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Pink Boots Society Collaboration Brew Day Aims To Support Women In The Beer Industry

There are 50 members of the Pink Boots Society in Wisconsin, and only five are in the Milwaukee area.

Milwaukee may be known for its beer, both brewed and consumed, but few people really understand the inner workings of the local industry. As several industries are taking a more critical approach to gender equity, a group is trying to bring more women into brewing. The Pink Boots Society was started in 2007 by master brewer Terri Fahrendorft after she took a road trip to 70 breweries across the country.

During the trip, Fahrendorft realized that she and other women weren’t taken seriously by male brewers. She also met other women in the beer industry who weren’t getting the recognition she felt they deserved. Pink Boots started as a way to network, but quickly evolved into a non-profit supporting women in beer through education.

To join the Pink Boots Society, 25% of a woman’s income needs to come from the beer industry, whether it be brewing or other related careers like distributing and packaging. Bartenders are included as well, which is perhaps the most stereotypical way in which women work with beer.

There are around 50 members of the Pink Boots Society that meet those criteria in Wisconsin, and only five are in the Milwaukee area.

“People don’t see that there’s a million places where [women] can fit in in the industry,” said Toni Eichinger, co-owner of Black Husky Brewing in Milwaukee.

Credit Audrey Nowakowski
(From L to R) Samantha Danen is a brewer at Company Brewing, Toni Eichinger co-owns Black Husky Brewing, and Steph Smith is a regional sales rep for Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee.

The society is planning a Collaboration Brew Day at Black Husky to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8. The collaboration between Black Husky, Company, Lakefront and Gathering Place Brewing Company hopes to show people all of the roles that Wisconsin women have in making this a beer state.

Craft brewing has grown into a multinational, multi-billion dollar industry in recent decades, despite the fact that many brewers get their start as hobbyists. As the industry becomes more formal, many Pink Boots members would like to see companies be more intentional with their hiring and marketing.

“Colleges and universities are seeing that brewing is a desired career, so they are adding it to their curriculums,” said Samantha Danen, brewer at Milwaukee's Company Brewing. Danen started brewing and learning about the craft as a hobby, but worked relentlessly to find a company that would "take a chance" on her. Danen adds that while many people would like to advance their careers, many hit social barriers given the industry’s origins.

“I deal with a lot of people across the industry … bar owners, restaurant owners, grocery store chain managers and there are quite a few times people don’t take me seriously,” said Lakefront sales representitive Steph Smith. “I do notice that people like to question me a lot, and fact check me.”

All of the women interviewed suggested that there is positive movement in the local beer world, thanks in part to awareness efforts from the Pink Boots Society. They hope that the experiences they’ve had and the love for beer they share catches on more in the industry.

“We do need to be open to diversity, and a lot of breweries are taking note of that, hiring women and people of color,” says Danen. “If you’re not going to show up ... your brewery might not last that long because you’re not keeping up with what people have come to expect.”

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.