Brew it forward on International Women's Day

On March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, with a flurry of activities around the globe. Here in San Diego, three women in particular will be making a statement in the craft beer world by brewing a specialty beer to celebrate women drinkers and those in the industry.

Audrey Olena, Clare Bublitz, and Alli Neri of Bay City Brewing are teaming up with head brewer Chris West to brew a Pale American-Belgo Style Ale using hops imported by Pink Boots Society.

According to the Brewer’s Association, around 25% of craft beer drinkers are women, a number that is steadily rising as ladies experiment with. In the industry, the website womenincraftbeer.com notes women comprise 29% of craft brewery workers, and that’s a number Olena would like to help raise.

PACIFIC recently spoke with her about what it’s like to be a lady in craft beer, the concept of the “girly beer,” and where the women’s movement goes from #metoo into the future.

PACIFIC: What’s your position at Bay City Brewing?

AUDREY OLENA: I wear many hats. I do merchandise, design work, and tend bar.

How did you connect with Pink Boots and their hops?

I had known about it before, because last year I led two brews at Ballast Point Home brew mart. One was in the morning, for BP employees, and other was a collaboration with a subset of Quaff (the Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity organization).

Do you homebrew?

I have one going right now; I’m brewing a pomelo session IPA. I have a tree on my patio that gives me giant ones every year.

How did you decide on a Pale American-Belgo Style Ale for International Women’s Day?

The hops blend that we applied for designated a hoppier style American ale, and we looked at Bay City’s lineup, and we’ve never done a hoppy style Belgian, so we said “let’s do that!”

Forecasting out, how would you describe it?

It’s conjecture, but a medium-bodied, light-colored beer with strong Belgian yeast and some sweetness, with pine, grass and citrus.

What’s one thing people should know about women brewers?

They are the same as (men) brewers, but they have a harder time in the industry. It’s not about men keeping down women, but about institutionalized values and sexism that makes people say things that aren’t helping anyone. I moved out to get a job and was straight up turned down from several breweries.

Is there such a thing as a girly beer?

Absolutely not, there is no such thing, so be careful what you ask for, you might not like what you get. It’s fun to mess with people. Sometimes I get from male customers, “why does this come in a girly glass? Can I have this in a man’s glass?”

Do you think the #metoo movement is here to stay? Do you think it might change some of the big beer exploitation of women?

I hope it is here to stay. I’m glad you asked, because a lot of people are viewing it as insular in entertainment and missing the widespread implications. I hope it will lead to smarter choices in advertising, and thinking of women brewers as brewers and not women brewers.

Where does the women’s movement go from here?

There’s two ways people are going, and there is a clear line between inclusive and exclusive. Intersectionality is lacking, and it ends up looking like a movement for white women, but it must be for women of color, the poor and open to all and not just those that are white. It needs to be a movement of all women, where all feel included. It’s my responsibility to watch my privilege. It’s a tricky position in craft beer. It’s an exclusionary world.

So what’s the answer to breaking through that exclusionary world?

As to institutional sexism in the beer industry, it cannot just be put on the shoulders of the women trying to break in, but also the people who hire, and the people in charge of choosing the decor for a brewery and tasting room.

What’s your advice to other women trying to break in?

Look to a brewery looking to make strides to move in that direction, instead of catering to slovenly drunkenness. There’s more of a pressure on the people of privilege to create more welcoming spaces for people.

What’s it like to be a female bartender in the craft brewing world?

When you are in the industry from a position of someone who serves, you get an identity that you must be like this or that. There’s the idea that somehow women in serving positions are someone to be messed with, and not just physically. There’s power that Yelp holds over industry workers that you feel you can’t stand up for yourself for fear of a bad review.

What females do you look up to in the brewing business?

My number one is Hildegard of Bingen. She is considered one of the founders of Western classical music. She was a nun, and the first person to write about the use of hops in beer (in the 12th century). Today in the industry, the women I’ve met are the most resilient, smart and funny people I’ve ever met.

Favorite part of brewing?

Making the finished product. Taking careful steps to end up with something, where I can say, “Look at this. I did this.”

Favorite beer on planet Earth?

Oskar Blues (Brewing) Ten Fidy (Imperial Stout); it’s so good.

Where would you drink it?

I would drink it on stage on the Performing Arts Center in Garland, Texas. It was where I spent summers doing community theater.

If you weren’t brewing on International Women’s Day, how would you be celebrating?

That’s funny, I actually got called for jury duty. So I guess would be doing my civic duty.

Bay City Brewing’s new Pale American-Belgo Style Ale will be available on tap in the Point Loma tasting room at the end of March. Stay tuned for exact dates via social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @baycitybrewing. Learn more about the International Women's Collaboration Brew at unitebrew.org.

3760 Hancock St., Midway District, 619.727.4926, baycitybrewingco.com

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