Philly Bar & Brewery Owner On Starting Local Chapter of National Women’s Beer Organization

I spoke with long-time Philly Beer Week board member Erin Wallace—owner of Old Eagle Tavern in Manayunk, Devil’s Den in South Philadelphia, and Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery in Lafayette Hill, PA—on her role with creating a local chapter of the national organization, Pink Boots Society, in Philadelphia. Also discussed: the local chapter will be meeting tomorrow for a collaborative brew day open to all female beer professionals to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Brion J. Shreffler: What’s the Pink Boots Society? 
Erin Wallace: Pink Boots is a national organization that is made of women in the beer industry, whether they’re brewers or owners or bartenders, sales reps—anybody is invited to join as long as their primary income is coming from beer. You could be a hops farmer, for instance. Pink Boots raises a lot of money, which they use to educate women who are getting into the business. They’re all about empowering women in the industry. There are scholarships that go out for sales reps and owners for the Cicerone program and they give away scholarships for brewing school as well for women who are beginner brewers so they can further their career.

What’s the Cicerone program?
It’s like the sommelier of the beer world. There’s a couple different levels. The first level is certified beer server. You go and take the class and it makes you a certified beer server, which means you’re capable to talk about beer basics: things like proper serving temperatures and various styles. The program goes all the way up to a master Cicerone. I think there’s only a handful of people who have gone that far. But there’s four levels. For a lot of the sales reps, it’s becoming part of their job.

What’s the importance of having a local chapter of Pink Boots in Philadelphia?
There’s been a lot of us who have always been members because it’s free to join. And Philadelphia is very big in beer. In the 13 years I’ve been in the industry as an owner—16 to 17 years being in the bar business—we’ve got a very strong female presence. There are a ton of brewers, sales reps, and there’s a bunch of female owners, whether it’s breweries now, like Christina Burris from Saint Benjamin Brewing—she is part owner [with Tim Patton] and the head brewer—or Carol [Stoudt; brewmaster and owner] from Stoudt’s Brewing Company. So you have a ton of us out there and this is the first time we’re kind of coming together. There’s always been small ladies groups, such as In The Pursuit of Ale [run by Suzy Woods, the local beer rep for Allaghash and a Pink Boots member] but they’ve been open more to people who just enjoy beer. And this is one that is just focused on women in the industry and what we’re hoping to do. We’re getting geared now for the Craft Brewer’s Conference which is coming to Philly and we thought it was important for us to finally join up and actually do local meetings and get us all together, to show the country, the world when they’re here, what Philadelphia has, what makes Philadelphia such a great beer town. Not only do we have a ton of local breweries, but we bring in beer from all over the world that nobody else is getting. In the 13 years I’ve been an owner, I’ve always been treated as an equal to everybody, so the industry has been very good to me and we want to show what Philadelphia has to everybody else and how good it is to everyone.

Erin Wallace, at Devil's Den in South Philly.

Erin Wallace at Devil’s Den in South Philly.

Tell me about your background.
Thirteen years ago, I opened the Old Eagle Tavern in Manayunk. It’s a smaller, little dive craft beer bar. Eight years ago I opened The Devil’s Den here in South Philly. In 2013, I opened Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery. We’ve got 17 drafts, about 200 bottles. I’m all craft here[at Devil’s Den]. I do sell some macro beer up at the Old Eagle, but it’s bottles only. We do 30 draft beers. We run anywhere from ten to twenty of our own lines. We bring in guest drafts which either complements what we have and we brew a bunch of collaboration stuff that we’re gonna bring out for CBC.

Who’s involved in the Philly chapter of Pink Boots?

There’s Suzy Woods, the beer rep from Allaghash. Betsy Riley, the beer rep for Great Lakes. There’s Nancy Rigberg who runs Home Sweet Homebrew with her husband, George Hummel. 

The majority tend to be sales reps. Then there’s a handful of brewers. At the time I started, I knew very few women brewers. Carol Stoudt was the woman brewer. You didn’t really hear of anyone else.  [As for an] Owner of [a beer focused] restaurant, it was Terry from London Grill. You didn’t really see it that often. And even then, it was a majority of men with a small handful of women. Now, you have [brewer/operations manager/owner] Christina Burris at Saint Benjamin Brewing Company and their sales rep Jackie. At Flying Fish, there’s the tasting room manager and a female brewer. Some of the girls who work and brew at Free Will are interested in coming to our meetings.There’s Leena [Jonsson] from Yards. She’s a brewer and she does their quality control. Meghan McQuire from Ommegang. Before she used to work for Ommegang she worked with [the distributor] Origlio. There’s Meredith Meghan Williams, co-owner of Homebrewed Events. She’s behind the Noshhh event series and works for Origlio [and also home brews]. There are a lot of writers. There’s Tara Nurin who, a craft beer writer who just started doing pieces for Forbes. Danaya [Henninger] is now coming to the meetings. There a lot of members of Pink Boots who haven’t come to a meeting yet because we’re slowly putting it together and we’re slowly getting the word out. We’ve done two meetings. We’re trying to meet every two months. With CBC coming up, we’re increasing that frequency. It will be a mix of meetings. Some will be educational. We’ll bring somebody in to talk about tasting and judging beers. New beer styles and new brewing techniques. And it will be fun stuff. Maybe one of the meetings will be an event where we’ll be at a bar and raising some money to send back to Pink Boots for the scholarship fund.

How much have you seen the female presence in the local beer industry change?
It’s changed a lot. It’s still mostly male on the brewing end and in terms of ownership.

I would think predominantly so.
It still is. But you go into Free Will, we all know Dom and John—they’re the owners and they’re the head brewers. They’re got four women brewing for them. Since they’re not the head brewers, they’re not the one’s doing interviews. Lena from Yards, who I never met before, she’s the head quality control person there. I’ve known Tom[Kehoe]—that’s who I associate with Yards, but they have a huge number of women working for them. Right now, it’s the male head brewer or owner who’s interacting with the press. At Saint Benjamins, it’s kind of a 50/50. I think it’s definitely changing to be more of an equal representation. In the Philadelphia beer world, I’ve never gotten the feeling of a boy’s club or anything like that. I’ve never felt excluded or treated any differently.

Erin Wallace at Devil's Den in South Philly.

Erin Wallace at Devil’s Den in South Philly.

What was the major impetus then to create a local chapter?
It’s [the industry] definitely still male oriented. It’s a chance for us to support each other. It’s still one of those things…I know women who are bartending while they’re pregnant and you know….there’s a chance to be there for each other. And there’s things like, oh, you can’t pick up that bag of grain because it’s too heavy for you. Well, I can pick up a keg and move it if I have to. Sometimes too, I think people look at brewing as a more male job and beer has always had that association of being for the guys. When you have women getting into it…I’ve had plenty of women who have come up to me that said, wow, we’ve all bartended but we didn’t know how to get into the business and they always see male owners. It’s giving the encouragement of you can go into it. And sometimes it’s nice to sit around with a few ladies, have a few drinks, and complain about your day.

But you don’t let men in. That’s sexist.
[Laughs] We don’t let men in for the educational ones. There’s going to be some fundraisers, some fun events where everyone is welcome. The events we’re planning for CBC and Philly Beer Week, we’re going to invite people from all over the country who are Pink Boots members to come in. But we’re not gonna kick out any guys who show up.

What’s the event you have planned for International Women’s Day?
March 8th at Yards, all the women in the brewing industry have been invited to brew a beer for International Collaborative Brew Day. We’re gonna brew a gose. Money from sales will go to the Pink Boots scholarship fund and other charities as well. We’ll be selling that beer at CBC and Philly Beer Week as well.

Noshhh: After Hours Series
Little Boots Brew Day benefiting the Pink Boots Society

March 8th 7pm-9pm
1819 East Passyunk

Meredith Megan Williams of Home Brewed Events will discuss the gose beer style, specialty brewing ingredients, and the brewing process as local Philly female beer professionals make their first collaborative brew: Pink Boots Gose. If you’re a woman who makes a living from beer, you are invited.

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