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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.

Aug
10
Anne Sprecher
Pints, Parenting and Play –>Juggling. It. All.
Women In Beer
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Tami Plourde, Pearl Street Brewery

Today as I spend what is probably my umpteenth beautiful Saturday morning and afternoon holed up in my office, ignoring the perfect 80 degree day with zero humidity (a summer gift in this usually highly humid region of the Midwest), I’m reminded of the dedication it takes to do what we do. As an owner of a brewery, but more importantly a small business, I often miss those moments, those opportunities, the things I love most, to DO what I love the most… sell beer! And that’s ok. It’s not always ok. But for the most part, it’s ok. But I’m trying really hard to find some balance between business and pleasure. The great thing is… lots of the time, my time is both. Yesterday, I spent the evening in Wisconsin Dells, listening to live local music and sipping on a session IPA we brewed especially for this touristy local hot spot we were hanging out at. And they took the entire 20 BBL batch. Not bad for a day’s work… and play.

And as a mom, I don’t linger too much on the thought of whether it is appropriate that my 8 year old daughter is currently co-leading our facility tours with our Tour Guide. We have a family business, and we will always do this together. That’s another thing that really helps blur the line between how many “work hours” we’ve logged in and the “quality” time we’ve spent together as a family  🙂

When my schedule allows for it, I travel around Wisconsin for the Wisconsin Humanities Council’s Working Lives Project to talk about my experience being a woman in a male dominated field. I talk about my start in the industry 14 years ago, when I was unemployed, closing my restaurant after two years of giving it a go and going through bankruptcy. I started to help out my “boyfriend” aka. The Brewmaster go around to bars in La Crosse taking keg orders one day a week for his small nano brewery. It was great. Back then, a big week was a 10 1/2 BBL deliveries for the week. The next day, Joe would load up our blue short bus that we got practically for FREE but the only thing we could afford and he’d deliver the kegs and I’d write the invoices.  Back then, I was one of the only woman beer, liquor or wine sales working the route. So I  got a lot of attention. Was told that I was a refreshing change from those “scraggly men” who come around. I’m not aware of using my feminine wiles to sell beer, but unconsciously… maybe I did. I grew our local sales fairly quickly, and within a few years I was going out daily and we had to hire a full time delivery guy.

But even after a few years of selling beer, I couldn’t say it was my passion. I was still “helping” out. Fully planning on pursuing my plans in life. I couldn’t tell you what day that mentality changed. When I realized I WAS doing something awesome. I was pursuing my plans for my life. But it did. And after that… I was in it to win it.

The past few years have been a whirlwind. We’ve posted double digit growth every year for 18 years and the past two years we’ve posted over 25% growth and are on pace to hit 40% growth for this year. All this talk of growth and we’re still one of the smallest production breweries in Wisconsin.  We fund all of our own growth ourselves, so we only grow as we can afford to. Now, we’ve got to learn how to grow as we can manage to. We’ve hired 6 full-time employees in the last year and have grown our staff from 10 to 25+ including part-time beertenders. And not being one to pass up any opportunities, we opened a print and design company four years ago to cut down on our own design and print costs, and to grow a separate independent company.

All of these things are great things. My point I’m making today, as a woman and as a human being, it is a constant juggling act to figure out how to keep growing, how to keep the creativity up, how to manage the many men and women that work tirelessly alongside of us and how to keep my little family health and happy. Is it because I can’t say I can’t, that I feel the need to talk about how difficult it is to keep all this together? I don’t think so. But somehow through the culture of society, it has become a mandate that we can as women do it all. And I believe we can! But I’ve also learned it will be hard. But it is the passion and the determination that propels us into each day and into each endeavor. I wouldn’t want it any other way. And I think I’m doing alright. And I’ll admit it. I can’t juggle at all.

Cheers to the ladies that keep this industry exciting, interesting and evolving… all while being the foundation of their families!

Tami Plourde is a Minnesota native and longtime La Crosse, Wisconsin resident. She opened her first business venture, a restaurant in downtown La Crosse, in 2001, which she operated for two years. After that, she partnered with Joe Katchever to run and operate Pearl Street Brewery. She is currently a partner and the Director of Marketing and Sales for Pearl Street Brewery. And in her time in this position has helped the company grow from a small 500 BBL producing beer business to one that produced over 3500 BBL in 2015. In 2016, she helped oversee a 28% growth to get to almost 4500 BBLS and in 2017, is on pace for a 40% growth of just shy of 6500 BBLS.  She is currently overseeing an expansion project. She works with sales staff, self-distribution staff, directly with distributors, marketing staff and production staff.