A new nonprofit collective wants to change the perception that Michigan’s craft beer industry is only a profession for burly bearded males.
Along the way, Fermenta, a women’s craft collaborative, also wants to educate and encourage more women to get involved in the profession of creating world-class craft beverages.
It’s a calling Manda Geiger answered a decade ago. The brewer at Hudsonville-based Pike 51 Brewing Co. worked over the years to perfect her craft, as well as push the notion that women — just like men — can make excellent beer.
“Women can do just as much as men can,” Geiger said. “Brewing always seemed very labor-intensive and (it seemed) that women couldn’t do that. It’s very much not that way.
“We’re turning that wheel. Women are amazing brewers.”
Women also make up nearly a third of all craft beer consumers, according to 2014 data from the Brewers Association, a national trade association.
Geiger, the communications director for Fermenta, said it hasn’t always been easy for women to approach the male-dominated industry — a fact that’s at the heart of the nonprofit’s regular educational programming.
“It’s easier if you have women putting on these educational events,” Geiger said.
That vision for Fermenta stemmed from an idea that Arcadia Brewing Co.’s Stacey Roth and Pauline Knighton of Short’s Brewing Co. shared at the 2014 Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Conference in Harbor Springs. From there, Fermenta officially launched in August 2014 and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit over the winter.
The collective offers seminars and trade shows and collaborates with breweries across the state to brew special one-off beers, as well as raises funds for members to further their education through scholarships.
Nineteen Michigan breweries have joined Fermenta, which boasts around 115 members, including enthusiasts and industry representatives from across the state.
Fermenta’s experienced executive board features Michigan women brewers and craft beer professionals who bring unique insight for potential members, sources said. At the end of the day, the organization wants to empower women to make great beer, hence the emphasis on educational programming on the science of brewing.
“We are thrilled with the industry’s warm welcome and excited to be a resource for people who want to expand their knowledge in the fermented craft beverage industries,” said Knighton, who serves as president of Fermenta, in a statement. “The talented and passionate network we are building will provide a multitude of opportunities for women and strengthen and grow the industry.”
Fermenta is also open to women from other craft beverage segments, including wine, cider and spirits.
“I’ve watched the whole industry change,” Geiger said. “We want to build camaraderie amongst women.”
Perhaps the most visible aspect for Fermenta are the collaborations they do with breweries around the state, particularly timed for major beer festivals.
At this year’s Summer Beer Festival put on by the Michigan Brewers Guild, Fermenta presented 26 new collaborations with brewers such as Arbor Brewing Co., The B.O.B., Eternity Brewing Co., Founders Brewing Co., Mitten Brewery, New Holland Brewing and more.
Giving women a chance to alongside brewers around the state provides them an opportunity for new experiences — as well as a chance to learn to work with new systems, ways of brewing and more, Geiger said. Fermenta also sponsors at least two events per month, including seminars and a tours of breweries and distilleries.
The group would also consider exploring partnerships with local beer festivals.
Geiger said the group wants to encourage a sense of community among women in the craft brewing industry, one that women and men can take pride in.
“I am so overwhelmed by the participation,” Geiger said. “I’m overwhelmed by the amount of women that wanted to become a part of this and actually help further (Fermenta) themselves.”