February 18, 2019
Focus on women in leadership

Pink boots: Mass. brewing industry is a national leader in woman participation

Photo | Elizabeth Brooks
Among the core beers at CraftRoots Brewing, owned by Maureen Fabry (left) and Robin Fabry, are Blonde Ale, Root 16 IPA, IPAx2 and Irish Dry Stout.

Go ahead and question the small – but robust – operation at CraftRoots Brewing.

The Milford brewery, producing small batches just for its taproom and a select few local restaurants, is earning a reputation as a true community brewery and has earned a 3.7 out of 5 rating from the website Beer Advocate.

If you'd place your bet that the brewery's IPAs, double IPAs, stouts, ales and other brews were made by a Millennial man with a big bushy beard, a flannel and a healthy gut, you'd be dead wrong.

In fact, the only person to ever make beer at CraftRoots is Maureen Fabry, and she's a 53-year-old woman and a 20-year beer industry veteran. She's one of dozens of a growing number of women calling beer their career.

Even more, her business partner is a woman – and her wife – Robin Fabry.

The Fabrys, who operate one of the only 100-percent women-owned Massachusetts brick-and-mortar breweries, are just one example of women playing a larger role in the typically male-dominated industry, where Massachusetts may be among the leaders for female-inclusiveness.

Other breweries fully-owned by women include Northampton Brewery and Black Rabbit Farm Wild Ales & Provisions in Southwick. Brew Practitioners in Northampton is majority owned by women and Watertown contract brand Brazo Fuerte is also fully owned by a woman.

"In terms of gender, Massachusetts is doing a great job," said Katie Stinchon, executive director of the Mass. Brewers Guild. "There's a healthy group of men and women at meetings. It feels 50-50."

Largest women brewers' organization

Worcester Business Journal surveyed 20 Central Massachusetts breweries on the gender breakdown of their employees, and – of the 16 who responded – 43 percent of the workers were women.

Beer industry groups have not yet tracked gender data, but the Massachusetts chapter of the female brewer advocacy group Pink Books Society is largest in the country, with 188 members.

"That's giving us a way to get together and see that there are more women in the industry than we thought," Fabry said.

Upton native Brienne Allan is the Pink Boots Boston chapter leader, who took over the vacant position about three years ago. She started in the brewing world at Framingham's Jack's Abby Craft Lagers as a bartender, but wanted to learn the brewing process.

When a keg washer left for a college degree, she was asked to take his spot, but she felt unable to move up. That's when she found Pink Boots, which offers scholarships to women brewers to learn about the craft. She won the scholarship she applied for, became a full-time brewer at Jack's Abby and today she is the head brewer for Notch Brewing in Salem.

Still, Pink Boots was not a common name in the state. For a time, Allan and a brewer at Boston Beer Co. were the only members. Now, leading the chapter is a second full-time job.

The chapter's biggest fundraiser is a collaboration brew with whichever Massachusetts brewery wants to participate. In Allan's first year, three breweries participated. That grew to 12 the next year and 25 the next.

This year, there are 65 breweries signed up to participate in the event, which coincides with International Women's Day on March 8.

The largest barrier to women, Allen said, are the disproportionate educational opportunities offered to men in the industry.

Getting into the industry as a bartender or front-of-house worker is easy enough, but learning about the science and craft of beermaking is the barrier actually driving Allen to grow her Pink Boots chapter into the largest in the world, she said.

Now, half of the organization is dedicated to sending women to brewing school while the other half is helping women find better jobs in more diverse and accepting breweries.

"All of the girls are joining Pink Boots to get education to prove to their bosses they can move forward in their careers," she said. "For some reason, we have to prove it, and all the guys don't."

More women customers

The brewing industry's customer base is growing more female. According to the national Brewers Association, 31.5 percent of craft beer drinkers in 2018 were women. That's up from 29.1 percent in 2015.

The push to get greater gender diversity in employee ranks and ownership led the Massachusetts Brewers Guild to develop a diversity committee, which is led by Maureen Fabry. Mass. is the first state guild to create a diversity committee, said Stinchon, who is the guild's first full-time female director.

"I certainly have never felt like it's a boys club," Stinchon said.

Katrina Shabo, a sales and marketing director at Wormtown Brewery in Worcester and a Pink Boots member, said she's worked at three different breweries and never felt like she didn't belong.

"There are so many women who really love beer and the industry," she said. "I fell in love with it."

Shabo said she never once personally identified a woman not being able to grow in her role at a brewery at which she worked.

"We create our own barriers for ourselves," she said. "I hope most women don't put themselves in a box."

Of the 188 Pink Boots members in the state, 49 hold managerial positions and 23 are brewers or assistant brewers; 26 are listed as owners, and one just opened a brewery in Worcester.

Paying attention to the details

Redemption Rock Brewing Co., Worcester's fifth brewery, has only been open since January, but the Shrewsbury Street taproom is building a reputation as a woman-friendly location.

It's not just the female-designed color scheme, layout and furniture giving the space the reputation, but the very public female CEO.

Danielle Babineau is the face of the brewery, and that's evident on the company's website and social media profiles.

More than 60 percent of the guests who responded to the company's grand opening Facebook event were women, and followers of the brewery's Instagram account are almost an exact split between men and women.

"If craft beer is going to continue to grow and as the market becomes more competitive, you have to reach a more diverse audience," Babineau said. "One of the most powerful is having more diverse faces here."

Of the company's eight employees, five are women. That was done deliberately to make the company appeal to women.

Babineau pointed to the design of the taproom with patterns of of soft blues and greens and a large mural. Even the bathrooms were designed to be women-friendly, she said.

"Those touches make it clear that someone is taking those things into account," Babineau said.

Leading by example

Fabry said she had second thoughts about her career choice when she began brewing more than 20 years ago in an industry then almost completely dominated by men. While going through brewing school and finishing apprenticeships at three different breweries, Fabry found two women who made beer, and that was all she needed.

Photo | Elizabeth Brooks
Maureen Fabry found a couple of female role models early in her 20-year brewery career.

"It was easy to picture myself doing what they were doing," she said.

Occasionally, male patrons of the brewery will take a wayward guess that Fabry got her start in the industry by expanding on a homebrewing hobby.

"People don't realize this isn't my first rodeo," she said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said CraftRoots Brewing was the only 100-percent women-owned brewery with a brick and mortar location. There are at least two others.


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