More women are leading the way in the city’s brewing scene

More women are at the helm on brew days.
Erica DeAnda
Courtesy of Tumbled Rock Brewery & Kitchen

Today’s male-dominated beer industry might make you think otherwise, but women used to run the beer scene. “Women were the original brewers,” says Erica DeAnda, head brewer at Tumbled Rock Brewery & Kitchen in Baraboo. From Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer, to the female colonizers of America, women were in charge of brewing. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution of the 1700s and 1800s — when beer started getting mass produced outside of the home — that beer production became a “male” profession. But now with the explosion of the craft beer industry, more women are at the helm on brew days.

Sitting in a coffee shop on a sunny morning, DeAnda shakes her head when she brings up one of her most “cringeworthy” moments. “When I was 21, I went into a brewery and said, ‘I’ll take the girliest beer that you have,’ ” DeAnda says. “Now I hate when people ask that.”

Originally from California, DeAnda says she didn’t know anything about beer until she got a job at a brewpub in Oakland at the age of 23. “We had a lot of beer training,” DeAnda says. “I had this one beer [an aged pale ale] and it was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ That beer completely changed my outlook.” DeAnda went on to work at several breweries in the Bay Area, and she became the first woman hired on the kegging staff at a large production brewery. It was a way to get her foot in the door, “but I wanted to be a brewer,” says DeAnda, who spent eight hours a day kegging beer. She moved to Wisconsin to work at Minocqua Brewing Co. in 2017, but then got her chance to be a brewer when she was hired as a production brewer at Octopi in Waunakee in 2018. As the only female brewer on staff, “my experience at Octopi was good,” DeAnda says. “The guys took me in like I was one of them.”

Today DeAnda is the head brewer at Tumbled Rock Brewery & Kitchen — which opened in September 2019 — where she oversees a 15-barrel brew house and specializes in traditional English ales. DeAnda is also the chapter leader of Wisconsin’s Pink Boots Society, an international organization for women who work in the brewing industry. At chapter meetings the women get together to “drink beer, talk about beer and talk about problems in our industry — how we can help get more women involved in beer and make them see that it is a career option,” DeAnda says. Each meeting also includes educational components. One of the organization’s main missions is to raise money for scholarships to help women advance their careers in beer.

Founded by Teri Fahrendorf in 2007, the Pink Boots Society had 16 female brewers at its first meeting. Now there are more than 2,300 members worldwide.

Daisy Sánchez, a brewer at Octopi, says as a woman of color she wishes she had known about the Pink Boots Society when she first started homebrewing. “[With brewing] it’s a lot of white men,” Sánchez says. She was working in packaging at Octopi when she became more involved with the Pink Boots Society. “Meeting other people in the industry restored my faith in craft beer,” Sánchez says. “Knowing there are other women out there is enlightening.”

Capital Brewery brewmaster Ashley Kinart-Short says she “absolutely” sees more women in the Madison brewing scene than when she first started. “It’s a small fraction of females, but it’s a lot more today than when I started seven years ago,” she says. “I think [as a society] we are growing out of the super gender-directed careers and professions.”

Kinart-Short credits the Pink Boots Society and other local organizations, including Females Enjoying Microbrews, or FEMs, with increasing women’s presence in the beer scene. “The number of females with experience available to start brewing has definitely gone up a ton from when I first started hiring people to now,” Kinart-Short says. “Whatever we’re doing to get more women involved, it’s definitely working.”

Jessica Jones, co-owner and brewer at woman-owned Giant Jones Brewery, says “doubt, intimidation and fear” are to blame for the lack of women in the brewing industry. “It’s the standard things that result in underrepresentation in anything,” she says. But Jones’ advice to other women is to apply for open positions. “Be confident, because you are amazing and can do this work,” Jones says.

DeAnda used to dislike being asked what it’s like to be a female brewer. “You don’t ask a man that,” she says. But after talking with another friend in the beer industry she started to see the question in a new light. “Now I like to say that it’s really kick-ass that I get to be a part of history,” DeAnda says. “I am one of the only female brewers around, and I’m paving the way for other female brewers. And it’s really cool that at the end of the day my gender has nothing to do with the beer that I’m producing.”

Erica Krug is a Madison-based writer.