Good Robot’s tap room on Robie Street had a decidedly feminine vibe on March 8. Women filled most of the seats and every tap on the wall poured women-brewed beer as people toasted International Women’s Day with the FemmeBot Brewing Competition.
“The bar was full of friendly people bouncing from table to table comparing score sheets,” says Robyn Vaughan, a home brewer and entrant. “No one cared about winning. Winning is a goal, but not the main goal.”
This year marked FemmeBot’s third anniversary and its biggest series of events celebrating feminine energy, creativity, and beer. The event is open to all people who “wish to share space in respectful celebration of women,” say organizers.
It started when employees Kelly Costello and Erica Fraser sat down with a beer and pondered how to mark International Women’s Day. Year one was a single event, but the tap room stayed at capacity for most of the day. Year two grew to three days, and 2019 offered five days of FemmeBot.
“It’s gained traction because people are paying attention and hopefully they’ve had fun in the past,” says Costello. “We’ve got more women on staff now, so that’s more people to organize and push out the word.”
In the U.S., women consume 32% of all craft beer and hold 29% of all brewery jobs. Only 4% of the country’s over 4,000 breweries had female master brewers, according to a 2014 survey. That’s an old study. It’s also the most recent one I found, because the place of women in the industry isn’t well studied.
Nova Scotia’s craft beer industry is predominantly male, but women fill many roles. Several work on the brewing side. A handful own or co-own breweries. Boxing Rock’s Emily Tipton is president of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia (CBANS).
Things aren’t perfect here. I’d need several extra sets of hands to count the number of times a man (on either side of the bar) suggested that I might prefer a radler or a glass of wine to the English bitter I ordered. Offensive beer names and sexist labels still bombard women.
“We get a lot of shit for FemmeBot,” says Costello. “The first year all of the women [working at Good Robot] took the day off and the guys did all of the work. We had some white knight get all up-in-arms on the internet about maybe we needed the money and not the day off. No dude, we decided to take the day off.”
Vaughan says people assume she brews because her boyfriend works at a brewing-supply shop. “I do more of the brewing that happens at home. People assume when I’m at a brew shop I’m picking up ingredients for him.”
I’ve been there. When I buy at 50-kg bag of grain alone, a male employee offers to carry it to my car. If my boyfriend buys the grain, there’s no offer. I’m not condemning chivalrous men. I’m asking why I get the offer and he doesn’t.
There are steps in the right direction.
In 2017, CBANS’s members passed a motion to “uphold the fundamental principles of inclusiveness and equality to all in our day-to-day activities,” and “pledge zero tolerance of discrimination in marketing practices.”
On April 27, Good Robot and FemmeBot will host the inaugural Brewster Festival, featuring 15+ women-owned breweries and women-made beer and cider. The breweries include: Boxing Rock Brewing (Shelburne, N.S.), Port Rexton Brewing (Port Rexton, N.L.), Big Tide Brewing (Saint John, N.B.), Shipwright Brewing (Lunenburg, N.S.), among others. Get tickets at tickethalifax.com.
“It’s getting better, but obviously there’s still a long way to go,” says Vaughan. “The only way to get parity is to promote more women entering beer through home brewing and in breweries.”
If brewing interests you, pop into a brew shop and look around. You can start with a kit containing everything you need or a small one-gallon batch that you can brew on your stove with your pasta pot.
“I live for a day when FemmeBot is just a celebration and not a statement,” says Costello. “But for now, we’ll keep talking about sexual assault in taxis, pink tax, and negative comments on the internet.”
Must-try beers: Made by women edition
La Rive du Sud (Bière de garde)
Boxing Rock Brewing
Before refrigeration, fermenting beer in the summer wasn’t easy. This historical French style was brewed in winter and stored underground until summer. It’s dark, sweet, with hints of nutmeg, clove, and allspice.
Susannah (Imperial pale lager)
Garrison Brewing Co.
This all-female developed, brewed, and designed beer comes from Kellye Robertson (Shipwright Brewing), East Coast Wild Foods, and Garrison’s female staff. It features wild-foraged sumac and sea buckthorn and a heavy dose of Hallertau Blanc and Topaz hops for a spicy, tropical flavour.