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Nonprofit helping Michigan women break into the craft alcohol industry

Feb 12, 2016

Fermenta is a nonprofit group that helps women learn about and break into the brewing industry
Credit Pauline Knighton

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that the brewing and distilling industries have seen some growth in Michigan. You really don’t have to go far to find a microbrewer or distiller that’s producing some really fine ales or spirits.

Brewing has for some time been a craft mostly dominated by males, but a new group in Michigan is starting to change that.

Fermenta: Michigan Women’s Craft Collective is a nonprofit trade group initiated by Michigan women. It describes itself as “committed to diversity, camaraderie, networking and education within the craft beverage industry.”

Fermenta President Pauline Knighton tells us that women have a long history in brewing, and that craft brewing didn’t become so male-driven until home brewing became legal in the ‘80s.

“You know, there’s always been females in the industry, but it really hasn’t been until probably the last 10 years, or even fewer than that, that more women have felt comfortable getting into it,” she says.

Knighton tells us one of the greatest things about the industry is the passion and excitement inherent in so many of its members.

“So if you walk into a brewery or a distillery, a meadery, a winery, they want to talk to you because they’re excited that you’re also excited,” Knighton says.

But despite that energy and passion, Knighton tells us a lot of women are intimidated by the thought of entering the industry, and that’s where Fermenta comes in.

“Fermenta’s been a resource for women within the Michigan community to provide mentorship or to feel comfortable asking questions. It’s also really cool to say, 'hey, I have this passion to be a homebrewer and everyone I do it with is male, and that’s great, but it’s really cool that I now found this group of women that are also passionate.'”

Fermenta Communications Director Manda Geiger
Credit Steph Harding Photo

According to Knighton, about half of the women in Fermenta are professionals already making a living in the brewing industry, while the other half are homebrewers and enthusiasts.

Women are becoming a more powerful force in the brewing industry, but Knighton says a lot of women still encounter some gender-based stigma when it comes to alcohol preference. Erasing that bias and encouraging women to feel comfortable with their preferences is one of Fermenta’s big goals.

“There’s no doubt that I have myself been somewhere that’s very craft focused, and I’ve been told, ‘no, you’re not going to like that, that’s too bitter for you. You probably want this fruit-based beer,’” she tells us. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a fruit-based beer, but I said, ‘no, actually I would like that bitter beer. I’d like that IPA.’”

One of Fermenta’s more recent endeavors involves offering scholarships for lectures and lessons on brewing, which Knighton says has “been very well received and really kind of opened up … more opportunities to not just come to our monthly events, but to be able to dive a little deeper into part of the industry.”

Knighton tells us that Fermenta holds events “almost once a month” on both the east and west sides of the state and is working to grow in other areas as well. She’s enjoyed watching the group grow over the last two years into the passionate and friendly community it is today.

“It’s really cool to now see after about two years this group forum where we get together, … be able to talk about that, not only learn something new, but just have the opportunity to talk about something that we’re all really passionate about. And through those monthly get-togethers, we’ve kind of seen women now forming these friendships with people that they never knew, who are in their smaller communities, and getting together more often to do that.”

Knighton works for Short’s Brewing Company, home of the Huma Lupa Licious IPA. When pressed to choose a favorite outside of Short’s, she reaches for a Dogfishhead 90 Minute IPA.