It’s 10 O’clock in the morning and Kerrie Abba is sampling a beer. She begins by sniffing deeply. Then, with a little nod, she swirls the amber liquid around and takes a sip. She cocks her head, pauses, nods again and smiles.
Kerrie is the co-founder of Sydney’s Nomad Brewing and the beer she is tasting is the latest incarnation of a new brew she is creating with head brewer, Brooks Caretta. Her morning coffee will come shortly, but for a craft brewer, the first and last taste of the day is likely to be beer.
Given the fervour and expertise with which Kerrie talks about craft beer, and the look of total absorption on her face as she savours one, you’d think that beer had been a lifelong love of hers. Not so. “I really, really loved beer,” says Kerrie of her pre-beer drinking days, “I just didn’t know it yet.”
It wasn’t until Kerrie met legendary Italian brewer Leonardo di Vincenzo of Italy’s Birra del Borgo that she was introduced to the beers that really rocked her world: sours and saisons, fruit beers and berliner weisses, witbiers and goses, and in settings – food festivals, little restaurants, and cafes – that were much more simpatico than the sticky-floored pubs Kerrie remembered from her youth in Manly.
“I had no idea that beer could be like that – wonderfully stinky, tart, sour, sweet, so complex, and so fun to match with food.” After eight years living and working with wine and beer in Italy, Kerrie and her husband, Johnny, were inspired enough to return to their old stomping ground of Sydney’s northern beaches to open Nomad Brewing.
“You can have a greater impact on beer than you can on wine. Making wine largely involves being a caretaker of your grapes. With beer, you get to play a lot more.”
“We launched with a saison,” she remembers, “and we were one of the first breweries in Australia to make a gose. We didn’t invent the styles, but we did help introduce them to a much larger audience.” And she continues to do that daily at Nomad’s tasting bar. What’s her approach? Well, if a woman comes in and insists that she doesn’t like beer, Kerrie seizes the opportunity to spread the word. “If they ask for a cider, I’ll happily give them a cider, but I’ll also suggest they try one of our sour fruit ales or our home-grown take on the berliner weiss style. And 99 per cent of the time, I’ve got a new convert on my hands.” She often hears echoes of her own early words of amazement: “I had no idea that beer could be like this!”
It was this scope for pioneering creativity that got Melbourne’s Two Birds head brewer, Jayne Lewis, hooked on craft beer. Co-founded with Danielle Allen and Australia’s first women-owned brewery, Jayne started her career as a wine maker, but her heart and talent took her away from supervising vines and into the hands-on involvement which beer brewing demands. “You can have a greater impact on beer than you can on wine,” she says. “Making wine largely involves being a caretaker of your grapes. With beer, you get to play a lot more.”
“There is a beer lover in all of us. We just have to find the right beer.”
Jayne feels strongly that there is no such thing as a “women’s beer” but that, given the opportunity, most women will find a style they respond to. Like Kerrie, her experience has shown her that women have extremely sophisticated palates capable of picking up subtle nuances and complexity of flavour, so there is huge potential for them to enjoy a wide range of interesting brews. This taste for subtlety, she maintains, can translate successfully to brewing. “Women brew with a deft touch,” she says. “They tend to be very creative brewers.”
Organisations like the Pink Boots Society, of which Jayne is the Australian president and which encourages women into the industry, and a general atmosphere of camaraderie, respect and collaborative endeavour, mean that many women are able to find they can make a distinctive and enduring mark there.
It is outside the breweries, in the world of beer consumers, that the gender disparity is much more glaring. The “big cold beer” for the “hard-earned thirst” may have had its day, but its legacy is a deeply entrenched association of men with beer, to the exclusion of women. For decades, beer has never looked like a drink for women and, quite frankly, it has rarely tasted good enough to make it worth the effort involved in overcoming the cliché. Recent statistics still bear this out: while nearly 60 per cent of adult males will drink beer in an average four-week period, fewer than 20 per cent of women will.
Kirrily Waldhorn, AKA the Beer Diva, has had 17 years in the industry as a marketer, educator and dedicated disseminator of the love of craft beer. She says beer’s audience is limited as much as anything by the language the industry continues to use in its marketing. “Everyone involved in the industry should be mindful that they are dealing with a drink that has a stigma attached to it,” she says. “They can perpetuate that stigma. Or they can change it.”
In the meantime, women like Kerrie, Jayne and Kirrily are doing their part – converting women to the magic of craft beer, one sip at a time. As Kirrily says, “there is a beer lover in all of us. We just have to find the right beer.”