International Women’s Day was this past Tuesday. (Happy International Women’s Day!) As you might imagine, this is one of my favorite days - a day to reflect on all the awesome things women are contributing to the world. Fortuitously, a few weeks ago, right as I was pondering what to do for International Women’s Day in light of my obsession with badass women creators, I took a seat next to a woman who opened up a whole world of excitement about women’s contribution to the world. I was at my favorite local brewery, Mystery Brewery in Hillsborough, North Carolina, yammering away to a friend about a book I’ve begun to write on my experiences in entrepreneurship, sort of a call to action for women who want to create their dreams.
Next to me sat Anita Riley, quietly enjoying her beer when she jumped in: “You have to write that book.” Out poured her passion. As it turned out, Anita Riley is the Cellarman at Mystery Brewing. She is also a writer, photographer and amateur women in brewing historian. She spends a lot of time talking with women brewsters and writing about women in brewing. What is fascinating about her field is that it was women who were the first brewers, which is documented in the first written records (see Anita’s piece, Women in Brewing: A Few Fun Facts for more information on this). In a sense, part of Anita’s work is calling women back to work that was once theirs.
At this point I was completely smitten AND THEN she launched into her plans for International Women’s Day. Mystery Brew was hosting 17 women brewers from North Carolina to collaborate on a beer as part of the Pink Boot Society, an association that empowers women in the beer industry through education.
This past Tuesday they gathered to make a brew, “Field and Flower,” a mixture of lemongrass, jasmine, blueberry, with a wit base (about half wheat, half barley) and a Belgian Wit yeast. The proceeds from the beer will go to fund scholarships for women seeking brewing education through the Pink Boots Scholarship Fund.
Later last week, Anita gave me a tour of Mystery Brewing Company, sporting the Riding Jacket as she showed me the various aspects of her job. Mystery Brewing Company is an impressive facility. There are equal parts creativity alongside daunting, humbling machinery. Anita’s job is both physically and mentally challenging. Standing at the base of a dozen or so 10-20 foot tall fermenters it becomes abundantly clear that serious knowledge of chemistry and gas laws keeps her and her coworkers safe and the beer tasting delicious. There are an enormous number of details to pay attention to and a dizzying array of information on the brewing process and microbiology.
Anita describes dealing with temperature extremes, getting wet, getting covered in yeast, or beer, or both. “If you're a delicate flower, it's probably not the right position for you.” Noted.
Alongside the serious and potentially hazardous parts of her job are the beauty and creativity of working with live microorganisms and combining an expansive list of ingredients to come up with their bold flavors as a team.
Anita has found her dream job and is thriving in a culture that values her clean freak tendencies, killer sense of humor and love of the brewing process. I was surprised to learn that the brewing industry in incredibly hospitable toward woman. In her words, “I honestly don’t think the glass ceiling exists in brewing. We like our glasses at bar height! I've met women owners, CEO's, CFO's, Head Brewers, General Managers, and a number of other leadership roles. In fact, most of the women I've met are blazing trails and "showing the boys how it's done". We work hard, and we kill it. In return we garner a lot of respect from our male peers.”