She walks in, smiling like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, her dress swirling loosely from her hips. She is here for excitement, her sun hat tipped gently to the side, swaying like a samba dancer as she shimmies into her seat. “My first time and so far I am considering it to be my new ritual.” What man wouldn’t love to hear those words pouring out of the mouth of a gorgeous woman? Breaking from her normal routine, this girl is ready for action, a neophyte in the world of beer.
For many women, Ladies Beer Tea was their first exposure to anything that resembled “boys night out,” a celebration of friendship and beer discovery among peers. Nancy Rigberg, co-owner of Home Sweet Homebrew in Philadelphia, coined the phrase and created a women’s event during the first Philly Beer Week in March of 2008. This was no joke. As an annual affair, it scored high as a key event for the chicks, but in Philadelphia and its outlying regions, it is only the tip of the iceberg.
Women, impassioned with an appetite for beer, love unearthing beer passion in other women. Suzanne (Suzy) Woods, Mid-Atlantic Sales Rep for Allagash Brewing Company of Portland Maine, has been the catalyst for the women’s beer movement in Philadelphia since June of 2006.
Back then, she was serving at a beer bar in the city where three young women happened to settle-in for the stretch. With unbridled confidence, they ordered craft beers and imports all evening. Woods was impressed, so they exchanged contact information, vowing to keep in touch. Within a month, Suzy launched the In Pursuit of Ale (IPA): Woman’s Beer Club of Philadelphia, declaring her “independence from mass produced swill,” and initiating the introduction and education of other women in the region about better craft beer.
This was nearly two years before Don Russell declared Philadelphia the “best beer drinking city in America.” A city that laid claim to a woman’s beer alliance dropped a heavy anchor on those critics who regarded Russell’s declaration a show of Philly arrogance. This ladies’ society was not one to be taken lightly. It included diverse age groups, corporate professionals, physicians, stock-market brokers, child care-givers, attorneys, writers, chemists, preservationists, teachers and moms. Membership numbers currently hover around 350.
Wednesdays belong to the Women’s IPA Club of Philadelphia for social, tasting, or educational events. Occasional all-day excursions spice up the year, including a Holiday [Beer] Hop, Philly Beer Week events, and charitable fund raisers. Woods is so involved in beer that she and Chris LaPierre, Head Brewer at Iron Hill Brewery in Maple Shade, NJ and her long-time sweetheart, collaborated to develop a Belgian Saison with pink and green peppercorns. LaPierre named it Saizanne, after… guess who?
Woodsy, as she is often called, ignites buzz in women’s circles. At least four regional clubs have spun-off from her enthusiasm. Tara Nurin, South Jersey freelance writer and co-host of Still Crazy After All These Beers, formed Beer for Babes in Westmont New Jersey in June of 2010. Her first meeting attracted more than 35 women to PJ’s Pour House, where they sniffed spices, tasted beer, and learned about their own deep roots, tied to the ancient brewsters of antiquity.
Other events have focused on beer and chocolate, or have hosted speakers who enlighten the babes about unfamiliar beers. It empowers them; authorizes them to be the hottest development in the world of libations. Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director of the Brewers Association in Boulder Colorado, points out that “women’s preferences for beer over wine and other alcoholic beverages have increased 6% overall since 2009.” Nurin’s club continues to gather so many enthusiasts that she established a second chapter to serve women in Central New Jersey.
Colleen Perrin, a pharmaceutical professional in the West Chester region, launched a Ladies Beer organization which has branched out to include West Chester, Pittsburgh and Media. The West Chester Beer Ladies first organized at Victory Brewing in Downingtown in May of 2011, where Ronna Dewey accepted the role as President. Dewey acknowledges that some women don’t think they like beer, so she orchestrates situations that explore beer in a parallel relationship to food, emotion, and culture.
As an example, Perrin cited an event they held at Ron’s Original Bar & Grille in Exton. Carol Stoudt, First Lady of Beer, presented an all-encompassing evening with daughter-in-law Jodi, regaling tales of German traditions, the “Wonderful Good Market,” and Stoudt’s commitment to style. In a sensational finale, Stoudt’s beer was coupled with food pairings that could make angels melt. “We have an inspiring mix of women who are members,” Perrin said, “and many have made significant discoveries about their palate as a result of attending events and trying new things.”
Media and Pittsburgh aren’t far behind. The Media Beer Ladies, led by full-time realtor Brooke Penders, and the Pittsburgh Beer Ladies, squired by Angela Maffessanti have already attracted over 100 members each. “In fact,” said Perrin, “the Pittsburgh Beer Ladies are the premier, and only, women’s craft beer networking group in Pittsburgh. They have a very involved group and meet at many of the city’s hottest beer establishments.”
The women in these groups are the ultimate multi-taskers, with full time employment or businesses and soccer-mom duties. Meetings are held once every 6 to 8 weeks, giving them an opportunity to form friendships with like-minded women, while learning about flavors in the brew kettle and the kitchen.
Ginger Johnson, owner of Women Enjoying Beer in Ashland Oregon, urges beer companies to stand up and take notice. “American women affect fully 75-85% of all purchases, across categories,” she trumpets.
So the next time you notice an innocen tlooking sugar-plum in the beer aisle, know that she is the one making the choices. Beer might make her giggle, but there’s a whole lot of financial chutzpah behind that demure smile. She holds the ace in the hole.