As major breweries struggle to make beer relevant to women some women are making practical strides towards fostering a more inclusive industry culture.
A microbiologist by trade, brewing industry veteran by passion, Queensland’s Kerry Claydon currently works as the brewery production manager for Gold Coast-based Balter Brewing Company.
After working for 20 years in her field of study as a civil servant, Claydon made the unlikely switch to brewing.
She describes her departure from government service as the direct result of Campbell Newman, saying she was one of the 14,000 people made redundant in his 2012 Budget cuts. But rather than be embittered by her redundancy, she thanks Newman and his cuts for giving her the push to seek employment elsewhere and supplanting her into the brewing industry.
Claydon said that after casting a wide net of resumes, Lion-owned XXXX Brewery made contact. She landed a microbiologist role at the Queensland brewery where she spent just over two years managing its microbiology laboratory.
“I really really loved the job there. I found, at last, there was a positive application to microbiology,” she said.
“Working as a microbiologist you tend to deal with a lot of negativity, there is a lot disease and illness and bad news, whereas being a microbiologist in a brewery, one of your main purposes is to cultivate yeast.
“Having known that the job existed 20 years ago, it would have been the first job I applied for.”
Claydon was then “poached” in 2015 by Carlton & United Breweries where she became the competitor’s senior and then national microbiologist.
But after CUB was sold to AB InBev in 2016, Claydon said she no longer felt comfortable working for the company. After resigning she landed the head brewer role at Brisbane’s Newstead Brewing Co.
“It was a wonderful transition to go from commercial big breweries to a nice, family-owned craft brewery,” Claydon said.
“One of the things I’ve always found appealing about the craft beer industry is that it’s very friendly, it’s kind of like a big beer community, there seems to be a general willingness to help each other.”
Her experience working for the bigger breweries was how lonely and competitive it could become.
“One of the things I didn’t enjoy being part of the big breweries was that it was all about producing the cheapest product possible and have no problems installing technology to do that,” she said.
“We just don’t have that mentality in the craft industry.
“Beer has been around for they say 8,000 years but for me, it’s taken craft beer to make the sector truly innovative, especially in western society.”
Traditional European beers aside, Claydon said that until more recently, much of the Western world has relied on commercial lagers.
Until the turn of the 20th Century, Claydon explained, brewers had no idea that beers were fermented because of the presence of yeast, which was only first identified about 160 years ago by microbiologist Louis Pasteur.
“We’ve gone from having this mixed culture in beer to isolating a yeast culture at the turn of the 20th century,” she explained.
During her time at Newstead, Claydon said that she got together with a few women to start up a Pink Boots Society Chapter in Queensland but decided that there weren’t enough women in the sunshine state to warrant the venture.
“It’s a great initiative to have an all-women industry group, but until you’ve got the population to sustain it I thought it might be a bit premature,” she explained.
Chicks with Ales had been defunct for a number of years, but Claydon put her hand up to run the group. Still a little Facebook group, Claydon tells me that Chicks with Ales has broadened its reach and now has about 730 members. She also said that a website is currently being developed.
“The big thing is having a safe space to bring women together to enjoy beer and to ask questions about beer,” she said.
“I hope that we’re giving women the confidence and the knowledge that – if it is a consideration for them to have a brewing career – they’re walking in more well-informed than what they would have been previously.
“The amount of women who can say that they walk into a bar and the bartender automatically offers them the light beer or some beer that isn’t too challenging to the palate.
“One of the aims of this group is for women to understand what they enjoy in a beer, is it hops, is it malt, is it a heavier style or is it a lighter style, and then having the confidence to ask for that particular beer at the bar without someone else serving you.
“Hopefully with that education piece, one, women are going to understand not only their sensory palate and the whole beer experience but I would love to see more women transition into the industry as well.”
Claydon reflects on her time at Lion and CUB when women only made up five to 10 per cent of the workforce. She believes that an organisation can only benefit from having more women involved.
“Women for one have a wonderful sensory palate, I think they have a lot to offer the industry,” she explained.
“It’s a very restrictive industry to enter into and it’s interesting talking to some women recently who would like to give the brewing industry a shot as a career but their fear is, is it just to blokey or male-dominated.”
Claydon says that these women really struggle with the fact that they may be the only woman in a whole team of men. While she says that some women love that, others find it challenging. For Claydon, it’s about getting the balance right.
One of the biggest barriers to entry for women in the beer industry is their relative lack of experience compared to their male counterparts.
To combat this, Claydon said that there are some big corporations starting to provide opportunities for women and encouraging them to apply for positions.
“I’d like to think it’s getting better but we certainly still have a way to go,” she said.
“Affirmative action is interesting because you certainly don’t want someone who won’t do a good job in a position but it’s almost like we need that in our current day to give women that opportunity because that social change isn’t just going to come about because people want it to.
“I’d like to think that in another 10 or 20 years that that sort of ruling is never going to be part of the process because women will be considered just as much as men.
“I just don’t think we’re there yet.”