Meet KPU’s Ladies Who Brew

The brewing industry lacks gender diversity, but these women hope to change that

Left- KPU Brewing instructor, Martina Solano Bielen, and two second year brewing students. (Kristine Hui)

Beer is sometimes seen as the quintessential “man’s drink,” so perhaps it’s not surprising that the beer industry is a male-dominated one. But when KPU Brewing and Brewery Operations instructor Nancy More began her career in the industry over 38 years ago, she never anticipated how much sexism she would have to face.

More began her brewing career as a Technical Trainee at Labatt Breweries in 1979. During that time, post-secondary brewing programs did not exist in the English language, so all large brewing companies ran their own technical training programs. People would typically spend three years in the program, learning all aspects of the brewing business and working every position available.

After graduation, More made headlines across the country as North America’s first female brewmaster. She found opportunities to work all over the world, but encountered a lot of discrimination for her gender.

“I had no idea when I started the level of testosterone, prejudices, or disbelief that I would experience,” says More. “The funniest [instance] was in my very first year [at the Labatt Brewing Company]. I had been assigned to the Kitchener/Waterloo brewery. The middle-aged men working there were genuinely worried that if I went into the fermentation cellar when I had my period, that the yeast would stop fermenting. They were quite concerned about this.”

She also remembers when men in the industry would think it was perfectly acceptable to arrange business meetings inside of strip clubs, as a means of excluding her from the business.

“I think I expected that once I got [into the industry] more women would follow, and that didn’t happen,” says More. It wasn’t until this April, when she attended The Siris Cask Festival—a celebration of women in the craft brewing industry—that she had a realization.

“There were 200 women there, more than I ever expected,” she says. “I looked and I thought, ‘Finally. I didn’t think that this would ever happen, but it did happen, and it happened here with no influence from me.’”

This September, KPU’s Brewing and Brewery Operations program welcomed its fourth intake or “cohort,” featuring 23 men and four women in the first year class. Karlie Pretty-McDonald, a first year student, is pleased with the hands-on learning style of the program, and notes how supportive and inclusive her class has been thus far.

Still, she expresses doubts about her future in the field, given the gender inequality that exists within it.

“I feel that, if I were to open up my own brewery, people wouldn’t think that it is as good because I am a woman,” she says. “People might think that beer made by a woman—because there aren’t very many of us [in the industry]—wouldn’t be that great.”

However, even with these fears, Pretty-McDonald is optimistic that she will be able to prove herself in the program, and that a rising female presence in the beer industry will encourage more women to join.

It’s thanks to women like More that Pretty-McDonald and other female students are no longer token brewers in an industry full of men. While much still needs to be done in order to close the gender gap in this industry, More hopes that female brewing students remember this advice while they continue on their career paths:

“The thing I found most valuable—and this took me years to learn—was to learn to find my own voice, and to not try to be one of the boys.”

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