International Women’s Day has been celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women for more than a century. March 8 marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality through a number of missions, including inclusive workplaces so women can thrive. And in recent years, another holiday has coincided with International Women’s Day: International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day. This worldwide event is for women working in or interested in beer to learn, network, collaborate, make and enjoy beer - an industry that has needed increased visibility for women.
Historically, brewers were primarily women. In most ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian depictions, women are brewers. Among the earliest of human writings are Sumerian clay tablets, including A Hymn to Ninkasi - a poem (likely sung) that served as a recipe for brewing beer, dedicated to Ninkasi, the goddess of beer. The industry shift to men happened once brewing became a commercial enterprise.
The craft beer boom of the 2000’s was made up of predominantly males, but a group of Minnesota women brewers decided to make their voices heard in 2016. Allyson Rolph (then at Thirsty Pagan in Superior, WI) offered her brewhouse as a classroom, since access to a brewery as a learning environment isn’t always easily available. The group of women spent two days at Thirsty Pagan creating a recipe and brewing their first beer as the newly formed group Witch Hunt; called “Pantsuit”. Soon more brews followed, “The WitchHunt” with Fair State Brewing, “The Familiar” with Surly Brewing, and many more collaborations since, all in the name of gender equality in the beer world.
Witch Hunt may not be stirring a glowing green potion in a black cauldron, but brewing an ale in a stainless steel kettle isn’t that far off. This coven of badass brewers in the Twin Cities (with a newly formed chapter in Fargo) advocate not only for women, but marginalized genders and queer folx in every department of the craft brewing industry. Their mission is to promote gender equity in craft brewing through education - they believe the industry is better with you in it. Their events include recipe design, sensory trainings and discussions, and hands-on brew days at a wide variety of Minnesota breweries.
In terms of what women and any marginalized individual brings to the table, Riley Seitz (Quality Manager at Surly Brewing) says, “I think women bring a lot of empathy to any workplace. In my experience a lot of the women I work with are very detail-oriented and very meticulous about how they do their work. Women bring a lot of honesty and patience.” While Kate Lowisz, one of Witch Hunt’s organizers, immediately replies with, “What don’t we bring? I’m a firm believer that a woman’s place is wherever they want to be.” Now working as a brewer at Fair State, Lowisz has been in the industry long enough to know that you have to pave your own path when you are not the default demographic - and make it more accessible for others to follow suit.
While Riley Seitz grew up quite immersed in the industry, visiting her dad at Summit where he worked for over 40 years, often learning to brew requires asking a lot of questions . It requires getting over the fear of asking ‘dumb questions’ and worrying that a lack of knowledge will be seen as a fault of your gender. Being a woman or any marginalized identity in the industry can trigger imposter syndrome (a loosely defined term for doubting your own abilities and feeling like a fraud, even in your area of expertise).
Lowisz is established in the industry, earned a Chemistry degree from the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering, and is still familiar with the feelings of imposter syndrome, “Having to project your intelligence and eloquence is exhausting. If I don’t know things because I was never told, that just ties back to a training problem, not your fault. You can’t help ignorance - that’s why you ask. As a cis woman I was taught to express my emotions, but also apologize for it.”
“When I first started, I was just so excited to be in the industry.” Seitz shares. “The first two or three years I was intimidated and shy, but over the course of a few years I’ve gotten involved in more organizations. You meet people, network, and the intimidation withers away.” Seitz was fortunate enough to not only have a dad who worked at Summit, but also shadow Gerri Kustelski - who has spent most of the past 57 years working in a brewery laboratory.
Opportunities like this to learn from other women in such an immersive, hands-on way are few and far between. But that’s where Witch Hunt comes in. Their overall goal is two-fold, to support women and other marginalized groups already in the industry and provide education for those looking to start brewing. Lowisz breaks it down as simple as, “Do you make it? Do you want to make it? It’s for women, femmes, trans, queer, non-conforming. Our cohort needs diversity. And how do we be anti-racist beer people? Reading, listening, learning, comprehending.”
Witch Hunt’s most recent release, Seeds of Change (a collaboration with Lupulin Brewery), is meant to encourage sowing the seeds of diversity, support educational development and professional pathways for marginalized individuals in the craft beer community. Seeds of Change is a 12% ABV Imperial Stout with an oaky roastiness that is balanced by infusions of Ancho, Guajillo, & Arbol peppers for a lingering heat & chocolate finish.
If you are local and now inspired (aka under the Witch Hunt spell) you can connect with this welcoming and inclusive coven of brewers - even in a pandemic - by joining them virtually in their upcoming events:
Monday, March 8 (7:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.) Witch Hunt will be spending International Women’s Day at Arbeiter Brewery, which features two Witch Hunt members, making a Maibock. There will be streaming portions of the brew day live on social media on Facebook and Instagram.
Monday, March 15 (6:00 - 7:30 p.m.) Witch Hunt will be hosting a guided charcuterie and Seeds of Change tasting event via Zoom. Ashley Hauf, Sales Director at Dual Citizen, will be hosting the event. Bottles are for sale on Lupulin’s online store, in their taproom, as well as select Twin Cities liquor stores.
Zoom Meeting ID: 879 6977 5401
Locally Brewed International Women’s Day Beers
Surly Brewing - Mainsplain Survivors
Brewed on their 1-barrel pilot system on March 8, Surly will be inviting women and non-binary folx to join in on brewing this No Coast IPA.
Badger Hill - Nevertheless West Coast IPA
A collaboration with women brewers from around the state, this IPA will be available in their taproom March 8.
Modist Brewing Co. - The Fix: IWD 2021
A zero IBU New England IPA (because feminism is about zero tolerance for inequality) hopped and double dry hopped with Simcoe, El Dorado, Cashmere, Ahtanum, Cintra, Loral and Sabro hops.
Dangerous Man - Crewel Juice
An imperial fruited sour that was dry hopped and kissed with fruity goodness in time for a release on March 5.
Lift Bridge Brewing Co - Free the Bibs
Made by the women of Lift Bridge in honor of IWD, this delicious Blood Orange Hefeweizen is now on tap and available as crowlers. A portion of the proceeds will go to @valleyoutreach , who helps people in the St Croix Valley area move their lives forward through basic needs, services and personalized support.