Teri Fahrendorf on Women, Beer, and Pink Boots
By: Signe Langford
The Pink Boots Society has reached a milestone, celebrating 10 years of promoting, educating and inspiring women in the business of beer. We chatted with Pink Boots founder, Teri Fahrendorf about what it was like to join this particular boy’s club.
A computer analyst-turned-brewer, Fahrendorf recounts, “I always liked fermenting things in the kitchen when I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin, and when I went to college I discovered making jug fruit wine. With my German roots, I guess it was inevitable that I’d become interested in making beer.” She eventually enrolled at the Siebel Institute for Brewing Technology in Chicago, where, of a class of 24, only two students were female.
Graduating in 1988, Teri hit the road travelling between San Francisco and Portland, knocking on doors, but no one was hiring. On the rare occasion when she did score an interview, she fielded a lot of questions by prospective male employers. Fahrendorf recalls, “I had one guy ask me, ‘Can you carry a full half-barrel up the stairs?’. Well, no I couldn’t, and nor should anyone, it’s unhealthy! But, I told him that I could get that half-barrel up the stairs with a handcart, and he just said, ‘Well, there’s no point even interviewing you then.’” On another occasion, she was gobsmacked when a male brewer pondered aloud, “Do you really think a woman can even make beer? I mean, I’ve never heard of a woman making beer!”
Her dry spell broke in 1990 when she was hired by Steelhead Brewing Company, where she stayed until 2007. Still, even at the helm, the challenges continued. In one particularly funny story, she recounts how a shocked young man, hand over his mouth, stood agape in a wide-eyed stair as she emerged from the glassed-in brewery into the adjoining pub. He blurted out; “You’re not a brewer are you?”
“No,” said Fahrendorf, “I’m the brewer.”
“But this beer tastes good?” He sputtered.
Surely things can only get better, right? Yes, and one way to tackle the prejudices is with education.
In 2007, when Fahrendorf left Steelhead Brewing Co., she suffered an identity crisis. So naturally, she hitched a trailer to her van and went on a road trip, visiting 71 breweries – guest brewing at 38 of them – over 139 days. Thus her blog, The Road Brewer, was born. As the West Coast’s unofficial craft beer goodwill ambassador, she camped and brewed her way across the nation in Big Buddy, her 15-foot trailer, chipping away at the prevailing sexist attitudes. “At Stone Brewing in Escondido, California, I met brewer Laura Ulrich. She was just so excited and relieved to see me; she thought she was the only female brewer in the world! When I heard that, my mother hen wings came out and I just wanted to mentor her.”
The two joined forces, and on June 16th, 2007, Teri and Laura held the first meeting of what would become the Pink Boots Society. “There were 22 women that first meeting, 16 brewers and six beer writers. I was even getting calls from male beer writers asking to come and I said, no, send a woman! And they did!”
“That night we voted to become a charitable organization focused on education and promoting women in all aspects of the beer world, from brewers and reps to writers and tasters. We also voted to make this a woman-only organization. We’re not anti-men, we’re pro-woman. The beer business is not equal and it won’t be until 50% of the top jobs are held by women.”
Fahendorf says there has been some pushback from men. “I’ve encountered men who were suspicious of what Pink Boots was all about. A guy – about 25 or so – came up to me at a craft beer conference and said he was really concerned that we spent our meetings man-bashing. Well, I told him not to flatter himself, we had much better things to discuss – such as scholarships – but to ease his worries, we recorded a meeting and posted it on the website for all to see.”
But Fahrendorf insists, “We are good female role models for women in an industry that’s still rife with overt and unapologetic sexism and women in subservient roles: servers and the Old Milwaukie Swedish Bikini Team! I strive to be a good role model. Look, I’ve got young women brewers standing on my shoulders, we all stand on someone’s shoulders.”
Fahrendorf believes it’s getting easier, “but many male brewery workers still don’t like having a female boss. I’ve been on the receiving end of mansplaining and yelling.”
Fahrendorf explains, “Because this job does require a lot of very heavy lifting, ladder climbing with 25 kilo sacks, and such, and women tend to be smaller and often weaker, we have to be more clever and creative. Any brewery that is built for a woman to brew in, is a safer, healthier workplace – for everyone. Male brewers suffer back and knee injuries all the time; men working in a woman-run brewery benefit from better ergonomics.” Also, she adds, “In the brewery, I’ve found women tend to ask more questions, whereas men make more statements; women brewers tend to be more collaborative.”
Back in Fahrendorf’s early days, it was all about breaking down walls, working smarter, and proving herself when confronted with bare-faced sexism, while being wildly outnumbered by men. Today it is about promoting, educating and inspiring women in the business of beer. A lot can happen in 10 years. The decades ahead should bring even more advancements for women in brewing, and that’s something to raise a pint to.
SIDEBAR – What’s in a Name
In an effort to be easily identifiable when she showed up at breweries, Teri Fahrendorf traded in her black rubber boots for a pink pair. “I’d always worn black boots, and when I mentioned to my husband that I wished I’d had a pair of pink boots so that I would stand out even more from the boys, he told his mother. Next thing you know, my mother-in-law pops a pair in the mail. After that, I just told the breweries I was going to visit on my road trip, that didn’t know me, ‘I’ll be wearing pink boots!’, and it stuck! My trip started being called the Pink Boots Trip, and I was getting emails from other women brewers asking to join, but there was nothing to join!” Pink Boots now has about 2,000 members with chapters worldwide.