One of Toronto's only female brewmasters, Mary Beth Keefe, shares favourite brew

In an industry where women haven't typically been involved on the brewing side of the craft beer revolution, Mary Beth Keefe knows she's unique. At 20 weeks pregnant, Granite Brewery's head brewer — and Toronto's only female brewmaster — can be found watching over the latest batch of cask ale.

Some of the best beer Keefe made was after her first pregnancy, she says

Toronto's only female brewmaster, Mary Beth Keefe, shares favourite brew

3 years ago
Toronto's only female brewmaster, Mary Beth Keefe, shares favourite brew 1:39

Mary Beth Keefe raises a glass of the Galactic Pale Ale, one of her favourite brews at Granite Brewery.  At 20 weeks into her second pregnancy, she's brewing batches of English cask ales at her family's Toronto-based brewery.

Keefe is Granite's head brewer and one of Ontario's only female brewmasters. 

​"I've been really fortunate," she says. "I haven't faced any discrimination, really."

In an industry where women haven't typically been involved on the brewing side of the craft beer revolution, Keefe knows she's unique.  

Mary Beth Keefe is one of Toronto's only female brewmasters. (Jon Castell/CBC)

"A lot of people still think it's a man's job," she says. "There is a physicality of it — the culture with the idea that a brewer is a guy with a beard and tattoos because a lot of them are, but why does that make someone a better brewer than a woman who is just as passionate about beer?" 

Beer has no gender

Keefe began sharing that passion by mentoring like-minded women after Niagara College created the country's first brewmaster and brewery operations management program in 2010. She'd already taught herself to make beer.

"Some are a little intimidated because it's definitely a male-dominated industry," she says of the students. "But it really should make no difference if you're female or male."

I hope that more women who are interested do try and get involved.- Mary Beth Keefe, female brewmaster

What you need most, she said, is the passion to make really, really good beer.

And Keefe does.

When she returned to the brewery after the birth of her now two-year-old son, she says she received the biggest compliment of her career.

"I had a few people tell me once I had been back for a few months or so that the beer had improved since I'd returned," she says.  "It is really nice to see that my passion does come through in the product."  

Keefe has been helping in her father's brewery since she was 12. (Amara McLaughlin/CBC)

But it took a while for her to get here. The 34-year-old queen brewmaster began filling casks alongside her father almost two decades ago, working in a family business that happened to be one of the city's oldest craft breweries.

Getting her start

Despite the brewery's role in her early years, Keefe wasn't always sure it would be her career.

"I always sort of had a feeling it was something I was going to do in the long run, but I dabbled here and there with other things," she says.

Then a post-university trip to England rekindled her love for English cask ale, the style of craft beer Granite has specialized in since opening in Toronto in 1991.

 'It is really nice to see that my passion does come through in the product.'- Mary Beth Keefe

That was thanks to a year spent working in a pub in Corbridge, a village on the northern tip of England, that taught her both about British "pub culture" and why she prefers low alcohol beers. 

"It's just better to be able to drink a few more and enjoy them than have one or two of a really high alcohol beer," she said. "Over there, beers are meant to be under four per cent, so doing an English mild became a real goal of mine. It took a few tries to really get it where I wanted it, but then I finally mastered that." 

Ron Keefe (left) and Mary Beth Keefe (right) began brewing together when his daughter was a teenager. Mary Beth took over as head brewer in 2009. (Jon Castell/CBC)

Now, the second-generation brewmaster can't imagine doing anything else. Today, she has four beers on tap made from her own recipes.  Every time she makes a new beer, it's a key moment, she says.

The craft brewing process is experimental with many local breweries pushing the boundaries at events like Ontario Craft Beer Week. 

Drinking your own

Keefe's goal has always been to make "really good tasting beer" using the English IPA's traditional ingredients — malted barley, water, yeast and hops — and enjoys exploring the innumerable taste combinations these ingredients can pose. 

Her first craft beer Darkside is actually a black IPA that boasts a rich malt taste from the roasted chocolate and malted barley, followed by a bitter punch from the hops. 

"That's the thing about brewing ... [knowing] that it was my sweat that went into it, because it's quite physical work, especially in a small brewery, that's really rewarding," she says. "Especially when you get to have a pint at the bar and the end of your shift and you know that you're the one that made that."  ​


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