Brewery pioneers show dedication to create an inclusive industry

KPU’s brewing program and the Pink Boots Society advocate for the next batch of brewery professionals

KPU's Brewing & Brewery Operations Program works to integrate inclusivity and diversity practices into the male-dominated industry. (Submitted)

KPU’s Brewing & Brewery Operations Program works to integrate inclusivity and diversity practices into the male-dominated industry. (Submitted)

Before the Brewing & Brewery Operations Program began at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Langley campus in 2014, there was no program in British Columbia for students to learn about the practice. 

Today the program offers practical and theoretical courses for students to apply this scientific art in an active brewery. 

The program is taught and co-founded by experienced professionals like Nancy More, who was recognized as the first female head brewmaster in North America in 1985 within a male-dominated industry, and bestowed the Legend Award from BC Beer Awards in 2019. 

More has worked in the brewing industry for over 20 years, gaining experience from Labatt Brewing Company as brewmaster and manager to Diageo as an international supply director for companies like Guinness. 

As a woman in the field, More works to train and uplift the next generation of brewers, particularly women, non-binary, and minority groups, who she knows from experience get little to no support in the industry. 

“My parents had brought us all up to believe we could do anything that we wanted to, so I never even considered that I would be [in] places that people didn’t think I belonged. But I was,” More says. 

More says she’s had her fair share of challenges in the industry, from male brewing staff worrying her menstruation cycle would affect the yeast fermentation to having her skills discounted, and being told off for trying to move up in her career. 

“I had more than one [brewery operator] tell me that I was a heretic for really expecting that, at any time, men were going to work for me. I think I always wanted to be able to show people there was a different model of leadership, a different way to do it,” she says.  

Now as an instructor for the KPU brewing program for nine years, she wants to pave the way for a better future for the next set of brewers. 

“There’s a bunch of us that are still actively working on ‘How do we change the culture?’ So women and racialized people and people of different gender identities can work in the brewing industry,” she says.

“I still hear the horror stories about people not being taken seriously, not being given opportunities to learn and to progress in the industry. So, are we there yet? Not at all. But we’re still working on it.” 

While the brewing industry continues to be perceived as a male profession, it was historically started up by women

Archeological records show that women were the first brewers in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Sumeria, with “A Hymn to Ninkasi,” a text written in 1800 BC, referencing the production of beer to be at the hands of women. This continued until the 1500s when a campaign accused female brewers of being witches, leading to a decline of women in the industry.  

Today, women make up 23.7 per cent of brewery owners, a survey by the Brewers Association found. In terms of other statistics, 93.5 per cent of brewery owners are white, while 2.9 per cent of breweries are completed female owned. 

KPU is actively integrating diversity as a priority in the Brewing & Brewery Operations Program. 

Out of the seven faculty instructors, four of them are women. 

Classes like Brewery Management & Business Planning discuss and have coursework on the importance of industry inclusivity. There’s also a variety of scholarships including the Diversity in Brewing Scholarship and a new annual award in More’s honor, the Nancy More Award, offered to help female or under-represented students in brewing. All these initiatives aim to support people of different backgrounds.

“We talk about it a lot within the program. We have a lot of international students and it’s, ‘How do we help them be successful?’ There’s a lot of modeling inclusivity in [the] classroom that makes sure everybody feels welcome and understands what’s going on,” More says.

She also says the science fundamentals that students learn in the program are vital, so they can make the right decisions when creating products. 

“You can teach people how to follow procedure, [like] which valves to open and what they need to do, but that doesn’t give them room for solving problems, making improvements, and understanding what’s going on.”

Brewing is a scientific process that requires knowledge of technical details like hops and their flavor profiles, the mineral content and pH of water, temperature controls, the length of roasting grain, yeast and carbonation levels, fermentation, and how the length of carbon chains in alcohol will change the end result. Managing a brewery also requires the handling of consistent production, quality control, employee safety, and environmental impact. 

“I teach the students that when you’re in charge of a facility you’ve got seven balls that have to be up in the air, and your job is to keep them all in the air. You can’t drop any of them,” More says. 

Michelle Miller is one of the KPU Brewing & Brewery Operations Program students who’s juggling these skills in her classes. Miller is halfway through her studies in the program. 

“It’s intense. The first year is definitely not for the faint of heart,” Miller says. 

The program offers courses in chemistry, microbiology, sensory evaluation, and ingredients. Once these basics are attained, teachers broaden courses into product evaluation and judging, along with active brewing where students are in charge of quality control and analysis. 

“I love beer. I love the process. It is a science. It’s always changing, and the beauty about this is you learn it and you can take it anywhere. It’s worldwide,” Miller says. 

While the classes are challenging, Miller says she understands and appreciates learning the fundamentals, adding that the difficulty helps to build a strong knowledge base and connection between students.

“You become a team, and that camaraderie is real because you do depend on each other. So there’s that culture and it is wonderful,” she says. 

The Brewing & Brewery Operations Program also offers opportunities for students to participate in brew competitions. KPU brew students have won multiple accolades and industry awards, including gold and bronze at the 2022 Canada Beer Cup, and bronze at the 2022 Canadian Brewing Awards. KPU was also awarded the “#1 Teaching Brewery in North America” as the Grand National Champion of the 2019 US Open College Beer Championship

While these competitions give space for brewers to showcase their craft, they’re also opportunities to network and meet other brewing students and industry professionals. 

“I think the entire brewing community in B.C. [gets] along. They’re not hiding recipes. There’s a lot of collaboration, and in the KPU program there’s a lot of collaboration,” Miller says. 

One of the university’s yearly brewing collaborators is the Pink Boots Society (PBS), an international non-profit organization that got its start in the United States by female brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf. PBS aims to assist and support women and non-binary individuals in the fermented and alcoholic beverage industry through education, offering a variety of scholarships, international training opportunities, and community conferences.

President of the society Blanca Quintero says the non-profit also works to create a welcoming space within the industry, with a committee designed specifically for diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“More than half our board of directors are women of colour,” Quintero says. 

“[We’re] thinking outside the box with what we can do to try to make the organization more inclusive in its nature, but also educating our membership on how they can work on building inclusivity within their communities.” 

However, the frustration that can come out of working in a male dominated industry is mirrored in Quintero’s experience. 

“Even with years of experience in the industry, [I’ll] still be discounted based on what I look like, my parents, and that I’m a woman. It’s very disheartening.” Quintero says, adding that’s why PBS and other advocacy groups are so vital.

“I think that [PBS] itself, the networking, and the friendships I’ve made has helped me power through it and see there’s a greater good that we’re doing.” 

To fund career advancements and scholarships for members, PBS hosts its annual international fundraiser, the Collaboration Brew Day in March, to celebrate International Women’s Day. Members of the society and breweries worldwide can register to receive the PBS yearly hop blend, which brewery schools like KPU get to receive in advance, allowing them to actively participate in smelling, voting, and selecting their favorite hops. 

Part of the collab proceeds go back to Pink Boots Society Canadian membership certifications like the Whiskey Ambassador course certificate and Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) levels. Brittany Ribalkin, brewing liaison for the PBS Canadian chapter, says these qualifications help those who are underrepresented to get a job. 

“When you’re applying for jobs, they don’t know you as a person, all they know about you is what’s on paper,” Ribalkin says. 

“So showing you have all that experience on paper is super important. Especially if you don’t have connections. It gives you a leg up and a bit of a niche thing that you can bring to the table.”

Ribalkin also says the women and non-binary community bring a lot to the table, like creativity, communication, kinship, and plain dedication. 

“A lot of women I find, because of how the industry goes, are a lot more passionate about what they’re doing and they’re going to work harder. It’s all about having to prove yourself, which sucks, but at least you know when you’re hiring anybody who identifies as a woman or non-binary, they’re going to work their asses off,” she says.  

Diversity Wins, a report by McKinsey & Company, found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 25 per cent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile, an increase from 21 per cent in 2017 and 15 per cent in 2014.

Ribalkin says change in the industry will come from banding together and letting their dedication to the craft shine through. 

“You’re doing it because you love it. We all care too much about what other people think. It’s getting to the point where we need to all start standing up for each other and showing the world what we can do.”