The fifth annual Beers With(out) Beards festival, celebrating women in beer, will take place Saturday at Brick South at Thompson’s Point in Portland.
“We believe Portland has a very legitimate claim to ‘Beer Capital, USA,'” said Grace Weitz, editor of Hop Culture, explaining why the online craft beer magazine chose the city to host the event.
She recalled a festival hosted by Hop Culture at Mast Landing Brewing Co. in 2019, “The Coffee I Ate Years Ago” and plans to make the bakery her first stop. “And I’m not sure it can get much better than eating a lobster roll and drinking an Allagash White after a day of stand-up paddling or hiking.”
Attracted by great food culture, natural beauty and “a city brimming with amazing breweries”, Hop Culture is back to host another festival. There will be over 100 beers from 35 breweries. To participate in the festival, breweries must be owned by women or people who identify with women, employ them in significant leadership positions, or be active and consistent advocates for women and people who identify with women within industry.
“This is a festival for everyone who demands to be heard in a predominantly white male industry,” said Weitz, the festival’s founder. “I wanted to create a space where everyone, regardless of gender, felt safe to gather to enjoy beers together.”
A number of Maine breweries will be in attendance, including Allagash, Austin Street, Bissell Brothers, Liquid Riot, Nonesuch River, Olive Pit and Rising Tide. Mainers will also have the chance to try beers from breweries as far afield as Shōjō Beer Company (from Miami), Independence Brewing Co. (Austin), Superstition Meadery (Prescott, Arizona), Hana Koa Brewing Co. (Honolulu) and Japas Cervejaria (Sao Paulo, Brazil).
There are two sessions, the first starting at 11 a.m. and the second at 5:30 p.m. And for each, there are two ticket classes. A general admission ticket, at a cost of $65, gives access to 3 1/2 hours of unlimited sampling. The most upscale option, at $150, gets you an extra hour of tasting, access to a VIP section, and beer-food pairings curated by Allagash Brewing. There will also be live music and food. Proof of vaccination is required for all visitors.
The first two BW(O)B festivals were held in Brooklyn in 2018 and 2019. It was then forced to go live in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic. Austin Street was also part of the latest in-person festival in New York, where production manager Lisa Kellndorfer represented the brewery. “It was my first time attending an event focused on women in beer,” she recalls, “and it was amazing to look around and see mostly women representing their breweries and again. more special to connect with them.”
Diversity and inclusion have been big concerns in recent years for craft beer. When brewer Brienne Allan – then of Notch Brewing in Salem, Massachusetts, and now opening Sacred Profane Brewing in Biddeford – asked her followers if they had experienced sexism in the beer industry on her account Instagram last May, a virtual flood of replies followed, chronicling women’s stories of everyday misogyny, racism, sexual harassment and sexual assault. And many of these offenses have happened at or around beer festivals.
In response, Allan created the Brave Noise project. Participating breweries submit a code of conduct and publish it for staff and customers, brew Brave Noise Pale Ale, donate to a non-profit organization committed to inclusivity, and make a long-term commitment to creating inclusive and safe environments for employees and visitors. Eleven Maine breweries have brewed or will brew Brave Noise before the project ends at the end of the year.
Austin Street is one such brewery, something Kellndorfer is very proud of. “It was an honor to participate as Brave Noise raised the bar for global collaborative efforts and required real action and change to make this beer. It has already sparked a shift in how we select future partnerships and events. .
One of them, of course, is BW(O)B, which Kellndorfer and Austin Street joined after reviewing the festival’s code of conduct. According to Weitz, the festival has worked to ensure that the festival is a safe and inclusive space for all attendees – something that hasn’t necessarily been the norm for beer festivals, in general, in the past. The organizers reinforced the BW(O)B code of conduct; partnership with #NotMe, a free online platform to report harassment and discrimination; and formed with Safe Bars, a non-profit organization whose mission is to prevent sexual harassment and assault through bystander intervention.
The Maine chapter of the Pink Boots Society – an organization that promotes women’s participation in the beer industry – is another festival partner. And Her ALS Story, a group that represents women diagnosed with ALS before their 35th birthday, will receive a portion of ticket sales.
Newcomer Olive Pit Brewing Co. from Lisbon Falls will join the big names at the BW(O)B festival. Christy Cain, co-owner and head brewer of Olive Pit, saw the announcement of the festival in early January, just as her brewery was opening. She contacted the organizers and received an invitation to the event.
Creating a “culture of connection and community” is a priority for Cain and Olive Pit. Becoming a “community center” requires offering a wide range of styles to suit people’s tastes. Cain notes the dominance of hop-based beers these days. The bitterness that is often a hallmark of hop-forward beers is less appealing to Cain and many other women she knows. So while the brewery isn’t specifically aimed at women, the beers it offers might appeal to other drinkers who share that dislike.
Regardless, Cain is committed to creating a welcoming brewery experience for everyone. She likes to sit with visitors and talk about beer. “We try to approach everyone according to their level of beer knowledge,” she says, to put experts and novices at ease and “to remove that exclusive club feeling that intimidates some people.”
She is particularly enthusiastic about the Beers With(out) Beards Festival. This will be the new brewery’s first participation in a beer festival. But just as important, it will be about the company she keeps there.
“I’m very excited to represent women brewers at this event,” Cain notes, “but I’m even more excited to meet other women who have led the way.”
For more information about the festival and to purchase tickets, go to festivals.hopculture.com.
Ben Lisle is Assistant Professor of American Studies at Colby College. He lives among the breweries of East Bayside in Portland, where he writes about cultural history, urban geography, and craft beer culture. Join him on Twitter at @bdlisle.
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