WOMEN AND CRAFT BEER: Brewing Networks & Profits One Beer at a Time

By: Cheryl Gray

When Meghann Quinn’s great-grandparents planted their first acres of hops in 1932, little did they know that their great-grand-daughter would be responsible for the business side of what is now Bale Breaker Brewing Company, a family-owned enterprise ranked last year as the fifth-largest independent craft brewery in Washington state.

  At Bale Breaker Brewing Company, women play an integral role in nearly all aspects of the business, from the farm to the tasting room.  It is a tradition that Quinn traces back to her great-grandmother, Leota Mae Loftus, the namesake of the brewery’s Leota Mae IPA.

  “It never occurred to Leota that there was a job she couldn’t do,” Quinn said. “If an irrigation ditch needed to be dug, crops needed to be picked, or workers needed to be fed, she was the lone woman on the crew beside—or in front of—the men, getting the job done.  In fact, throughout the 1940s, she was the only woman hop drier in the Yakima Valley.” In those days, Quinn says, hops drying was done by hand.

  Fast forward to the 21st century. Bale Breaker Brewing Company operates out of a 27,000 square foot facility housing a 30-barrel brewhouse. The brewery’s tasting room is right in the center of Hop Field #41, part of roughly 2,200 acres of the family farm in the heart of Washington’s Yakima Valley, where Quinn and her three brothers grew up.

  “My dad always says that when you grow up among them, hops become part of your DNA,” said Quinn. “I guess my brothers and I are pretty good examples of that.”

  Quinn earned a degree in Business Finance from the University of Washington. She now handles all things business at the brewery, including finance, accounting, reporting, marketing, public relations and the like. However, she proudly points to the team of women whose expertise gives Bale Breaker Brewing its competitive edge. 

  “Jackie Beard is our Quality & Sensory Manager. She has a degree in microbiology from Northwestern, has developed a robust in-house sensory program from scratch, and makes sure all of the beer we send out is up to our high-quality standards,” said Quinn. “Erin Schlect and Shayna Koch are two young moms who run our accounting department.  Our marketing department consists of Danika Norman (Marketing Manager), Sara Gottlieb (Social Media Manager) and Marguerite Washut (Marketing and Events Coordinator).  These three women are essential to driving our brand forward and effectively communicating to and connecting with our consumer base.”

  Quinn also said three of the company’s four-person outside sales team are women. Sara Verdieck covers western Washington, Kat Finn handles Oregon, and Justine Malland tackles eastern Washington and northern Idaho. “These women are the face of Bale Breaker with our distributors and accounts throughout our distribution footprint.”

Pink Boots Society

  Quinn and members of her team at Bale Breaker Brewing are among the more than 2,000 women worldwide who network through The Pink Boots Society. This nonprofit organization,  founded by brewing pioneer Teri Fahrendorf, supports women engaged in the brewing profession and, in particular, the craft brewing industry. The group, which began in 2007 with fewer than 20 members, helps women brewers connect with mentors and advance their brewing knowledge through education. Educational opportunities receive support through scholarship money the group raises to help women advance in the industry.  There are Pink Boots Society chapters across the United States and global chapters in Canada, Europe, Asia, South America, New Zealand and Australia.  

Bron Yr Aur Brewing Company

  Be it a global enterprise or a blossoming start-up in the U.S., women have come into their own in the craft brewing industry. Bron Yr Aur Brewing Company is among the latter, a fast-rising brewery and restaurant owned and operated by the Hatton family, who’ve called Yakima Valley home for seven generations. Annette Hatten, whose husband, Mike, had been a homebrewer for more than a decade, decided to turn an old fruit stand into a brewery with a restaurant. Bron Yr Aur Brewing Company opened for business in 2013 and the Hatten children, Zach, Amanda and Trevor, gave up their day jobs to pitch in and contribute to the brewery’s success. They’ve focused on capturing space in the competitive craft beer market by combining its brewery offerings with innovative restaurant fare, ranging from its popular pizza varieties to its beer brownies. 

  Annette Hatton is involved in day-to-day operations, brewing recommendations, as well as recipe development for the kitchen and distillery. Daughter Amanda, co-owner and Operations Manager, was recently awarded the Yakima Valley Tourism Ambassador of the Year Award. She sees to it that Yakima Valley produce gets featured on the restaurant menu. She also manages the brewery’s community outreach, creating innovative partnerships with local organizations and small businesses.  Amanda says that the opportunity to work side by side with her mother is a gift.

   “Not only do I get to spend time with her every day, but we get to collaborate on many great ideas and have a ton of creative energy flowing, which I love.”

Cowiche Creek Brewing Company

  Maria Nordberg worked side by side with husband Derrick to build the Cowiche Creek Brewing Company, which opened for business in 2017. What started as a homebrewing project evolved into a full-fledged business plan to launch a brewery that’s products would showcase the citrusy, piney, and tropical hops varieties of Yakima Valley. Nordberg has a background in food safety management from her position at Yakima’s Green Acre Farms, a fourth-generation family operation with a vineyard, orchard and hopyard, as well as row crops. Cowiche Creek Brewing gets much of their hops from Green Acres, although the Nordbergs also grow and use their own varieties of hops. 

  To keep a firm hold on construction costs, The Nordbergs built the brewery’s 20 barrel brewhouse and taproom by combining their own sweat equity with their skilled tradesmen friends who knew how to do tile work, plumbing and other construction trades. 

  Marketing strategies for Cowiche Creek include electronic gift cards available online, as well as business partnerships with restaurants, bars, hotels and casinos in the Yakima Valley area that feature the brewery’s products. Maria says that at the end of the day, it’s the customers ‘ appreciation for the brewery’s offerings that count. 

   “All the hard work is worth it when you see a smile on someone’s face and knowing you helped put it there. “

Like a Lady Boss

  Women who don’t directly brew craft beer have still found a way to incorporate it—or its ingredients – into their businesses. A prime example is HopTown Wood-Fired Pizza, which features pizzas sprinkled with hops from Yakima Valley.  Co-owners Lori Roy and Carrie Wright serve wood-fired fare, showcasing fresh-from-the-farm ingredients paired with local craft beers, wines and ciders. “We celebrate the hop heritage of our community with our award-winning pizzas and our local brews,” said Wright.

  There are also the women who keep the taproom flowing, responsible for everything from managing staff to operations. Such are the responsibilities of Rachel Verhey-Goicoechea, Taproom Manager and Cellar Assistant at Varietal Beer Company, located in the Yakima Valley community of Sunnyside, the second-largest city in Yakima County.  Varietal, which opened last year,  joins an already crowded field of craft beer establishments in the Lower Yakima Valley area but is holding its own as a popular gathering place. It’s headed by Verhey-Goicoechea, who not only runs the taproom but also assists in the cellar CIP, transfers, dry hopping, kegging and other related duties. 

  In addition to the Pink Boots Society, women are teaming up for special events that champion women in the craft brewing industry. Last year, Atlanta, Georgia was host to Dregs and Dames, a festival aimed at empowering women in craft brewing by presenting beers brewed by women and discussing community, business, brewing and legal issues affecting women’s success in the craft brewing world. There is also a push for more diversity as minority women enter into the craft brewing scene.

  For all of recorded history, women have played a role in craft brewing. The earliest civilizations considered brewing beer a “woman’s job.”  Today, according to an Auburn University study, women comprise 29% of beer industry workers. Women who have been in the business the longest say that mentoring is the key to sustaining and expanding the number of women who own, operate and work in the field of craft beer brewing.

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