by Ashly Winchester / Mar 08, 2021

Every day, Cara Wilson walks into the brewery along with her coworkers and sets to work on the current brews. Her typical day involves a slew of equipment and computers. All of the operations are controlled and closely monitored; the filtration systems, milling the grain and adding it to the mash tun, weighing out the hops and other ingredients.

Wilson is in charge of the most recent brew, Trailblazer, and her excitement over it is palpable. This is her passion, and it shows.

It’s fitting that she has chosen Trailblazer as the name of her brew because that’s exactly what she is doing. Wilson is blazing a trail for women in a largely male-dominated industry. When asked about the name, Wilson says that a trailblazer is “someone who creates their own path, and isn’t really following the norm. Female brewers aren’t super common. We’re just kind of creating our own way.”

She’s not doing it alone though. Wilson stands on the shoulders of other great women in brewing, like Carol Stoudt, who was the first female sole proprietor of a brewery in the United States and one of the first female brewmasters after Prohibition, and alongside many other women who are making their way into the industry today, such as Teri Fahrendorf, the founder of the Pink Boots Society.

Trailblazer is a collaboration between Athletic Brewing Co. and the Pink Boots Society, a nonprofit organization that helps support, inspire, and educate women in the fermented beverage industry. This collaboration initiative was borne out of Pink Boots Society members’ desire to participate more heavily in the organization. Breweries from all around the world participate in celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8th).

All proceeds from the sales of Trailblazer will be donated to the Pink Boots Society and will help fund educational scholarships and member programming.

“I hope this will help,” says Wilson about Trailblazer. “There’s a community for women in the industry and they can talk to each other. I think that’s really rad.”

According to a 2014 study by Auburn University, only 29 percent of brewery workers are women. There is a massively obvious gender gap in the world of brewing. That’s why organizations like the Pink Boots Society are so important - they help close that gap.

I Am Woman, Watch Me Brew!

Throughout the modern era, the art of brewing beer has long been viewed as a masculine trade, but women are finding their way into the craft. Wilson says that “women are intimidated getting into the industry... I’ve been very lucky, I’ve had a lot of support.”

Wilson has spent much of her working life in male-dominated industries, having been a wildland firefighter for four years after college. “I work really hard,” she says, “when I’m sore and tired, I keep showing up and putting in the work.” When Wilson needed more job stability, she took a job as a bartender at a small brewery in New Jersey. Her work ethic made her stand out, and she ended up helping out with production.

“I wish I had found it sooner,” Wilson says. “I love the process. Being relatively new in the industry means I’m learning new things every day. Working with my hands, problem solving, bouncing ideas and solutions off team members are all job perks. Creating a beverage that people enjoy and look forward to, especially one that doesn’t compromise physical or mental health, furthers my enjoyment of the job.” She goes on to say, “everyday is different, it’s very dynamic. There’s a lot of teamwork and problem solving together.”

Wilson ended up losing her job at the small New Jersey brewery due to the pandemic, and applied to work at Athletic Brewing Company. She didn’t think she had enough experience, but she got the job. “I thought I bombed the interview,” she says, laughing.

One of the barriers that women encounter in the industry is difficulty in performing some of the necessary tasks, usually because women are generally smaller in stature than men, and don’t have the same muscular strength. It’s possible for breweries to remedy this by being more accommodating. Wilson feels like she can do her job to its fullest extent because she’s always taken into consideration. “If we’re doing something in the brewhouse that is maybe unsafe because I’m smaller, they make modifications so that I don’t feel like I can’t do it.”

We want to see the industry change as a whole, and are dedicated to making equality and diversity a priority. Founder, Bill Shufelt, says “Our Pink Boots Collaboration beer, Trailblazer, is an awesome testament to how talented the female members of our brewing & labs teams are. We're proud to let their voices shine with this collaboration.”

Wilson hopes that her Trailblazer beer will help the industry become more inclusive by creating more awareness about women in brewing, and by making more women aware of the Pink Boots Society. “I hope that Trailblazer encourages women to join the brewing industry... and I hope it encourages women already in the industry to keep pushing to the top... I've only been a brewer for a little over two years, but I wish I'd found this career sooner. It's hard and rewarding work that leaves me feeling accomplished.”

She would love to see more women in the industry. “People always give me weird responses when I say I’m a brewer. They’re like, ‘That’s weird, you’re a girl!’ and I’m like; it’s not that crazy just because I’m female. I love my job and I’m trying to normalize women in brewing.”

- Ashly Winchester