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Beer Mon Dec 01 2014

An Interview with the Barley's Angels

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Kylie Snowaert Bunting and Shannan Hofman Bunting became organizers of the two-year old Chicago chapter of Barley's Angels back in June, and have since continued to expand the women-focused craft beer group with educational events and beer tastings, including a field trip to Penrose Brewing in Geneva and a tasting featuring fall-inspired brews. In an email interview, they discussed their goals for Barley's Angels, events, and women and craft beer.

How does the Chicago chapter fit into Barley's Angel's mission to "serve women who seek a comfortable environment to explore and learn about craft beer"? Do you have any specific goals?

Kylie: We try to make every meeting as laid-back as possible while still providing a great, educational, and fun event. Basically, it's craft beer-loving women getting together to talk about beer, the brewing process, food pairings and more. This includes women who have never drank craft beer before and want to dabble to those who consider themselves experts.

One of our other major goals is to be sure all our meetings have an educational component to them. Our meetings have a guided tasting with an industry professional (a brewer, bartender, craft beer expert, etc.) where they discuss the brewing process of the specific beers we've selected and what sets this brewery apart from others. This gives our members a chance to listen, learn, ask questions and then form their own educated opinion about the beer. It's a great opportunity for our members to grow their knowledge of craft beer through conversations with professionals, as well as like-minded beer lovers.

What are the backgrounds of the women who attend Barley's Angels events?

Shannan: We have a few women who are involved in food and beverage industries, but the vast majority come from all different careers and interests--human resource managers, dental hygienists, and lawyers to dog walkers and digital radio sales managers. There is no set background or career that brings women to craft beer. Just a love of the flavor and complexities, a desire to learn more and to meet like-minded women.

Kylie: This is actually one of the coolest things about this group of women. If it weren't for the love of craft beer, most of us would probably never get the chance to meet. It's a great way to expand our own circles, and I think some of the other members have found that as well. Some of the women come to the events alone, and we often leave them still chatting at the bar with a new-found friend! It's awesome.

Do a lot of the same people attend events?

Kylie: We do have quite the dedicated following, but we also see new faces every time we host an event. It's a great mix of those who have been to several of our meetings and those who are joining us for the first time. We love seeing both groups of people equally!

What's your favorite past event?

Kylie: What's unique about Barley's Angels is that no two events are exactly alike. We hosted events at breweries which included private tours and tastings. I love those because you get to be in the space where the magic happens and learn straight from the men and women who create the delicious brews we are drinking. On the other hand, I enjoy the events we host at bars and restaurants because we get to experience the neighborhood vibe and have an opportunity to do food pairings, as well as pull from the knowledge of the experts who are in-the-know with the craft beer scene.

Is there a subject or event you're keen to explore or organize?

Shannan: While both Kylie and I know an awful lot about the brewing process (and are married to home brewers), I would love to have a more in-depth experience with brewing--really learning about the nuisances. We would also like to have a barrel-aged event to learn more about that process.

Kylie: I totally agree with Shannan. While we have visited multiple breweries, it would be awesome to get "up close and personal" to the brewing process and have a more in-depth understanding. I also would like to dabble in some of the up and coming breweries, since there are so many now. While I love visiting breweries like Lagunitas and Goose Island, it would be cool to host an event with a brewery before they are the next Temperance, Revolution, etc.

Why is it necessary to put together female-focused beer events?

Kylie: When Lorna [Juett] first started the Chicago chapter, she was focused on emphasizing the fact that women can be educated craft beer lovers--not just beer drinkers looking for "something fruity." We are staying true to that focus. With a group like Barley's Angels, women have an outlet to express their appreciation and opinions about beers without feeling like they need to hold back.

I do think, however, that women are becoming more and more accepted in the craft beer world and our opinions are relevant to all those in the industry, so having a female-focused beer event isn't as much about being female-focused as it is about getting people together for fun events to learn about craft beer. That said, I attended [The Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers on November 14-15] and the ratio of men to women was still about 7:1.

Shannan: Even though strides are being made, I think it is important to keep pushing for women to have more seats at the table.

In general, do you feel that the beer industry, or the greater restaurant and pub industries, has been dismissive of women?

Kylie: While sometimes we can definitely run into people who categorize women as someone looking for "something light," I feel that this is improving, in Chicago at least. Especially now with brewers like Christina Kutzner making awesome brews for Penrose Brewing and Claudia Jendron creating a [Great American Beer Festival] silver medal-winning beer for Temperance Beer Co., women are making a stamp in the Chicago craft beer industry--both on the professional side as well as the consumer side. With this new mindset that great brewers don't have to be bearded men (don't get me wrong, some of good ones definitely are!), it's given women the opportunity to let their inner craft beer enthusiast out more.

For me, getting involved with Barley's Angels (even as a member before I began organizing events) has given me that confidence to walk into a bar, order the most hoppy IPA and own it. So with the combination of women leading the way in the beer industry and groups like Barley's Angels giving women the confidence to exert their opinions about craft beer, this stereotype will eventually melt away.

Should the beer, restaurant, and bar industries be more welcoming to women? If so, how can this be accomplished?

Kylie: I honestly think the industry has become much more welcoming to women.

Shannan: I agree, but I believe that is because there are so many women out there pushing the bounds. We had a woman recently attend one of our events and she came because she wanted to be involved in beer. She had no idea where to start, so she started with us. I don't think the field is going to expand organically, I think we have to keep pushing. We are doing it in our little way by offering women a place to talk, meet, learn and drink beer and by trying to target breweries and establishments where women have a strong role. Like that member who came to our event, we can help more women feel comfortable and therefore be more likely to expand the boundaries.

Barley's Angels is organizing a Beer Sleigh on December 13, with beer flights and brewery tours at Metropolitan Brewing, Lagunitas Brewery, and Lake Effect Brewing. Tickets are $60.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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