Bent Stick helps matriarchy rise

· The Pulse

Bent Stick Brewing has gathered women and non-binary industry mates together to brew a new ale that celebrates gender diversity outside the confines of International Women's Day in March.

Mel Willerth, a certified beer judge and server at Bent Stick's taproom, said they had an idea to brew a Pink Boots brew for International Women's Day, but that Bent Stick was busy then. They shared the idea with Lisa Davis, a brewer and Bent Stick co-owner. "Lisa had the brilliant thought that we shouldn't only be brewing beer by women and for women around International Women's Day — it should be done year round," Willerth told Taproot. "So why don't we change up and do it in the fall instead?"

Davis revisited the idea with Willerth and head brewer Quinn Recknagle before creating a limited-edition beer called Ryes of the Matriarchy, which launched Nov. 30.

"In our brewery half of our production team, which is only four people, is female, which is pretty unusual for this industry," Davis said. "Myself and our other female brewer, Quinn, we were just sitting around having a beer after work one day … and we were like, 'We should kick all the guys out of the brewery for a day and make a beer, and invite some of the other women and non-binary people in the neighbourhood to make beer with us.'"

The result is a rye ale brewed by Bent Stick and peers from locals Ale Architect and Omen Brewing, plus Calgary's Cabin Brewing Company and Best of Kin Brewing.

"The beer is really complex, but also easy to drink and interesting," Willerth, who suggested the beer be a rye ale, said. "It's like a light beer that has a lot of malt character, a lot of really interesting spicy and complex-yeast character. It has classic Belgian flavours with really deep malt richness, because it's also a dark beer. But then it's low alcohol, so it's really easy to drink and really friendly." (The beer has a 3.73/5 score on Untappd.)

The conversation Bent Stick and its brew mates are sparking is one that can happen year round, said Erin McQuitty, a founder and co-chair of the board for Hop Forward Society. The group is a Calgary based non-profit that works to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in Alberta's craft-beer industry, and has held one event so far in Edmonton. (No one interviewed for this story could point to an Edmonton-based organization doing the same work.)

"It's no different for Hop Forward," McQuitty, who also co-founded Calgary's Born Brewing Co. and runs its sales and marketing, said. "We try and host events, and we encourage our members and membership base to create fundraising brews for us, all throughout the year."

McQuitty and the Bent Stick team are on the same page. Both referenced the Canadian chapter of international non-profit Pink Boots Society as a positive force for women and non-binary people in the booze industry, but they think there's more to be done. (In fairness to Pink Boots, it's a misconception that its fundraising brews only come out around International Women's Day.)

A group of seven women and non-binary people, plus a baby, pose inside a brewery.

(From left) Morgan Flegg (and child) of Best of Kin Brewing, Lisa Davis, Quinn Recknagle, and Mel Willerth (all Bent Stick Brewing), Cassandra Durocher of Cabin Brewing Company, Shannon Gray of Ale Architect, and Omnia El-Bohtimy of Omen Brewing all collaborated on the new Ryes of the Matriarchy beer. (Supplied)

Davis said the Ryes brew came together spontaneously and casually, with short notice for collaborators. But she'd like to make things more formal in future, and suggested brewing two similarly minded beers per year.

"If we do this again — and I hope to — I hope that we can spend more time getting really organized and give more notice," Davis said. "We can have a lot more brewery participation, because there's a lot of women and non-binary people in the industry who have good beer to make. We should do more things like this all the time."

McQuitty's organization serves diverse communities of all stripes, but focuses on racialized, disabled, and queer communities. She developed the idea for the society and its scope with fellow founder Sharon Ruyter, who reached out to breweries following Blackout Tuesday to encourage them to move from Instagram to action.

"We felt that those were populations or groups of people who currently didn't have an organization or a society that was really out there doing the work to help them gain access to this industry," McQuitty said. "We wanted to create something that complemented what was already going on in the industry rather than duplicating it."

Bent Stick and Hop Forward's teams both believe in intersectionality, a tool to examine multiple factors of advantage and disadvantage at the same time.

"Feminism that isn't intersectional isn't feminism," said Willerth. Davis added that the past two recipients of Hop Forward's grants program have multi-layered marginalized identities.

Applications for the next round of Hop Forward grants are due in March. McQuitty said the current recipient, Shivani Mukerji, is spearheading a project to create a library of stock images of people at breweries "who aren't just bearded white men."

That may sound strange for an organization that started off as a challenge to an Instagram movement, but McQuitty said it's a dance.

"If your social media and outward presence showcases folks from all different backgrounds — even if they're not actually your employees yet, or even if they're not actually your customers yet — that will tell someone who's looking at your feed or looking at your website that there is a spot for them," McQuitty said. "That tells someone that when they come to your space there will be someone there who is going to stick up for them, stand up for them, make sure that they're comfortable, safe, and included."

McQuitty and co. hosted their first Edmonton event in July at Irrational Brewing Company. Their next appearance in town will be in March (precise date TBD) at Polyrhythm Brewing. It's a "Sip and Sign" event, where hearing and non-hearing attendees will learn more about beer and sign language.

Meanwhile, Bent Stick's Ryes of the Matriarchy is primarily available at its taproom at 9926 78 Avenue NW. The company expects to sell out of the beer by the end of this month. It will be available during the Dec. 17 Happy Beer Street event, Santa's Sizzler.