by Julie Holt

I walk into Tailgate Music Row alone on a Monday evening and scan the crowd. The place is familiar and so is the crowd. A handful of guys huddled around a big screen, watching teams I can’t identify, some aprés work brews for a large co-ed group. A few couples eating dinner at the bar.

The group I’m meeting should stand out from the rest, a table of only women. The February meeting of the Nashville chapter of the Pink Boots Society is indeed the only table of just women in the taproom. The ladies welcome me to my first meeting and slide a flight of IPAs in my direction. These ladies waste no time getting to business, the business of beer.

When I mention the noticeably paltry percentage of women in the room, it’s not news to these beer industry females. They see it in the breweries and taprooms where they work, the beer events they attend and in industry websites and publications. However, many of the women at this meeting and in this issue report that they’ve been welcomed by their male counterparts.

It seems that women have great opportunity in the field, but why aren’t more of us pursuing it? That’s where Pink Boots Society comes in — to blaze a trail for women in craft beer.

Pink Boots Purpose

Pink Boots Society is a nationwide organization that aims to connect women in craft beer in order to educate and advance their skills and positions. The organization welcomes women who make any money from beer, whether they’re brewers, tour bus operators, marketers, writers, bartenders or brewery staff.

Pink Boots is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and their primary goal is to provide the support and training needed to further their own careers or to get certified as beer judges at GABF and other competitions. The society offers numerous scholarships to members to reach these goals, and even members who are not scholarship recipients enjoy the benefits of a network of like-minded women who are eager to learn and grow in their trades.

The Nashville chapter of Pink Boots Society has around 50 members. Chapter president and industry attorney Rachel Schaffer explains, “This year, we’ve come back to who we are as a chapter, who we are to women in Nashville.” To this end, the members are working like never before to encourage all women to taste and enjoy craft beer and the culture surrounding it.

Schaffer says that understanding women’s drinking habits and buying patterns could be a wealth of information that the industry hasn’t fully mined. Understanding how women purchase and consume beer and marketing to that could mean an increase in female participation in craft beer. And more unique perspectives means a richer market for those of us already on board.

Leading Lady

Schaffer shares her own craft beer discovery story, which starts when she was a student at Northwestern, in Boston. “That’s where I changed my mind about beer,” she says. After drinking (and hating) all the macro college bar staples, she decided something that changed her perspective — “I don’t like this shitty beer. I don’t have to drink this.”

Boston’s Mission Hill area had plenty of pubs with extensive taps, and Schaffer jumped into craft beer, searching for something better. After she discovered her love for dark beers and the endless variety of flavors, she was hooked.

When she moved to Louisiana for law school, the love affair heated up. She started working for breweries, became a Ciccerone and started homebrewing. “I loved the people. I love the infinite number of flavors.”

Schaffer’s love of craft beer and the community around it have impacted the Nashville craft scene in myriad ways — from sharing her legal expertise with aspiring brewery owners to navigating beverage law with distributors to educating business owners about the perks and pitfalls of business partnerships.

Schaffer’s recently released book, “Marriage Without the Sex” is a great example of her approachable, insightful style, which many Nashville breweries and businesses have come to love. At the heart of Rachel’s work is her genuine desire to advance the craft beer industry, and mentoring women through the process is integral to that mission.

Brewing with Purpose

Pink Boots knows that the best way to learn is to do, and their national brew day was created to encourage each chapter to plan and brew their own beer. The Nashville chapter’s most recent brew was Les Dames Rouges, a malt-forward red ale that the ladies teamed up to brew at Tailgate.

Their decision to brew a red ale was largely motivated by their desire to make an approachable and drinkable beer that would have wide appeal. Both veteran craft beer drinkers and newbies could enjoy the straightforward flavor, and just maybe this beer could inspire more women to try a locally made craft beer.

But once a year brewing isn’t the only way the Nashville chapter of Pink Boots Society helps its members grow, they also plan events and educational meetings. From classes on cleaning draft lines to glassware courses, everything the organization does is designed to equip women with the knowledge, skills and opportunities to grow and advance.

“I believe there is a beer out there for everyone, you just have to go find it,” says Schaffer. “It’s becoming a welcoming environment for women.” She and her fellow Pink Boots members are ready to come alongside any women who are ready to join the ranks of women who love all things craft beer.