It’s a partly sunny Tuesday afternoon in Montpellier, and at the Three Penny Taproom on Main Street, the sun streams through the front door and bay window, casting shadows on the walls from the hanging plants. Although the place can get very busy in the evenings and on weekends, it is currently quite quiet. A couple is having a late lunch at the counter by the window, and a few other people are sitting at the bar; some are having a lively conversation and others are alone.
Behind the bar, keeping everything running smoothly, refilling pints, wiping down surfaces and taking orders, is Clara Walsh, bartender, mother of two and leader of a new group of female brewers. The group is a Vermont chapter of the Pink Boots Society, an international non-profit organization that supports women working in the brewing industry.
“The first step is to connect face-to-face,” Walsh says of the value of building a group of members like this. The chapter will host two meetup events, including one in Burlington and one in Rutland later this year, so members can meet in person, build relationships, and begin to learn from and support each other.
From there, the Vermont Chapter of the Pink Boots Society will host educational events each year. The group can visit a hop farm, for example, like Hogback Farm in Bristol, then travel to the nearby Hogback Brewery where the hops are used in their beers. Or the group can spend a day learning about canning and packaging or see a cider house in action. The general formula for these events is to do something educational and then visit a brewery or cider house or distillery to top it off.
This new group is the second iteration of a Pink Boots Society chapter, after the first collapsed many years ago due to lack of attendance. But that was then and this is now: Since the last group disbanded, the number of breweries and related businesses in Vermont has increased dramatically, and the time seemed ripe to reestablish the chapter.
Walsh says that while she’s very lucky that the owners and managers of Three Penny Taproom support her career, women can often feel outnumbered and underrepresented in the beer world. This can lead to issues such as lack of career growth and opportunity, being the target of mistreatment by employers and clients, and a simple feeling of loneliness. Walsh says that during her eight years at Three Penny, she was sometimes the only female bartender. She has also heard of stories of sexual harassment and gender bias within the Vermont beer scene, though she chose not to name names.
“It’s the same for women in any male-dominated industry,” she explains, although, as she points out, in medieval times it was women who made the beer.
It is also a question of representation. There’s value in seeing other people like you in the same industry, no matter what side of the bar they’re on.
“Pink Boots also shows that women also drink beer,” she adds. Beer is not just a drink for men, and conversely, she points out, there are also plenty of men who drink wine, despite common stereotypes.
Walsh realized how few women there were in Vermont’s beer and fermentation industries when she attempted to organize a small event featuring women-owned Vermont breweries. She found four to feature, one for each week of a full month, including one in Maine. She took to social media to promote these brews in March 2021, the month in which International Women’s Day is recognized, and that effort gained traction. She created a short article about each woman-owned brewery, and the tasting room featured one of the brews each week. People started coming from Burlington and other towns around Montpelier to check out these beers, and then she noticed other bars doing similar characteristics.
From there, Walsh reached out to some of the women in Vermont’s brewing scene to ask if they’d like to join a chapter of the Pink Boots Society, and, she said, “It was a resounding ‘yes’.” Now there are 15 members and she is actively recruiting more.
While historically membership has primarily focused on women in craft brewing, this has expanded in recent years to include non-binary members and to encompass the entire fermentation industry, including wine. , cider, distilled spirits and mead. It costs $45 to become a member, says Walsh, and the money goes to support educational events and training, as well as scholarships.
Being a woman in the Vermont brew can be very isolating, Walsh says, but it doesn’t have to be. This new chapter of the Pink Boots Society, she explains, is a chance to create a support network for women to access new skills and training, so they can be better supported for the growth of their industries. . It’s also a place to share notes on things like the strain of yeast they use or their choice of hops.
That’s why Walsh hopes to spread the word and attract new members. “With Vermont’s large footprint in the fermentation world, this is a big deal for our state.”