, however, is that the global beer scene continues to be male-dominated. At times it may feel like an uphill struggle for equality, but in the UK the industry is steadily changing for the better. Groups such as Crafty Beer Girls, Brum Beer Babs, Ladies That Beer, and Beer Without Beards now offer women who work in the industry or who are simply curious about beer the opportunity to meet and network. Festivals such as Women On Tap, Fem.Ale, Women In Beer, and Siris Beer Festival are all dedicated to beer brewed by women. While the industry still has a ways to go, it’s more inclusive and equitable than at any other time in modern history. Pay gaps are closing and organisations are making strides toward a brighter future.

In the UK, a few prominent women are now using their platforms to bring the conversation of equality to the wider beer community by winning awards, publishing books, and running breweries—but they are also chairing and participating in panels on diversity and hosting inclusive events to encourage more women into the world of beer. Representation is key to the recipe for change, and these three women are leading the charge when it comes to demonstrating what women can do in the UK beer scene.

All photos by Nicci Peet.

Jaega Wise

Head Brewer at Wild Card Brewery/Brewer of The Year 2019/TV Host for The Wine Show on Channel 5/Lead Radio Host for The Food Programme on Radio 4

“At Wild Card Brewery I have hosted International Women's Collaboration Brew Day, or IWCBD for short, for a number of years and every year it just gets bigger and bigger. It's an event where all women are welcome—not just brewers, all women. I try and make it as educational as possible, so you'll leave knowing more about beer than when you came. It's also about making connections, making new friends and most importantly having fun. This year’s theme was 'Unite Tribute.' We chose to brew an IPA in tribute to Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician and writer, who is widely celebrated as the first computer programmer. It's important to recognise the work of the trailblazing women who came before us, who are often forgotten in the history books. Women like Ada Lovelace paved the way for women like me and it is important that we remember and recognise that. 

I also spend a lot of my time travelling around the country talking about sexism and equality. I think it's an issue that needs to remain at the forefront of brewers’ minds when they are hiring, promoting their product, or expanding within their own team. It's easy to become stuck in your ways and a little reminder can be helpful. I also do a fair amount of work with brewers around the country through our trade body Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA). It's not about browbeating brewers; it's about helping them make that choice that will hopefully lead to a more equal brewing industry.” 

Melissa Cole

Journalist/Author/Sommelier/International Beer Judge 

“It was really a horrible day at a judging table that really cemented my fury at the misogyny in the industry and how hard it was to establish myself as a beer writer. I was judging at a table where I identified clearly an adjunct in a beer, which was rhubarb, and I got laughed at for it and told I didn’t know what I was talking about and not very low-key bullied by the three men around the table for the rest of the day. I went home fuming and, as I was travelling, I realised that there wasn’t a single, dedicated woman beer writer in the UK, and so I set about changing that and was determined that, along the way, I’d try and change the atmosphere for women in the industry too. 

Understandably, I hope, I only spoke at first about sexism, as that was my personal experience, from having my breast grabbed at the very first British Guild of Beer Writers AGM by a founder member of CAMRA and being too afraid of what it would do for my career if I spoke up about it at the time, to a male beer writer telling me to ‘get on with my job and get them a beer’ on a press trip to a Cornish brewery; he assumed I was a member of the PR agency. (This was made even more entertaining given that I’d actually brewed at the brewery the day before.) I’d tell you what I said in response to this display of pig ignorance and sexism but you wouldn’t be able to print it! 

I’m also aware I’m pretty rhino-skinned. Very little that’s said about me on social media, or in person, gets to me, so I am happy to take the slings and arrows that anyone who fronts up to prejudice takes. Over the last few years, I’ve sought to broaden my platform by making it as inclusive as possible and using it to amplify the voices of people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community—but more by listening and supporting, because I can’t speak to their experiences, only hope to help and push them forward where I can. This can range from social media, to suggesting outlets to interview people other than myself in the industry, to ensuring where I can that panels I host and events I do have diverse faces. It’s not always easy but I do everything I can to make it so.”

Lily Waite

Founder of The Queer Brewing Project/Award-winning beer writer/Photographer/(somewhat lapsed) Painter and Printmaker/Ceramicist.

“I brewed a collaboration beer with Manchester’s Marble Brewery to celebrate my exhibition in one of their venues, that we worked on for Manchester Beer Week in 2018. The beer’s label talked about how the exhibition focused on my experiences as a queer trans woman, and, to my mind, it was the first time the words ‘queer’ and ‘trans’ were used on beer packaging. The response from the LGBTQ community in the beer world was amazing, and after seeing a number of queer people feeling seen and validated by the representation that beer provided, I started to think about queer representation in the beer industry, and what I could do to further it. 

 Last year, I launched my own brewing project, The Queer Brewing Project, which is an LGBTQ-focused social enterprise, using beer as a vehicle to further LGBTQ visibility and issues within the beer world. Queer Brewing is a non-profit, collaborative beer project. I work with breweries from all over the world, big and small, to produce one-off collaboration beers, a proportion of proceeds from which are donated to LGBTQ charities. Sometimes the beers highlight and celebrate queer issues, sometimes they aim to start conversations, such as Preferred Pronouns, the collaboration brewed with South London's Brick Brewery for last year’s London Craft Beer Festival. Sometimes the beers are simply brewed to take up space in a homogenous, heterosexual, and cisgender industry. 

The future of the whole industry is currently incredibly uncertain. Queer Brewing relies on a healthy, functioning industry; if a brewery I’m looking to work with is struggling, they may see a charitable collaboration as a luxury endeavour, and may not have the financial flexibility to accommodate a donation, regardless of how worthwhile it may be. That said, during this current climate, we all need beacons of positivity to hold onto, and seeing good still being done via beer as a vehicle might be a morale boost. I’ve got one collaboration in the immediate future—a beer to celebrate the project’s first birthday—that I thought for sure was going to be cancelled, but it’s still going ahead, just almost entirely in small pack. I’m so excited for that! 

 Looking past the current pandemic, I’d love to bring other people on board. The whole project’s just been me so far, so I’d love to secure some funding, bring some people on to grow the project, and see where it goes from there. I’ve got a few bigger plans, too, but I’ll keep those cards to my chest for now. I’m also working on a number of zines at the minute, focusing on photography and site-specific writing, and I’m trying to put one together to raise money for hospitality emergency funds.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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