Women are brewing success in STL beer community

It's a delicious pairing: St. Louis and beer.

The bi-state boasts a long history of brewing both big beers and small. Now a new group is pushing through an often male-dominated industry. Women are making their mark on the brewing scene, too.

Troy Bedik’s career started with theater production in New York City.

“I like making things. That’s always kind of been my thing is – I have to create,” she said.

She started to reconsider her career a few years ago. Already a fan of craft beer, Bedik decided to try making it herself. Her talent got noticed quickly. She collaborated with the owners of 2nd Shift Brewing, then worked at Schlafly Beer. In 2016, she joined Civil Life Brewing in south St. Louis where she now works as a brewer.

“I think a lot of women don’t think about this as a career path that they can go on, just because they haven’t seen anyone doing it,” she said. “But now that we have more females in the role and the more people see us doing it, the more others think that this is something that you can do.”

Like Bedik, Rebecca Schranz initially started down another career path.
Just a few years ago, she had an anthropology degree and was considering graduate school when a friend approached her with an idea.

“I had never brewed a beer in my life, prior to them asking if I wanted to open a brewery,” she said.

Now, Rebecca is a co-owner and brewer at Earthbound Beer on Cherokee Street.

“It feels really good to be part of the brewing community in St. Louis because it is exploding,” she said.
“I think the cool part with what’s happening in St. Louis right now is that those breweries are also leaning on women to do more of the work.”

Donald Roussin is a St. Louis beer historian, and author of several books on local breweries and beer.

“Back in the middle ages, up into the 1700s, almost all the beer was brewed by women -- except for some monks,” explained.

In more recent centuries, that changed.

“The early breweries were family operations, so when they started to become industrialized – it was pretty much a man’s game,” he explained. “Early on, there were some women that got involved in brewing, but it was mainly when their husbands died.”

He points to a few reasons for this trend, namely – the hard labor required to brew beer.

This was hard work, really, before the big industrialization,” Roussin said. “Now you have mechanization, you have forklifts. In the old days, they would hand pump water into the brew kettles.”

Times have changed and technology has advanced. Social norms have changed, too.

“A lot more women drink beer now. So when they drank beer, they became interested in how to brew it,” Roussin said. “I think it’s great. The women brewers I run across are very creative.”

At Schlafly Beer in St. Louis, several women hold science degrees and coveted positions.

“I don’t think people realize how much science goes into the making of beer. I actually studied it,” said Emily Parker, Head of Brewing Operations at Schlafly. She has a degree in food science.

“This is an industry that is constantly innovative to where you are actually learning, every day, on the job. We’re trying a new ingredient, or doing something we’ve never done before. It’s always fun, everyday you’ll run into something new.”

VIDEO EXTRA | TAKE A TOUR OF SCHLAFLY WITH HEAD OF BREWING OPERATIONS, EMILY PARKER

Women are bursting onto the beer scene in St. Louis.

Outside of craft beer, women hold significant roles at big breweries, too.

Five of Anheuser-Busch’s 12 breweries are led by female brewmasters, and a woman serves as head of brewing quality for the global company. Anheuser-Busch said its U.S. Marketing department is 51 percent female. And in 2015, more than 60 percent of the company’s incoming MBA program participants were women.

The brewing community in St. Louis is a friendly one. All of the women interviewed for this story said they leaned on and learned from each other and looked for female mentors in the industry. Many attend or host brewing events.

Abbey Spencer will be the head brewer at Third Wheel Brewing, opening this year in St. Peters. She is also a founder of The O.G. St. Louis Women’s Craft Beer Collective.

The group serves as a meeting point for women interested in beer tasting, beer making, and learning more about the industry.

“There were a lot of girls I run into that just didn’t feel like they really had a place in their normal day to day lives to be learning about beer, be chatting more seriously about beer, whatever level of interest they had in it,” she said. “They didn’t really have an outlet or resource for that and that’s what we provided.”

The O.G. also partners with local charities to raise money for various causes. Spencer said the group is open to all women, regardless of their level of knowledge about beer.

“There [are] girls coming in that just found out that they like beer and have no idea anything about it -- all the way up to higher levels of knowledge,” she said. “It’s really open to anyone and everyone -- you make it what you want. We have a blast. We’re super fun.”

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