This is the final part of our Alberta Matters series on alcohol. Click here to read Part 1 on craft beer marketing and tourism, Part 2 on market saturation concerns, Part 3 on inter-provincial trade barriers hampering the growth of craft distilleries, Part 4 on cidery startups growing in Alberta and Part 5 on the province’s distilling industry.
The craft beer industry is booming in Alberta, and along with that growth comes a change in culture, as more women are making their mark in the beer business.
Thecla Wiart, 23, is not only one of the youngest brewmasters in the country but she is also among a growing contingent creating their own brews.
“I love the science and the art behind it,” Wiart said.
She is reclaiming what was traditionally a profession created by women.
“It has been a women’s role. You were called alewives. Up until the 1500s, women would brew the beer, but 500 years later, it shifted to be just men brewing beer,” Wiart said.
Stew Ward, owner of Balzac Brewing Company, said there was no hesitation hiring a female brewmaster. Ward said Wiart’s talents have amplified the business.
“It was an absolute natural. We wanted her to be working with us and involved in the brewery,” Ward said. “Not wanting to be stereotypical, but I find ladies pay more attention to details.
“The guys? All they want to do it brew beer and grow beards.”
The growth of females in the craft beer industry is evident across the province. Edmonton’s Town Square Brewing celebrates women in dominant roles. General manager Kelsey Wilkinson is one of many women on the staff.
“Strong, independent women are making it work in a male-dominant industry.”
Olds College has a brewmaster’s course. The number of female students has steadily increased.
“The enrolment for women has quadrupled,” said first-year student Sarah McCambridge. “In the past, there was one so it’s not an enormous number, but knowing there was going to be other women with you, that was comforting. We are all pulling for one another.”
Laura Coles is a co-founder of Prairie Dog Brewing. She said the industry has really embraced women but the societal perceptions are harder to change.
“People don’t realize they have that bias. They don’t realize they’re shocked when they hear it’s a female owner, but I see it,” Coles said.
“I see it on their faces when I introduce myself and I don’t see it when my husband or one of our other male founders introduces himself.”
Other than owning her own brewery, she is a trailblazer in another way: creating a meetup group called BABES.
“BABES is Barley’s Angels Beer Education Society,” Coles explained.
“I noticed on brewery tours if there was a woman, she would nudge her husband and whisper her questions instead of speaking up. I created this group as a safe place for women to get together and learn and not feel intimidated.”
The motivation for the group now is to phase it out altogether.