Illustration by Bob Scott
The sudsy, hop-hewn tides of Richmond’s craft beer scene are turning. Women, still outnumbered in the male-dominated community, are becoming more active and vocal thanks to a growing number of female-centric brewing groups with one goal: to connect brew-loving ladies with their next favorite craft beer.
“Women have always been an integral part of craft beer history and are a force in the current scene,” says Hilary Langford, founder of River City Beer Betties. “It’s important to get that message in front of as many people as possible, regardless of gender. Women in the beer scene are also sorely underrepresented.”
In 2009, Langford began sharing that message when she started The Betties, her local, women-focused beer organization. What started as a beer share between six or seven friends exploded into a group with more than 450 members, many of whom meet monthly to discuss the latest beers or to taste a fellow Betty’s homebrew. “We sat around listening to records and talking about what we liked and didn’t like,” Langford says of the group’s humble beginnings. “We didn’t just like beer; we realized we were all passionate about it. ‘Like versus dislike’ gave way to more in-depth discussion about technique, ingredients, etc.”
Like Langford, Sondra Leskowyak saw growing interest among her female friends, and initiated the first Richmond chapter of Girl’s Pint Out in January 2015. GPO, a national nonprofit, started in 2011 in Indianapolis and adds a philanthropic component to its gatherings. The organization is geared towards women to encourage involvement and enthusiasm about craft beer, both socially and charitably. It has even partnered with Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. to begin a series of charitable events in Virginia. The Richmond chapter of Barley’s Angels — full disclosure: I am a member — adds a focus on continuing education, along with fellowship. These organizations don’t specifically state that men are not allowed to be members, though all three note that the groups were created for women, to foster a welcoming atmosphere.
“It is about learning in a supportive, collaborative and encouraging environment,” says Stephanie Hudson, a founding member of Richmond’s Barley’s Angels. “From the woman who has never had a Hefeweizen before, to the woman who wants to home brew her own Belgian dark strong ale or start up her own craft brewery, everyone has to start somewhere.”