The room begins filling with women, and Kate Cheney happily passes out small sampling glasses that are embossed with the logo of the former Northwest Airlines. “It’s amazing what you can find at Ax-Man,” she says, with a laugh. “When we told them what we were doing with them, they basically just gave them to us.”
It’s not surprising that Cheney would find support wherever she goes. Her formation of a local chapter of a beer appreciation society just for women — Barley’s Angels — is the type of group that everyone can get behind. The women who show up for the monthly events appreciate that it’s not just a mingle-and-drink gathering, and restaurant owners have been clamoring to be the next host.
Although the schedule for each evening can feel a bit loose, there’s still a type of structure at play. Attendees network and chat, and then there’s a speaker or a panel (sometimes both) who talks about beer-related topics. Tastings from a single brewery usually follow, with discussion about a brew’s nuances.
Between meetings, field trips have been proposed, with members heading to Dave’s BrewFarm in Wilson, WI, or just meeting up for happy hour at a place that features a wide selection of craft beers.
Barley’s Angels has only had a few meetings so far, but it’s certainly getting its buzz on. The larger organization launched in February, as part of an organization called the Pink Boots Society, which is made up of women who work in the beer industry. They wanted a consumer part of the effort that would educate women about beer and encourage them to seek employment in the industry. Or at least just seek out a brew at the end of the day.
“Traditionally, advertising in the beer industry has always been directed at men, with women being used as a draw,” says Cheney. “This has alienated women. With the new craft beer movement, that doesn’t happen as much, and I think as a result, more women are willing to try craft beer.”
Cheney, a Pink Boots Society member, currently works at 112 Eatery, but has worked in the beer business for the last six years. She found out that starting a local Barley’s Angels chapter would cost only $25, and she figured it would be a fun way to bring together her friends and get T-shirts with the group’s very cool logo.
She expected about five people at the first event, held at the end of June at Muddy Pig. Sixty women showed up. “I think that’s an indication of the interest here,” she says.
Education is an integral part of the event, Cheney notes. To be part of the national group, there must be some type of information being disseminated. “We don’t just get together and get trashed. There’s an educational component that brings together different ideas and insights about beer.”
At the group’s July gathering, for example, Cheney brought together a group of cicerones — the beer world’s equivalent of a sommelier, complete with grueling exams and extensive training — to discuss what type of study is involved to achieve that title. Also part of the events was a presentation and Q&A with Rob Shellman, a local cicerone who recently started a consultancy, beer education, and beer event planning firm called the Better Beer Society.
Shellman believes that Barley’s Angels will, excuse the pun, take flight as more women get involved. “The craft beer community has been largely male dominated for some time now, so it’s great to see organizations like Barley’s Angels forming around the Twin Cities and around the country,” he says, adding that the Twin Cities is supportive of such efforts, which will help the group keep growing. Also, bringing more women into the fold boosts the craft beer industry. Shellman points out that only about 25 percent of women in America (of legal drinking age, that is) are enjoying beer.
Now that summer is dwindling to a close, Cheney expects even greater interest in the group, since the meetings will fit into women’s schedules more easily in the chilly months ahead. And, hey, there’s always Oktoberfest, too.
“This is all about learning something new, being part of the craft beer world, and just having fun,” she says. “Who wouldn’t love that?”
Find Barley’s Angels’ meeting info on the group’s Facebook page.