Much like chefs, female brewers and distillers operate in a largely male-dominated sphere. Case in point: When Helen Cummings opened a whisky distillery in Scotland in 2015, she was the first woman in 200 years to do so. Beer is a similar story—according to a 2014 Stanford University study, only four per cent of all brewmasters are women.
Yet, women have a genetic advantage when it comes to crafting brews, including superior smelling skills. (Women have 16.2 millions cells in the olfactory bulb—nearly twice as many as men.) That’s part of the reason why women are making waves in producing and marketing Canada’s finest beer and booze. Here’s 10 of them—and where you can sample their best creations.
Martha Lowry: Master Distiller at Mill Street Brewery & Distillery
On being a female distiller: “I tend to forget about it because I am surrounded by so many strong fantastic women. I have been really fortunate to have some wonderful male and female colleagues who support diversity in the workplace. It is something I am striving to make better and dreaming of the day when it is not an issue. I’ve been underestimated at time, but it has only ever challenged me to persevere and look for other opportunities.”
Drink to try: Citrus Gin. “It makes an amazing gin fizz.”
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Caitlin Quinn: Master Distiller at Eau Claire Distillery
On one of her biggest career achievements: “Our first whisky launch at Eau Claire Distillery was really nerve-wracking. It was the first-ever whisky blend I had worked on. So when it was well received, it was a relief. It’s still so exciting to see people try it for the first time.”
Drink to try: 7 Deadly Gins, a gin flight based on the seven deadly sins.
Alicia MacDonald & Sonja Mills: Co-owners of Port Rexton Brewing Co.
On the past and the future: “During our homebrewing days, a local homebrew shop employee discouraged us from transitioning from partial brewing to all-grain brewing, simply because it was ‘a complicated process and the grain bags were heavy.’ It was minor experiences like that actually motivated us to dive into this industry. We would love to get to the point where it’s just about the beer and not about gender. The proportion of women brewing in Newfoundland is relatively high compared to other places, demonstrating that women can succeed and be role models.”
Drink to try: T-Rex Porter. “We’ve converted many non-dark beer drinkers into dark beer fans!”
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Mary Beth Keefe: Head Brewer at Granite Brewery
On the female brewing community: “I love the solidarity and support that comes from the women in the beer industry. Groups like Society of Brew Drinking Ladies, Pink Boots and Barley's Angels have such a special place in my heart. Where I have not had a lot of negative experience being a female in this industry, that is not the case for so many others. To be able to vent and have no judgement with women who have experienced similar things is amazing.”
Drink to try: Brand New Day New England IPA. “It’s the first beer I made in my one and only closed fermenter. For me, it was a test of my abilities as a brewer.”
Laura Coles: Co-founder of Prairie Dog Brewing
On the challenges she’s faced: “I see the surprise in people’s faces when I say I’m the owner of a brewpub. Being heard is a challenge. I’ve had people physically walk around me to speak with my male counterparts, and then seem annoyed when I insert myself back into the conversation — which I'm pretty good at now. Thankfully, the field of brewing is growing and evolving quickly.”
Drink to try: Super-B Hopped Wheat. “It’s the first beer we brewed in our brewhouse and poured in our taproom. It holds a special place in my heart.”
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Julie Shore: Master Distiller at Halifax Distilling Co.
On the advice she’d give to aspiring female distillers: “Women can be at a disadvantage when it comes to securing funding or accessing capital for start-ups and company scale-ups. The financial world is still dominated by men — some of whom can bully and intimidate women. I would encourage women to stand firm. When you hear no — and you will — just keep going until you get the yes. Be courageous and tenacious and try to surround yourself with positive, encouraging and intelligent folks — and do not forget to say your prayers, again and again.”
Drink to try: A flight taster of Halifax Distiller’s five rum spirits.
Erin Dale: Head Brewer at Barkerville Brewing Co.
On working at a brewery operated and run almost exclusively by women: “I’ve worked in forestry and some trades, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to be one of the only women. As our brewery has received attention because we are predominately women, it’s made me appreciate how important it is to be visible. Within the brewing industry, I’ve seen a lot of support.”
Drink to try: 18 Karat Ale. “It’s the first beer our brewery came out with and has won three Canadian Brewing Awards.”
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Kelly Costello: BetaBrew Manager and Brew Team at Good Robot Brewing
On the best and worst bits of being a woman in brewing: “I still get mansplained to and pinched/hugged too long at beer festivals. I still am offered pale ales, fruited ales, or ciders when out and about. I still get talked over in meetings and getting my period still sucks. But two years ago, I hosted the first-ever women-identifying homebrew competition, FemmeBrew. And a few weeks ago, I hosted the first-ever East Coast beer festival highlight women, Brewer Fest. And you know what? It went well!”
Drink to try: Damn Fine Coffee and Cherry Pie Pale Ale. “It's a real treat! An image of the can was even posted by the star of Twin Peaks, Kyle MacLaughlin.”
Zoei Thibault: Brewmaster at Ol’Beautiful
On the history of brewing: “Brewing was originally a female-dominated craft. ‘Alewives’ and ‘brewsters’ were women who brewed and managed ale houses in the days of yore, and are truly the original brewmasters. Women are allowed to be strong and that’s something that really means a lot to me when I think about the nature of my work.”
Drink to try: Gatekeeper Belgian Chocolate Stout. “It’s the first beer recipe I ever made. It’s like dessert in a glass.”
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Melanie Eelman: Cider Maker at Annapolis Cider Company
On her career path: “My career path was not linear. I have a PhD in chemistry and a passion for all things culinary. This job allows me to bring both skills together. I am really proud of my role in developing an ultra-premium product, especially for customers that have typically shied away from cider because of a low-quality product they may have tried years before.”
Drink to try: Earl Blue cider. “One of our most popular ciders, it’s an off-dry cider with a unique combination of Nova Scotia wild blueberries and earl grey tea.”
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