By Nancy Mueller
GINGER JOHNSON’S FORAY into the world of beer began with a simple question: Why aren’t more women enjoying beer? More than a few focus groups later, Johnson’s findings led to the launch of her Oregon-based company, Women Enjoying Beer, and book, How to Market Beer to Women.
For Johnson, the topic of women and beer is a no-brainer. “Women have always been involved in beer because brewing is cooking,” she says. What has she learned that women want in their beer drinking experience? “Flavor, education, value, food and a social experience.”
According to Johnson, “An open mind is the best palate.” While an open mind and curious palate apply to female (and male) consumers sipping their way through the explosive craft beverage scene, what about the makers of craft beverages?
Women who comprise a who’s who of entrepreneurs and beverage makers attest that the Northwest craft beverage industry is by no means a boys’ club. The women that follow make up a tiny fraction of the influential women in the Northwest beer, wine and cider industries.
The Pike Brewing Company
It’s hard to imagine a more influential woman in the Northwest food and drink scene than Rose Ann Finkel, Vice-President, founder and owner of The Pike Brewing Company. Together with her husband Charles, the couple has been at the helm of several companies spanning the industries since the late 60s.
The Pike Brewing Company hosts “Women in Beer” benefiting Planned Parenthood during Seattle Beer Week each May. The annual sold-out event recognizes women-owned and women-led breweries, distilleries, wineries and cideries, as well as restaurants, chocolatiers and cheesemakers.
“Women add a certain sophistication or finesse to the product, like how it pairs with food,” says Finkel. She cites Lucy Saunders’ groundbreaking cookbook, Grilling with Beer. While women have always been involved in brewing beer, “women’s influence has coincided with the rise of craft beers because they’re hands-on, made with heart and love.” pikebrewing.com
Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse
Rooted in farming, family and community, orchard-based Sea Cider has evolved from its original three-person operation to a staff of more than 30. First came the dream of producing traditional fermented artisan ciders from organically-grown apples. Next, a five-year plan included a cider-making school, learning how to install an irrigation system and the backbreaking labor of planting 1,000 trees by hand.
Founder and cider master Kristen Needham recalls days of pushing wheelbarrows filled with chicken manure and fish and bone meal up and down hills with two young children in tow. The payoff has exceeded her wildest imagination. In 2016, Sea Cider brought home seven medals from GLINTCAP, the world’s largest and most prestigious cider competition.
Needham’s tasting tip? “Cider is an approachable drink. Be curious. Cider is surprisingly easy to pair with food and a great substitute for wine.” seacider.ca
Owner Mary Turri Derby sprinkles “fun” throughout our conversation about DaMa Wines. Together with original partner, Dawn Kammer, they named their company by combining the first two letters of their first names, deciding, “Let’s have fun with it.” DaMa means “lady” in Spanish.
Asked how she approaches wine tasting, Derby says: “I like to wrap a fun, sensory-memory story around it.”
Considering the circumstances surrounding DaMa’s beginnings, “fun” as a core value might seem surprising. Derby’s husband Devin died unexpectedly in 2004, leaving her to raise their four-year-old son alone and putting the plan of opening a winery in limbo. An outpouring of community love and support made the difference. In 2006, DaMa Wines opened as one of the first woman-owned wineries in Washington State and today produces 3,000 cases annually.
Derby’s tasting tip? “Try not to wear perfume or lipstick.” damawines.com
To learn more about Women Enjoying Beer, visit WomenEnjoyingBeer.com.