A Conversation on Women & Beer at Northern Monk Refectory, had been organised as part of Leeds Beer Week 2017, by Women on Tap, which is principally Rachel Auty and Andrew Cameron. When I met up with them at Women on Tap Fest at Harrogate’s Little Ale House, back in May, Rachel said she planned more Women on Tap events, even if it was only social networking sessions. Well, she’s gone and totally excelled herself here and any fears that no one would turn up were totally unfounded (told you didn’t I).
I reckon the audience numbered over two dozen, mostly in the 18 – 35 bracket, plus the cutest, cheekiest little dog. I thought it was a decent turnout for 2pm on a Sunday afternoon. Quite a few people had travelled from all over Northern England, which was good to see. Fifty somethings, like myself, were in the minority though. I expected that, as I don’t think the LBW17 scene is one that appeals to many older drinkers … a theme which sort of became expounded later!
Rachel’s opening gambit included the mission statement of Women on Tap; To celebrate Women and beer, highlight Women’s contribution to the beer industry and to promote Harrogate as a centre of beer, brewing and quality independent craft beer and real ale establishments. She then introduced the panel of industry experts to everyone (pictured below, left to right, with Rachel far left);
Richard Park- co-owner of The Little Ale House, Harrogate the venue and main partner for WOTFest 2017.
Gulen Smith – Director and co-founder of The Steam Machine Brewing Co. from Newton Aycliffe, Co. Durham and whose beers (keg and can only) featured at WOTFest 2017.
Katie Marriott – Gaffer (that’s what her business card says) and brewer at Nomadic Beers who also brewed and supplied beers for WOTFest2017, and Vice Chair of LeedsCAMRA.
Steph Shuttleworth – Independant Freelance Beer Marketing and Operations Consultant, and ex Marble, ex Brewdog.
The conversation ran through the roles of women in the beer industry; so that’s pretty much everything then from brewing to running pubs and bars and breweries and wholesalers, not forgetting bloggers and beer writers. Like Melissa Cole who came up to Women on Tap Fest 2017 to support the event with a series of tutored tastings and never asked for a penny.
It’s pretty clear that despite the success of women in the industry, although there are more women involved than most people think, they are still under-represented and there’s a strong perception that it’s a ‘male thing’.
So, should women make a fuss about this, or just get on with it and be good at what they do? The panel unanimously believed that all too often, when the profile of women in beer is raised, it tends to be reactive against some negativity, rather than proactively focused on the good stuff. An incident at a beer festival in Manchester earlier in the year and the resulting furore on social media, being a good example of this. Unfortunately there are other examples.
If anyone reading this has any sort of impression that Women on Tap on tap is some sort of tub thumping exercise then they’d be very wrong. This is serious, frank and very open debate, about a serious issue.
To be fair, I felt like doing bit of thumping myself when I learned about Aurosa – First Beer For Her ®. A Czech beer which is a representation of a woman’s strength and a girls tenderness which is designed for sophistication and elegance (their words, not mine) and comes in a marbled pink bottle, yet there’s nothing on the website that tells you exactly what style of beer it is. I downloaded a couple of the press photos from their web site.
I know, you’re probably thinking the images are pure sexist, exploitive, and lots of other things. I agree, it is, but they’re out there and people need to know about it and help this uber marketed, ill conceived, ‘in the image of Prosecco’ styled beer, which is apparently eight quid a bottle, become a flop,
Following a run round the many female beer groups, like the ever growing and very active Liverpool based, Ladies-That-Beer and the Facebook based group Crafty Beer Girls, the discussion got round to campaigning groups like CAMRA.
Katie gave an overview of LeedsCAMRA and the number of female members, roughly 22% and outlined the many positive things that CAMRA had achieved. As an active LeedsCAMRA member I’m fairly happy that we are both diverse and inclusive. However, the discussion around CAMRA brought the most vehement involvement from the audience.
The question, ’Do we need CAMRA to promote Women in Beer?’ was met with some derision, and several people saying that every incident of sexism they had encountered whilst behind the bar had been from, very vocal, CAMRA members. Particularly in relation to advice regarding beer when it came from a woman – ‘You can’t tell me I’m a CAMRA member!’
Several audience members who worked in parts of the Greater Manchester area, independently told us they regularly encountered this sort of prejudice. From the discussion, I got the feeling the seniority of the punters was a common factor.
Rachel summed up the panels view by saying that as an organisation CAMRA should be more proactive in promoting diversity across the entire beer scene. But not before one commentator asked, ‘Is CAMRA is still relevant?’ A hanging sort of a pause that no one really wanted to answer followed …
As the clock ticked towards the end of debate Rachel concluded, and following mucho aplauso and a quick selfie, everyone decamped from the Northern Monk Chapter house back down to the Refectory to continue the discussion over a few beers.
Women on Tap good people doing good things, hopefully we won’t have to wait until WOTFest2018 for the next event?