British Columbia

Women in craft brewing struggle to gain foothold despite industry boom

In the first part of Hopped Up, an on The Coast series exploring competition, challenges and change in B.C.'s craft beer industry, two women discuss the challenges they face in welcoming women into a male-dominated beer industry.

Two women in industry say things improving, but sexualized marketing, 'boy's club' still a problem

Claire Wilson (left) and Ashley Brooks both say women are having a growing role in B.C.'s craft brewing industry, but it's still a boy's club and sexualized marketing is still a problem. (Jeremy Allingham/CBC)

Craft brewing is rapidly expanding in B.C., but roles for women have not kept pace with the boom.

Very few women can be found in industry leadership roles, and Ashley Brooks, head brewer at Big Ridge Brewing Co. in Surrey, says the male-dominance in the industry can create difficulties. 

"It sometimes can be a bit of a boy's club," she told On The Coast's Jeremy Allingham.

"There's that kind of 'bro' thing going on. I think that may be a bit of an obstacle, but for the most part a lot of breweries are being open-minded and realizing that women can do the job just as well, if not better."

Claire Wilson of Dogwood Brewing agrees that women are becoming increasingly a part of the craft brewing scene — "It's not just all beardy white guys, there are a variety of people in the beer industry," she said.

Wilson says women are more interested in flavours and taste when it comes to beer, which is why craft beer has a stronger appeal for female drinkers.

"When beer was mostly factory-produced, there weren't a lot of women drinking it," she said. "So it's only in this resurgence of craft where beer is coming out of these male-dominated factory environments, back to something crafted with love … that women are flowing back into the industry."

Sexualized marketing still leaves a foul taste

However, Brooks and Wilson still see problematic trends in the industry, especially when it comes to sexualized marketing.

Scantily clad models have adorned everything from TV ads to packaging to the beer labels themselves over the past 50 to 60 years, and some of those techniques persist in the craft industry.

Driftwood's Naughty Hildegard shows a "sexy" nun lifting up her habit; Parallel 49's Lil' Red and Gypsy Tears beers feature busty cartoon women in low-cut shirts; and Central City Brewing's Red Racer logo shows a woman riding a bike with her skirt blowing up to reveal a garter belt and underwear.

Central City's Red Racer is just one example of a beer that uses sexualized images of women to sell the product. (

"I guess I would be lying if I said it 100 per cent didn't bother me," Brooks said. "I feel there's so much more to offer from the beer. It's like a cheap advertisement, you know?"

Wilson agrees, but she thinks sexualized advertising is on the way out in B.C.'s craft beer industry.

"I sometimes scratch my head about the choices they've made. You're kind of cutting out half of your market," she said.

"People do notice… their female customers will be like, 'well, maybe I won't buy that anymore.'"

Brooks and Williams were two of the brewers involved in the International Women's Collaboration Brew Day in March.

Women from Vancouver's craft beer scene got together in solidarity with other brewers around the world to create the Pink Boots Gose, a wheat beer made with coriander and sea salt.

That beer will be released April 17 and the proceeds support building scholarships for women interested in pursuing a career in brewing.

With files from On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Craft brewing is still male-dominated, but female leaders say that's changing