Walk into a beer brewing class these days and it’s hardly the “all boys club” it once was. Scattered throughout the audience of men, you’ll find women with eyes focused up front and pens in hand.
Cornell University’s Brewing Science and Technology workshop was back by popular demand. The full day course, held at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva last week, was at full capacity with more than 80 registered students. Professor Karl Siebert prepared a packed agenda including lessons on barley and malt, hops, brewhouse operations and beer styles.
(Video after the jump.)
“The audience is very mixed. Some people are home brewers, at least a third work for brewing companies of varying sizes. I have a number of farmers, especially hop farmers, and others are suppliers to the industry – people who supply equipment or various ingredients,” said Siebert.
Brooke and Heidi Menikheim are seated close to the front of the room. The married couple live in Manlius, New York and are spearheading the family’s upcoming craft brew pub and brewery businesses. The two women began growing hops and home brewing in the small Central New York town about three years ago, and have been taking classes online to help give them an edge in the local industry.
“We’re just trying to gain as much knowledge as we can about this area. I’m amazed by how much chemistry is involved,” said Heidi.
When the New York Farm Brewery law passed in 2012, it prompted the idea for the family project. The legislation helped boost the craft brewing industry by offering tax incentives and other benefits to brewers who use New York-sourced ingredients.
Brooke’s retired parents, Bob and Joyce Menikheim, added their retirement savings along to state grants and funded the more than half-million dollar business that will also boast a beer ingredient production facility and hops and barley farms.
According to Cornell’s hops specialist, Steve Miller, craft breweries will represent about 20 per cent of all the beer sales in the country by 2020.
“I think because the beer is now higher quality, and there’s so much diversity in it that people are recognizing and thinking, ‘I’m not going out and having a beer because I want to have 10 of them, I want to have maybe just a couple of really good beers.’”
Brewers and industry insiders also agree that women are more open to trying new, adventurous beers than men.
And the number of women drinking beer has increased, too. According to the Brewers Association, a national trade group, women consumed about 30 per cent of the craft beer on the market in 2014.
That makes them an increasingly strong demographic for the industry.
“You’ll see a lot of beers from various states, including in the northeast, that market to New York because of our population. So New York brewers are competing more with them than they are with each other,” added Miller.
The fact is women have had their hands in brewing for centuries; a tradition Heidi Menikheim hopes to continue and dominate.
“I’m glad to see this because usually when you see brewers they’re all guys and you don’t see many female brewers, although women were the original ones to brew beer when it was first made. It was the women, called “Brewsters”, who brewed the beer, so this is kinda nice.”