Trailblazer’s Triumphant Return
Trailblazer makes its return for another toast to Women’s History Month!
Last year, in celebration of Women’s History Month, our women-led team brewed up Trailblazer, a hoppy, Helles brew boasting notes of tropical citrus and stone fruit. This year, we’re bringing Trailblazer back to celebrate Women’s History Month. This beer is dedicated to lifting up women in the beer industry.
All proceeds from sales of Trailblazer will be donated to nonprofit organizations championing women in brewing, as well as Athletic’s internal journey to diversify the industry and further encourage women in the space. This includes donations to Pink Boots Society, the Women's International Beer Summit, as well as others who are blazing the trails towards progress. These donations will help fund educational scholarships and member programming.
Closing the Gender Gap
Cara Wilson recently stepped into a new role here at Athletic Brewing where she gets to focus more on diversity and environmental sustainability, a self-proclaimed dream role for her. She’s going to use her new position to help continue diversifying the beer industry. “I'm excited with the re-release of Trailblazer,” says Wilson, “and hope this year [Trailblazer] can cause more direct change in the brewing industry to be more inclusive for women and non-binary folks."
Wilson is not alone, she is joined by Megan Jage, head of quality control at the San Diego brewery, and Sarah De Lorenzo, a quality and sensory technician in our Connecticut brewery, in the Trailblazer production and release. These three women stand on the shoulders of great women in brewing, and alongside many other women who are speaking out for change and making their way in the industry today, such as Teri Fahrendorf, the founder of the Pink Boots Society.
To say there is a strong male presence in the craft brewing industry is an understatement. According to diversity data released by the Brewer’s Association in 2019 (a first for the industry), only 7.5 percent of those who hold the title of Brewer are women. That percentage increases with other roles in brewing – 37 percent of employees in what they call “non-production, non-service” roles are women, and 54 percent in service-oriented roles.
“I definitely see this industry becoming more inclusive to women,” says De Lorenzo. “Do I think we are 100% there yet? No. There are still major steps to be taken in breweries across the nation. But I think with recent headlines in the beer world popping up, more breweries are making their best attempts at fixing this issue.”
A Call For Change
The history of craft brewing is overwhelmingly White and male, but that is changing as more women and people of color step forward and make their way into the craft beverage industry. The last year has been studded with calls for change, apologies, and even resignations from various breweries and brewery managers for sexism and harassment in the workplace.
“The public outcry by so many brave women in the past year has really kickstarted a cultural change in the industry,” says Jage. “People are starting to understand that craft beer should be a safe space for everyone and that we need to come together to uplift all of our peers. I'm seeing more and more callouts, call ins, public code of conducts, DEI trainings and new organizations to bolster our underrepresented communities within craft.”
Last May, an Instagram story from Brienne Allan sparked a movement now called Brave Noise. She simply asked about others’ experiences with harassment in the industry, and she got an overwhelming response from women. The Brave Noise movement led to a collaboration brew with more than 200 breweries participating. The brew showed solidarity and a commitment to making a change within the industry.
“There is still a lot of work to be done,” says Wilson, who spearheaded Athletic Brewing’s participation in the Brave Noise brew. “I hope the Brave Noise movement continues to pave the road and shed light on injustices happening worldwide.”
Initiatives like Trailblazer, movements like Brave Noise, and organizations like Pink Boots and the Women’s Craft Fermentation Alliance, are closing the gender gap and making careers in the craft brew industry more accessible.
“In a past job I had my skills and abilities questioned by managers on a regular basis,” says De Lorenzo. “This made me lose my confidence and feel defeated. Having to deal with this behavior for months, and being the only woman in that department, I felt unheard and pushed aside. Luckily, I finally opened up to another female in the company and came up with an action plan. The issue slowly resolved after a few months.”
The OG Brewmasters
Throughout the modern era, the art of brewing beer has long been viewed as a masculine trade. However, there is substantial documentation that women were the original brewmasters as far back as 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, and likely for much longer than that. Historically, women brewsters – the feminine equivalent to ‘brewer,’ – were brewing low alcohol, nutrient-rich ales for their families, but these brews spoiled quickly. The addition of hops, a discovery credited to Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, helped keep brews from going bad. The extended shelf life led to the mainstream adoption of adding hops, which in turn led to larger production facilities. The mass production and sale of beer pushed women out of brewing.
But women are finding their way back into the craft.
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.
“Before Athletic, I had never heard of any female brewers. I honestly just thought companies didn't hire us because of the manual labor involved,” says De Lorenzo. “ When I started [at Athletic] I was the only female on the brewery floor. It was scary at first, but I was treated equally and was never doubted of my abilities.”
Throughout the industry, women also tend to be held to a higher standard than men. There is extra pressure to perform every task perfectly, and mistakes are not tolerated. “I felt more of a need to prove myself to be accepted by my peers initially,” Jage says about previous jobs. “When you are one of the only women in the room you feel the extra pressure to make zero mistakes so as not to reflect badly on the rest of the women trying to make it in the industry.”
The Trailblazer Brew
Our Trailblazer brew is meant to do exactly what the name implies – help blaze trails for women in a largely male-dominated industry by donating to Pink Boots Society, the Women’s International Beer Summit (WIBS), and Ladies Who Launch.
“Not only is it a stellar brew but it also supports a cause I am very passionate about,” says Jage “It allows our team to showcase not only our brewing expertise but also make a real difference in our community.”
Pink Boots is a nonprofit organization that helps support, inspire, and educate women in the fermented beverage industry, the Women’s International Beer Summit is an event created by the Women's Craft Fermentation Alliance that aims to empower and educate female-identifying brewers, and Ladies Who Launch is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization founded with the mission to elevate and empower a global community of women and non-binary entrepreneurs and small business owners by providing educational resources, funding, mentorship, networking, and community. This initiative would not be possible without our team of trailblazers here at Athletic Brewing – both in the brewery and in the office.
“I'm surrounded by a team of thoughtful, strategic, diverse minds that I think will really make a difference in the industry for years to come,” says Wilson.
Kaitlin Peters, who works as the E-commerce Fulfillment Lead for San Diego, is excited to see this beer brewed for the second year in a row. Last year, she was present for the hops addition to Trailblazer.
“I’m very proud that we were able to create that beer,” says Peters. “Initiatives like this are important because it creates awareness to the public. I had a great time being included in the hops addition to Trailblazer, and got to bond a little more with my coworkers.”
The excitement is almost palpable in our breweries as Trailblazer finishes fermenting. “Last year when Trailblazer first was brewed, Cara [Wilson] commented that women in the industry are creating their own paths in this heavily male dominated industry. I don't think I can say it better than that!” says De Lorenzo. “We are creating our own path and hopefully inspiring other women to do the same, if not in brewing [then] in other male dominated industries!”