"Women in drinks are not an anomaly or a quirk – we are a very real part of this industry…"
Jayne Lewis – Two Birds Brewing
Most of us look forward to the day when conversations about gender in the craft beer industry are no longer necessary when gender – along with sexuality, race, worldview, height, sporting team preference, and any number of other factors – isn’t a particularly relevant distinction when it comes to the production, marketing, selling and enjoyment of beer.
The last twelve months have seen conversations about gender surface in a number of different ways in the Australian beer scene, including The Big Issue: Sexism feature on this site, in which a number of women shared their stories about negative experiences they’ve had in the beer industry. There was also a social media storm around the naming and marketing of a beer, while The Beeries in Brisbane saw industry folk come together to award Chicks With Ales with their Gold Beery For Best Community Contributor.
While it seems self-evident that neither women nor men have a lack of intrinsic skill or talent when it comes to working with beer, historically there have been instances where the industry and its followers have demonstrated a lack of inclusiveness and equal respect for women. As long as these issues remain, there’s a place for us all to be intentional about addressing this imbalance, which means continuing to have conversations about gender.
However, this doesn’t mean these conversations always have to be negative; it’s equally important to celebrate the advances. By sharing stories of women who are succeeding in beer, we can inspire confidence in women thinking of joining the industry; encourage those women already in the industry; support those who occasionally have to push uphill or fight difficult battles; and empower anyone who wants to progress the beer industry, regardless of gender. The more we share stories of women in beer, the more we normalise and celebrate women in beer – it’s that simple.
And what better time to celebrate than International Women’s Day this Friday (March 8)? On this day, the inaugural Meet the Makers: Women in Beer, Wine and Spirits is taking place in Sydney, an event that aims to “shine a well-deserved spotlight” on women in those industries.
Two of the breweries in attendance are led by women worth celebrating: Jaz Wearin, co-owner of Modus Operandi Brewing on Sydney's Northern Beaches, and Jayne Lewis, co-owner and brewer at Spotswood’s Two Birds Brewing, whose business partner, Danielle Allen, has been named as a state finalist in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards for Victoria.
Both Jaz and Jayne, in the former’s own words, “lead by example” in order to change attitudes. They’ve both achieved amazing things for their respective breweries and the industry as a whole, and this is part of what makes them worth having their stories told; their passion and success are inspiring to all.
Without further ado, over to Jaz and Jayne to discuss the event, the beer industry and share some of the highlights of their respective careers.
The “Meet The Makers” event looks like an amazing opportunity. How do you think this event will make an impact on you personally, and for the industry as a whole?
Jaz Wearin: The organisers have informed me that it is a world first to have this many women in the wine, beer and spirits industry under one roof so I’m pretty excited to be a part of it! Personally, it will allow me a platform to share the positive stories and experiences I have had in this industry. For the past few years people have wanted to discuss the negatives – which do exist, sure – but I think we want to move on from that now.
If we want to create more opportunities for women already in the industry and attract more women to the industry, we need to start telling the good stories, because I for one, have heaps!
Jayne Lewis: Events like this being put together is proof that there is an interest and desire from people to really know who is behind the beverages they enjoy. They don't want to just drink beers, wines or spirits from nameless people within faceless businesses.
My hope is that it shows venues, commentators and also just other drinkers that women in drinks are not an anomaly or a quirk – we are a very real part of this industry and we have just as much to offer and contribute as anyone else!
From my understanding, it seems as though you're hoping something women will take away from the event (and the article) is the realisation there are opportunities for them in the industry. What would you like men to take away?
JW: That they aren’t the enemy – ha! Ninety-nine percent of the males I have met in this industry have been respectful, accepting and value my input and I am sure they would say the same thing about females in this industry. For the one percent, well, [I'm] not giving it airtime because it certainly hasn’t affected my job satisfaction.
JL: I hope men take the opportunity to come out and really get behind female producers. I’d love them to have the chance to see and enjoy what females are bringing to the brewing industry.
What have been some of the highlights of your respective beer industry careers?
JW: For me it was last year, when I was 32 weeks pregnant with my son Arch, at the Indie Beer Awards. I was chatting to New Belgium’s Kim Jordan about balancing children with a brewery and her positive spin on her journey (which is pretty impressive), when all of a sudden Modus was awarded Champion Large Brewery (see photo at top of article).
I had a bit of a moment where I was like: “Shit, I’m giving this a red hot go!” There I was with a sore back, a little cranky that I couldn’t sample the wares, and a watermelon up front, but I was really happy and excited to be part of the brewing industry and be rewarded by our peers for all that work, risk, time and effort that’s gone into Modus and the industry over the past six years.
JL: I think one of my proudest moments was creating a beer in partnership with the Western Bulldogs AFLW side last year (see below). Our Trail Blazer Aussie Lager was in honour of trailblazing women from all walks of life, so to be able to team up with the team I support was a truly memorable experience. Add to that watching them win the final while my business partner Danielle and I were exploring new opportunities for Two Birds in Shanghai, and it's a doubly great example of what can be achieved if you work hard and follow your dreams!
Do you have any personal “trailblazer” moments, when you feel you've made a real difference for women in the industry?
JW: I don’t see myself as trailblazing, because I have never seen myself or women at a disadvantage in the industry. But if I had to put my finger on it… maybe appearing in Modus’ most recent limited edition video with Archer on my hip because I couldn’t find a sitter. The show must go on – ha!
Oh, and physically marching a six-foot, 100kg, obnoxious rude guy out of our pub after insulting me. Again, not trailblazing, but for anyone who had misguided doubts about my ability, leading by example is a great way to change attitudes.
JL: Winning the Champion Amber/Dark Ale Trophy and Champion Medium Australian Brewery trophy at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2016, the world’s largest annual beer competition, was amazing for us. We truly felt like we'd made a difference.
Standing up there as Australia's first female-owned brewery and being able to say beyond a shadow of a doubt that we'd made some of the best beers in the world, as voted by a panel of respected beer judges, was an incredible honour and joy. I hope it served as encouragement for any women in the industry who are determined to prove that we can do it just as well as the men, if not even better!
My involvement with the Pink Boots Society has also given me a lot of those moments, where I feel like I was able to help connect people, raise the profile of women in the beer industry and really make a difference.
Do you prefer to be recognised as a skilled and talented woman in the industry, or a skilled and talented person in the industry?
JW: A skilled and talented person! Although I am proud to be a woman in this industry, I want to be regarded for my work by being myself, not a gender. I am aware that we need to highlight women in the industry. In fact, it’s what’s going to get us to a point where we don’t break it down as female and male; it will be just: “You are a skilled and talented person, aren’t you!”
JL: A skilled and talented person! I've worked too hard over too long to be considered anything else. My ability to brew or run a business is not determined by my gender, and neither should anyone else's be.
We're still at a time in the industry where we need to make noise about the good things women are doing, because that's a key way other women will feel empowered and supported enough to enter the beer world. But I would never, ever want any woman to be limited to only being a "woman" anything.
While there have been great strides forwards, there's still a way to go for the beer industry to not feel male-dominated. What would you like to see happen in the next few years?
JW: Yes, we are still male-heavy in this industry, but I do really believe that could even out in the coming years by women having more of a voice in media, acknowledging all departments beyond who is on the brew deck (marketing, brand management, admin, finance, HR, management, accounting and sales) that contribute to the end product, and putting a spotlight on the positive things that are happening for women in our industry.
There will always be a negative topic to find on any subject but by telling the positive stories that are out there we will surely support women already in the industry and give confidence to women wanting to join the industry.
JL: Funnily enough, I'd love to see more men willing to turn up to events about women! Events like this are the perfect environment for men to show that they too are just as excited and interested in what women are bringing to the table. Addressing the gender imbalance cannot only be the task for women, and that starts with men not writing things off as "women's business".
Anything else you’d like to add?
JW: We are 100 percent committed to employing and supporting females in our business. The problem we have is that we just don’t get as many women applying – especially on the brewery/sales side, which is why I think events like the Women In Drinks event is a great way to shine a positive spotlight on the topic.
I am very keen to present a positive angle on this topic (which I personally have had), because that is how we are going to welcome more women into the industry.
JL: Bring on International Women's Day!
Marie Claire wrote this article in conjunction with Mick Wust.
For more on the Meet The Makers event, head here.