Interview by Meghan Sheffield
Photography by Jeannette Breward
The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies curates fun, beer-centric events for women only, in Toronto. We attended the most recent Ladies-Only Beer Fest, where a diverse crowd of over 1000 ladies sipped beer samples and lined up for street food to a soundtrack of old-school hip hop and The Smiths. Join the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies for the Summer Beer Fest, on Saturday, July 8.
Erica Campbell is a beer sommelier, a long-time member of Ontario’s craft beer industry, and one of the founders of Toronto’s Society of Beer Drinking Ladies.
GL – How did the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies come together?
EC – I had the idea to create some sort of a space for women and beer. I didn’t know what it would look like — maybe 10 women in my living room, mostly friends and industry colleagues, talking beer and swapping different bottles. I approached four women who I knew from different parts of my life, all on the outskirts of the industry, tasting and events staff.
We had a couple of pints at a bar on Bloor Street and I pitched the idea, like “There’s not a lot of women in this industry, it kind of looks like a dude’s club, I don’t really know what we should do yet, are you guys on board?”
They were, so we started planning our event. We didn’t set a maximum number of tickets on Eventbrite, and we ended up selling 90 tickets in a of couple days. We knew we couldn’t fit 90 people in one of our Toronto apartments, so then we had to learn the rules for hosting a pop up event, to get the LCBO permit, a venue, insurance.
That was three years ago, and now I don’t even remember exactly how it went, because we just had our 32nd event.
GL – Why ladies only?
EC – Because I worked with all men and still pretty much work with all men at my day job at Collective Arts, and at LCBOs and at bars and pretty much my day-to-day life, beer is a male-dominated industry. Working events, you’re often seen as the “contract server woman who doesn’t know much about beer” and treated as subservient. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I’ve had those experiences in this industry.
We wanted to make new friends and we wanted a place where men weren’t a part of the mix. Sometimes, if you go to a bar alone, it can kind of suck. We’re not totally anti-men, and we have a funny policy of men allowed after midnight, so that boyfriends and friends can come. We’re not trying to set up an anti-male space and try to set up a woman’s niche
We get maybe once a year, some guy is mad or disgruntled that he can’t show up. We’ve solidified our place in the industry, so male bloggers will critique him and be like “dude.” Guys have our back on this, they get it.
Sometimes we have folks from the LGBTQ community who have critiqued our use of the term “ladies,’ and we have listened to that and tried to put it in writing why we use that term and how it’s tongue in cheek.
At the festivals, 19 breweries bring their own staff, popping up like a festival. We recommend that their women staff come but not required. There’s going to be guys there pouring and that’s fine. They’re respectful of the event. Guys are our allies.
GL – The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies calls its events “Bevies.” What is a Bevy like?
EC – We don’t do a lot of beer education. Our belief is women know a lot about beer, they’re already really smart. This is about creating a safe, awesome chill space for people who identify as women. We don’t discriminate, we have a lot of folks from the LGBTQ community, and it’s a great environment.
Brewers bring kegs and we’ve always got great food vendors. We started a swag shop and are selling our Society of Beer Drinking Ladies merch, which people can buy at our Bevies or online.
Visitors will also see donation collection buckets at our events. We have always partnered with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, right from our initial conversations we wanted to have a donation portion so that we’re drinking for a cause? Craft beer is a privileged industry, so if everyone is drinking, can we do something good while we’re doing it? The Canadian Women’s Foundation is a national organization, and focuses on many facets of women’s issues, from poverty and trafficking to empowerment of girls and youth.
GL – Do ladies drink beer differently?
EC – Women are really exploratory and willing to try things. I know that’s super generalized, but I find at festivals, guys who are getting into craft beer might stick to easy choices, where are women are like “bring it on, let me try the double IPA or Russian imperial stout!”
At an event like our beer festivals, people like the crazier the better, so things that are “marshmallow-this” or “vanilla kiwi-that” might go over really well. We try to provide beer that is maybe a little more exclusive, we push the breweries to bring their unique beers and we always ask for a bevy brew — limited edition kegs for that night.
More people are drinking craft beer than they used to. Clearly women were drinking beer the whole time, we just didn’t have a cool place to drink it in. Or women were taught myths like drink wine because it doesn’t make you bloated or drink spirits because it doesn’t have calories.
Historically women were the brewers, they were looking after kids and cooking in a kitchen and they were brewing the beer. It was in the homesteading and cooking realm. With macro breweries, beer has become an industry which created this male-dominated world, but the craft beer world offers more to women: more flavours, and it’s not just marketing for men, football and bro stuff.
There’s still more room for more women brewers. There are more women sales reps working in marketing and the office. We need to be making sure more women feel supported in the brewhouse. There are some women, but it’s not where it should be yet.
See photos from Bevy 0032.