Fem Ales Crush Stereotypes and Some Beer, Too

There’s nothing I enjoy as much as a quiet night at home with my partner, our hound, a few close friends and some delicious beer. Or so I thought. Twice this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to share pints of fantastic local brews with friends and strangers alike, bonding over our shared interest in craft beer. On both occasions, we were treated to a mini education session from local industry experts, and on both occasions, every person in attendance was female identified.

The Fem Ales is a ladies-only beer group founded by Lisa Wallace, Jane Barkley, Melanie Baker and Charlotte MacKenzie. Inspired by their positive experiences at events run by the much larger Society of Beer Drinking Ladies in Toronto, they decided that it was time to offer similar opportunities to women in Waterloo Region.DSC_1031They’ve hit the ground running.

In July, the group rapidly sold out of tickets to the inaugural event at Fionn Maccool’s in Kitchener. Alex Szaflarska, worker/owner at Together We’re Bitter Brewing Co-operative, was the featured speaker. The second event, run in conjunction with the first Waterloo-Wellington Craft Beer Week, took place on August 20 at Descendants Beer & Beverage Co. Close to forty tickets were sold — no small feat for a Friday in the summer.

Upon arriving at Descendants, guests were given three drink tickets and a raffle ticket. There was ample time to select and enjoy a bevy before the formal portion of the evening began; in this case, a Q&A with owner Lee Brooks.

At first, the questions were pretty mundane: What was the first beer you ever tried? What’s your favourite Descendants beer? Hers is the Hefeweizen.

Soon, though, we had a chance to hear more about Brooks’s experience as a woman in the beer industry. She spoke about finding a balance between raising her son and running her brewery, about being the underdog, and about being treated as just the owner’s wife during the renovation process. Her comments were candid and passionate, eliciting audience responses that included a shouted “way to break the glass ceiling, sister!” When the Q&A wrapped, raffle prizes were drawn and beer enjoyed in a space buzzing with conversation.  I didn’t know most of the women in the room that night, but I felt at home.

I’ve had discussions with women who argue that events like this one are counterproductive, setting a precedent of separate-but-equal within the industry. I disagree. Organizations like Fem Ales and SOBDL are, as Barkley explains, “about having a safe and chill space where women can have a few well crafted brews, learn more about the brewing industry from the perspective of women working in it… and along the way basically
crush stereotypes about women.”

I hope that all women will feel comfortable engaging in the broader beer culture soon, but we’re not there yet. Until then, we need events like these.

The next Fem Ales event will take place at the Fork and Cork on Weber Street on Saturday, October 1. If you don’t have anyone to go with, just look for me. I’d love to chat beer with you.