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Nov
10
Anne Sprecher
Writing About Beer Culture by Kathy Flanigan
Women In Beer
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I write about the culture of craft beer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper. I was a general assignment reporter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which meant I could write about anything editors asked from stories about an overnight children’s shelter to spending 24 hours at a casino.

Then I accepted a challenge to write about issues important to women — “Lean In” was big at the time. Why not? I’m a woman. I’m all for parity.

The first story I wrote was about women and beer. I wrote about how women are a fast-growing component of craft beer’s growth. And then I wrote about beer again. And again. I wasn’t a big beer drinker at the time and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The women of Milwaukee’s Barley’s Angels group helped me out.

The first story wasn’t so far off track from the original assignment. I found that plenty of women knew about beer; several worked in the industry; and others were more-than-competent home brewers. And yet bartenders would still automatically hand over the wine list when they sat at the bar. Or offer unsolicited advice on fruit beers they might like.

The year was 2013. There were nine breweries and brewpubs in  Milwaukee. Today, there are 31. Two more are expected to open this summer.

It was dumb luck timing for me. It became an opportunity to witness a new wave of Milwaukee’s craft brewery growth from the ground up.

This growth spurt is great news for Milwaukee. Not since the 1960s and ‘70s, when Schlitz, Pabst, Blatz and Miller ruled the nation’s beer supply has beer been a centerpiece for the city. I don’t cover beer for beer geeks. I cover it for people like me who like beer and get excited by the endless possibilities. It’s amazing to consider that most beers use the same ingredients but they can taste completely different.

I remember the night I realized that I had intentionally switched from a wine lover to a beer lover. I was with a friend at Sugar Maple. My friend and I spent years sipping wines and talking about what we liked about them. We ordered a flight at Sugar Maple. We couldn’t help it. We did the same thing. We sniffed. We compared. What does this taste like to you? This one tastes too sweet? This was our wine conversation but now it was about beer.

Last summer I spread my beer evangelism across the state for research on a book Beer Lover’s Wisconsin: Best Breweries, Brewpubs and Beer Bars for Globe Pequot publishing. My research took me to the northern tip of Wisconsin where I met Allyson Rolph, head brewer for Thirsty Pagan Brewing (at 

the time) to the southern border of Wisconsin’s Driftless region where Deb Carey, founder and president of New Glarus Brewing, spent an afternoon showing me the brewery and the new canning line.

Sometimes I just went to breweries like a tourist — occasionally as many as five in one day. They use the same ingredients but each brewery is as unique as the people behind it. Some, like Bloomer Brewing in Bloomer, Wis., served as the neighborhood bar — a place where at least one day a week people came together for beer brewed with original and historic recipes and tacos served from a card table covered in a plastic tablecloth. I didn’t like the beer at Kozy Yak in Amherst as much as I hoped to but I did like the feeling that I was in someone’s living room and the hosts were happy to see me.

I have the best “What I did on my summer vacation” story ever. More than that, I had motivation to continue to write about craft beer. I joined the Pink Boots Society in 2016, after I felt seasoned enough to feel like beer really was my job.

The summertime tour, along with these four years of reporting on beer in Wisconsin, has taught me that the state’s brewers are a committed brunch who build community by working with each other instead of against each other. Sprecher Brewing and Lakefront Brewing brought craft beer to Milwaukee in the 1980s. They see the current craft movement as momentum instead of competition. There’s a Milwaukee Craft Beer League to spotlight beer in our city.

And there’s me. I’m a soon to be a published author. About beer. Go figure.

Kathy Flanigan is a reporter for the features and entertainment section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She’s been a journalist since 1978 covering subjects from how to deal with Southern California traffic to life in the Atlanta suburbs. She lives in Wauwatosa, WI with her husband, Duane, and her dog, Jack. In addition to her daytime job, she is on a book tour for Beer Lover’s Wisconsin.



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