10 Badass Women Behind the Scenes in Craft Beer

Shutterstock (edited)
Shutterstock (edited)

As both a fem and a female in the beer biz, the subject of women in beer is very near and dear to my heart. However, it breaks my heart that the majority of beer drinkers in this world can’t even name one important woman in the beer industry. Meanwhile, they can rattle off a list of the most prestigious men in the biz, and probably call them by their first names when they talk about them.

But the women? Sadly, most go unrecognized.

As you can imagine, the list of badass women in the craft beer industry extends way beyond this mere list of 10 -- like, way beyond. There are dozens of amazing female brewers, writers, and evangelists that deserve to be honored, praised, and put on a pedestal. We’ll get to that. But first, we want to sing the praises of these particular badass ladies working behind the scenes.

Courtesy of Julia Herz

Julia Herz

Craft beer program director for the Brewers Association
If you’re a beer nerd, you likely know BA founder Charlie “The Godfather” Papazian, or have at least seen director Paul Gatza’s infamous curly mullet. But it breaks my heart that so few of you know of Julia Herz, who is quite possibly the most phenomenal woman in craft. Julia is by far the most passionate, knowledgeable, and inspirational woman in the industry. She is the reason why I exist, speaking on the existential level, naturally. Hypothetical scenario: the world is about to end, and we get an ark to preserve all of the intelligence on the planet. As an industry, we can only put one person on this arc, and he/she is responsible for preserving the craft of beer and brewing as we know it. Julia. Yes, Julia. She’s the only person I would trust to preserve and revive craft beer. She’s that good.

Terry Cekola

President of Elite Brands of Colorado
So let’s just air something right now -- Prohibition sucked, AND it’s still haunting us today. Case in point? The three-tier system. For those who don’t live in our weird little craft beer hippy bubble, the three-tier system is such: brewers (aka manufacturers of beer) must sell our beer to distributors (aka second tier of the system) who then sell it to retailers (aka restaurants, bars, and liquor stores). If there is one tier of the system that is the most male dominated and most corporate (aka owned and run by big-business breweries) -- it’s the distribution tier. And even though the odds were stacked up against her, Terry has successfully built one of the most respected and revered independent beer distributors in the world. That takes balls. Or, actually, no it doesn’t.

Michael Wessel Photography

Lucy Saunders

Author, Dinner in the Beer Garden, Grilling with Beer, Cooking with Beer
To reduce Lucy to an environmentalist in the craft beer realm would not do her proper justice. Yet if I didn’t tell the world about her philanthropy, you would probably never know. Lucy’s real claim to fame is being the OG craft beer cookbook writer -- we’re talking ‘90s-era writing, when craft beer was still a curiosity. But what really makes her even more legit is her environmental work in the craft beer biz. For the past six-plus years, Lucy has been dedicated to educating breweries (and cities) about water conservation. And in case any of you don’t know, water is pretty important in brewing, and we waste a shit-ton of it in the industry. Thanks to Lucy, we’re learning to waste less.

Teri Fahrendorf

Founder of the Pink Boots Society
Very few feminists love the color pink being associated with our gender, but I’ll make an exception for Teri and her Pink Boots Society because, well, it takes a lot of courage, strength, and tenacity to do what she has done. She is the myth, the wo-man, and the legend -- the one who pretty much said “screw this whole 'only men can brew beer, because women are too weak'” bullshit and then put herself on the map. Pretty much the OG lady craft brewer in the early ‘90s, Teri formed a super-inclusive group called the Pink Boots Society to ensure that women who loved beer and brewing would never have to subject themselves to sexism and demoralization in order to work in the industry that is still dominated by men. Any female who earns a dollar -- seriously, even if it’s literally 100 pennies -- a year to work in beer can be a member. It’s that inclusive.

Courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Company

Lauren Woods Salazar

Specialty brand manager/blender/sensory specialist at New Belgium Brewing Company
Le sigh. Not only is Lauren one of the most talented brewers in the world, she’s also one of the most stunning. And we aren’t talking decked-out-in-makeup stunning: we’re talking about “hardcore rock climber with a passion for the outdoors,” “maybe she’s born with it (yes she is)” beauty. But enough with the #girlcrush. You like sours, right? Well, let me introduce you to the barrel whisperer, bacteria tamer, beer-blending queen herself, the ever-lovely and super-fit Lauren Salazar. Most of Lauren’s handiwork can be found in New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series, but if you are lucky enough to visit the brewery or attend one of her events, you will see that her skills extend far beyond the beers found on the shelves.

Mariah Calagione

Vice president of marketing at Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales
I was tempted to refer to Mariah as an early adapter, but merely highlighting her success and leadership as a beer brand on social media would not do this woman justice. After all, she is the true definition of the stupid adage “behind every good man is a great woman.” I love Dogfish owner Sam Calagione to death, but we all know that Mariah is the reason why Dogfish Head has the clout and fame it has today. Yeah, everyone knows Sam and his pretty little face and his creative little stories -- but they should also know how extraordinary his wife is. Mariah is the voice of Dogfish Head, the artistry behind the brand, the woman you talk to on social media -- she is the wizard of Oz. And by Oz, I mean Milton, DE.

Courtesy of Gwen Conley

Gwen Conley

Director of brewery production and quality assurance at The Lost Abbey
Holy shit, this woman. Most brewers take their job for granted. No seriously, most of you (um brewers, still talking to you) have no clue what actually happens during fermentation. It might come as a shock to some, but one of the leading scientists in the beer industry is a chick. Personality + good looks + world-class microbiologist = just blew your mind, right? Got an infection in the brewery? Gwen can find the source in T-minus -- oh, she already found that shit while you were trying to configure your watch. She also knows more about your palate than you know about your palate. Conversing with her will hurt your brain, but in a good way.

Cheryl Black

Co-owner, Falling Rock Tap House
Calling Cheryl Black “The Rock” has a double meaning. Cheryl is the co-owner of one of the best, if not the best, craft beer bars in the world, Falling Rock in Denver. But, more importantly, she is one of the strongest humans that I’ve ever met, a woman who looked cancer in the eye and literally said “fuck you.” She is a rock, yes a rock, for most of us in the craft beer industry. She grounds us. She humanizes us. But more importantly, Cheryl gives us a foundation and strength, and inspires us (me) to keep on moving on even when shit gets real.

Courtesy of Anat Baron

Anat Baron

Director, Beer Wars
I’m truly at a loss of words over this one. Don’t ask me why a woman that is allergic to alcohol would ever want to produce a documentary about the craft beer industry. After all, it took her nearly two years, if not more, to gather the footage and edit it and blah blah blah whatever filmmakers do. But seriously, Anat gave enough of a crap about our tiny little artisan world to stop, drop, and roll film for us, despite the fact that she doesn’t even know what a craft beer tastes like. Her eye-opening 2009 documentary, which exposes the inner workings of the beer industry and the struggles small independent brewers face on a daily basis, was quite ground-breaking and revolutionary for its time. And lord knows, the sequel is well overdue. (Hear that Anat? Give me a call if you need some material. I got your back).

Nicole Erny

Consultant, Master Cicerone
Although she was already well known for her encyclopedic knowledge of beer, Nicole proved her expertise to the world -- shutting up any potential doubters -- when she became the first female to pass the Master Cicerone exam. For those of you who live under a rock, the Cicerone program is pretty similar to the sommelier program in that both essentially certify people for having superior palates and knowledge of beer/wine, respectively. And as you can imagine, being a master in either school is super legit. Nicole is about as legit as it gets. Even the most expert of experts have a tough time hanging with this one -- two minutes of talking shop with Nicole, and you will quickly realize that you thought you knew everything there was to know about beer, but you really don’t know anything at all.

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Ashley Routson, aka the Beer Wench, is a craft beer evangelist, author of The Beer Wench's Guide to Beer, and a district manager for Green Flash Brewing. Follow her to being a badass: @thebeerwench.