MINNEAPOLIS - Rachel Anderson, 35, was five months pregnant, behind the taproom bar pouring beer, when she opened the doors of Indeed Brewing Company last year.
"Felt a little out of place, but at the same time it was great to be part of the industry and kind of make my mark, even through the pregnancy," said Anderson.
Minnesota is home to about 50 breweries and counting, according to the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Industry insiders say more women are rising to the top of an industry once dominated by men.
Last year, the Brewers Association charted a staggering 81 percent jump in the craft beer produced in Minnesota, the second-fastest increase of any state in the nation. The success is steeped in history. From ancient times, women were the original brewers of beer and now women are back on the forefront of brewing.
Anderson founded Indeed with two of her college buddies, Thomas Whisenand and Nathan Berndt. The trio met as University of Minnesota student journalists. Fast forward to today, and they could not have written a better success story.
"In 2012, we started with about 1,500 barrels of beer and this year we are slated to brew about 6,000 barrels. That makes us pretty much the fastest growing brewery in Minnesota right now," said Anderson.
Anderson said she realized the extent of the male-dominated industry when she was recently at a craft brewing conference.
"The line for the men's bathroom was a lot longer than the line for the women's bathroom," she laughed.
Rob Shellman, with the Better Beer Society, says in the United States, an estimated one in four women drink beer, what he calls a growing demographic still not reflected in the craft brewing workforce.
"I think women are highly misrepresented still in the industry. We need to see more women becoming involved if we are going to grow our Minnesota craft beer scene, get those numbers and make sure our craft breweries are here to stay," said Shellman.
The Herkimer Pub and Brewery in Minneapolis has bragging rights, where assistant brewer Rachel Grey, 29, is one of three known female brewers in the state. Grey became an apprentice assistant brewer after convincing the business owner she could pour her passion into the job.
"A few interviews later, here I am. Everybody thinks I should have a beard if I am a brewer. I don't, I hope!" laughed Grey.
She says her biggest challenge isn't overcoming stereotypes, just the heavy lifting required.
"It's a very physically demanding job. I'm lifting 55 lb. bags of grain up over my shoulder into a mill up and down the stairs. It's a lot of scrubbing and lifting of heavy hoses. I've definitely bulked up since I started," said Grey.
Grey fashions her brews in pink boots, worn by many women in the brewing industry who are members of the Pink Boots Society. She says the greatest reward comes at the end of the day when she can watch customers taste her brews.
"They come in and take a sip and they are nodding, have other people try it, and it's like, 'Yes. Yes.' It's gratifying," said Grey. "Wine used to be a classy drink and now people are understanding that beer is a noble drink."
Rachel Grey got her start as a member of Barley's Angels, a group of Twin Cities women that meet monthly to learn more about the complexities of craft beer and push the palette without intimidation.
"So, it's kind of exciting to go in to say I want a porter or IPA or something that is not a light beer, then they give us a little bit of credit," said Megan Parker, co-organizer of the Barley's Angels Twin Cities chapter.
The most recent tasting at The Four Firkins beer store in St. Louis Park shows many women who've gone far beyond their first sip. Owner Jason Alvey says women make up 30 to 40 percent of the customer base and buy the same types of craft beer men do.
"A lot of women think they don't like beer. That was two years ago, since then I've become a home brewer," said Kelsi Moffitt, another Barley's Angel's co-organizer. "It was just that once chance tasting that opened it up to me. I got more involved with home brewing and Barley's Angels. I owe Barley's Angels for that conversion."
Barley's Angels members usually raise eyebrows at beers brewed especially for women, whether it is pink beer or beer with packaging to appeal specifically to women.
"They would rather drink a hoppy double IPA, saison or California common, rather than something that is wrapped up in a pretty bow made to be marketed towards them," said Shellman.
Shellman points to several other women also making their mark on the craft beer scene, including Amy Johnson, co-owner of Northbound Smokehouse in South Minneapolis and Laura Mullin, co-owner of the Bent Paddle Brewing in Duluth. Jacquie Berglund, founder and CEO of Finnegans beer, is widely known as a female pioneer in the local craft brew scene. She turned what was once a basement brew into a social enterprise. Finnegans is the first brewery the world to donate 100 percent of its profits to local food shelves.
At Indeed Brewing Company, Rachel Anderson says she hopes she brings a balance to her workplace as an entrepreneur and working mother. She heads marketing and designed the logo and can to appeal to everyone.
"I don't know too many of my friends on light beer, most of them converted over to craft beer, or if they aren't, I am working on them," said Anderson. "Hopefully women feel as comfortable coming into Indeed and ordering a beer as men do."
By the looks of happy hour and a taproom filled with women, it's indeed a new era.
Barley's Angels has chapters all over the country. Visit the organization's webpage for more information on how you can become a member.
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