When Brewdog released a special women’s edition of its famous Punk IPA, renamed “Pink IPA” and emblazoned with a violet label marked “beer for girls”, the backlash was swift and merciless.
The brewery quickly clarified that the marketing campaign was supposed to be satirical and that 20 per cent of proceeds would go towards charities that campaign for gender equality. But the beer – issued, ironically, to coincide with International Women’s Day, hearkened back to a time when a woman’s place was on the pump clip logo, or as the bikini-clad backdrop to a lager ad.
The joke fell as flat as a badly-kept pint because, in 2019, women lead the way in creating and crafting beer. Nowadays, a woman’s place is in the brewery.
Dea Latis, a network for women in beer, currently lists 240 female brewers or brewery owners in the UK. Women are even taking over in what is usually called the “real ale” world, that province of old men who sip mild beer in the dark corners of tobacco-stained country pubs. Marston’s is one significant example – a decade ago, the brewery employed the “Marston’s Maidens” to tour the country enticing men to try their beer.
Fast forward to 2019 and Marston’s has a female brewing director, Emma Gilleland – the first female head brewer in England.
But there is still work to be done: according to research commissioned by Dea Latis, only 17 per cent of women in Britain regularly drink beer, and one of the main reasons that they don’t is a fear of being judged by others. Dea Latis co-founder Lisa Harlow said the industry was still male-dominated: “Many women in these roles still experience sexist remarks, and that ‘woman brews beer’ still makes headlines suggests that it is far from the norm. It is still a man’s world both in production and consumption.”
There’s a feeling in the industry that events such as International Women’s Day and Pride risk becoming tokenistic unless breweries continue to work for diversity. Vic Helsby, sales and marketing assistant at Wiper and True, is hoping to see real change in the brewing world: “People see through it when organisations are only paying lip service to diversity and inclusivity,” she said.
“In the next year, I’m looking forward to seeing more women talking at beer events and being represented outside of this niche, talking about their passion, sharing their knowledge and passing on their experience.” Now that’s something to raise a glass to.
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Stroud Brewery Schwarzwälder
Brewer Chloe Brooks’ superb cherry stout is a masterclass in fruit beer. Made with 30kg of sour cherries per batch, the rich, jamminess of the fruits underpins the natural dark chocolate flavours in the malt to make a perfectly balanced stout. Fruit beer can so often turn out super-sweet; here the natural flavour of the stoned fruit supports, rather than overwhelms, it. The finish is crisp and refreshing, with just a hint of cocoa, and it’s also vegan and organic. The brewers reckon it tastes like Black Forest Gateaux: we think that’s selling it short.
Brewsters Virago IPA: Eebria
This rich, honey-gold IPA by Brewsters’ founder Sara Barton is an amped-up version of the brewery’s popular cask beer, Decadence. A Pacific IPA, it’s dry-hopped – which means the second round of hops has been added after the sugary wort has cooled for extra flavour – with some seriously punchy New World hops. It’s not overwhelming, though – those sharp, gooseberry and resin hops are tempered by the caramels of the malt, leaving a lovely, full-bodied but quaffable pale ale.
Boss Brewing Boss Black: Beer 52
Multiple award-winning Boss Black, twice-named the Stout of Wales by the Campaign for Real Ale, tastes rich like a dusted dark chocolate truffle. While it’s as smooth and easy drinking as any good medium-strength stout, there’s a subtle smokiness and complexity from the malts that make it something really special. The slight dark fruit notes at the end – think really sharp dark cherry – cut through the sweet coffee taste, leaving an unexpectedly refreshing mouthfeel.
Marstons 61 Deep: Classic Ales
An absolutely classic, strong(ish) session-strength pale ale (it’s slightly weaker on cask), 61 Deep is crying out to be paired with a warm summer’s day and a BBQ. That’s still a few months away, but don’t let that put you off: the tropical fruit flavoured hops in this beer do a fine job of transporting you to warmer climes all on their own. 61 Deep is named for the depth of the well from which the Marston’s team – which includes four women brewers headed up by the excellent head brewer Emma Gilleland – draw water to brew with.
Wild Card Queen of Diamonds
Wild Card went from niche craft brewer to mainstream in one bound last year when they picked up a lucrative contract from Tesco. This is good news for fans of Jaega Wise’s classic IPA, the Queen of Diamonds. Hazy, hoppy and rich in sticky tropical fruits, it packs a sweet punch that’s far beyond what you’d expect from its drinkable 5% abv.
Redwell Extra Pale Ale
“We nabbed unicorns before anyone else,” says head brewer Belinda Jennings – who took over the role in November 2017 – of the psychedelic artwork on the cans of their core pale ale. The packaging is a nod to Redwell’s boast that they brew with unicorn tears: those weren’t covered in beer-tasting school, but what we can taste here is a fruity, hoppy, well-balanced pale ale. Smooth, session-strength and easy-drinking, it’s also vegan and gluten-free.
Welbeck Abbey Brewing Cavendis
A lovely take on an English blonde ale, manager Claire Monk’s Cavendish is a fresh, creamy, light beer that exudes summer sunshine. The lemon-y tangerine taste is what hits you immediately, but there are sweet caramel notes here too for a lasting mouthfeel. This is an old school English beer from a brewery with a serious heritage, so it’s worth buying a mini-keg for the perfect pour.
Beavertown Neck OilBeavertown
What better indicator of the prominence of women in beer than the fact that many drinkers’ favourite craft pint, Neck Oil, is now brewed by women: by brewing manager Lidia De Petris on Beavertown’s main kit at their brewery in Tottenham, and Valeria De Petris at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium brewery. One of the most consistent IPAs of the craft beer boom, session-strength Neck Oil is packed with big-name hops (Centennial, Simcoe and Amarillo) and tastes juicy, sharp and well-rounded, with a bit of fizz and a touch of bitterness to lift. One of our all-time favourite beers.
Wiper and True Kaleidoscope
The wonderful thing about Kaleidoscope, Wiper and True’s core pale ale, is that the hops used in the recipe change seasonally. The batch we tested is brewed with the classic craft beer big-hitter hops, Simcoe (which taste citrus-bitter, delicious and a little musky), and mosaic (juicy and sticky). But then there’s complex, relative newcomer ekuanot (previously known as Equinox), which carries tonnes of lemon and lime flavour. Overall it’s a light, refreshing, thirst-quenching pale ale – something the brewers say they strive for whatever the season.