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Beer industry's Pink Boots Society will celebrate 10 years of women's progress — and aim for more

It’s Founder’s Day at Anaheim Brewery — the annual celebration of Friedrich Conrad, who founded the original Anaheim Brewery in the 1800s — and co-owner Barbara Gerovac is behind the bar, snapping photos on her cell phone of a special-release bockbier and uploading them to the brewery’s Instagram.

As the food vendor for the evening sets up outside, a staffer comes running up with an uncooperative keg tap, something needed for an event at which Anaheim Brewery has a booth nearby. Gerovac tries to fix it, but realizes it won’t budge, so she sets down her phone and zooms to the back office to grab a replacement.

All this running around is just another day in the office for Gerovac, Orange County’s only female brewmaster.

The former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel runs 6-year-old Anaheim Brewery with her husband, Greg, who also is a brewer, but she’s among a growing number of women who defy the stereotype that the beer industry is only full of men.

“In the military it’s all about the rank on your collar, not your gender,” she says. “I was never assumed to be the secretary, which has happened since we started the brewery. Women have a tendency to get talked over. They also get looked over for brewing positions.”

Gerovac was still working for a brewpub in Torrance when she attended a small gathering of women in craft beer at the annual Craft Brewers Conference in 2008.

A few female brewers at Stone in San Diego put out the call for a convening of all the women in craft beer at the time and about 60 people showed up, from brewers and grain farmers to attorneys and taproom managers.

The women at that first meeting would become the first members of the Pink Boots Society, the only nonprofit dedicated exclusively to supporting women in the beer industry.

Pink Boots Society, named after one of the founders’ custom pink brewing boots, is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a first-of-its-kind conference and festival June 2 and 3 in San Diego.

“I was there for the camaraderie and the social aspect at first,” Gerovac says. “It was great to be able to talk to other people who have been through some of the same things as you.”

But what was once just an annual social gathering (a second meeting is held each year at the Great American Beer Festival) has now morphed into a globally relevant advocacy organization, with about 1,200 dues-paying members in 50 chapters across 10 countries.

Pink Boots earned nonprofit status in 2013 and, with an all-volunteer board, set out to further its narrowed focus of providing educational opportunities so its members can further their careers in beer.

So far, they’ve granted more than 50 scholarships to women across the industry, sending them to intensive brewing-science, small-business and ingredient-driven academic programs at colleges everywhere from Oregon and Ohio to Germany.

“It’s not about reverse sexism or being exclusionary. It’s more about the education,” says Emily Engdahl, Pink Boots Society’s executive director. “You can think of it in terms of equalizing. Females start to drop out of the periphery at a certain point and a lot of the women we talk to don’t seem to have the same educational pathways that their male counterparts have or do.”

Pink Boots offers membership to anyone who makes more than a quarter of their income from beer and gives about 10 scholarships per year to women in all segments of the industry.

San Diego is historically the largest and most active Pink Boots chapter, but L.A. formed its own a few years ago and counts dozens of women on the brewing, sales and retail end as members.

Orange County, however, remains elusive to Pink Boots. Among the 40-plus breweries in the county and the hundreds of craft-focused restaurants, bars and shops, women here probably represent less than what Engdahl believes is the average in most chapters – about half of a craft beer community’s workforce, an increase from about 25% less than a decade ago.

The two-day anniversary conference and festival is not only a celebration of how far women like Gerovac and others have come in solidifying their place in craft beer, but also how far the industry still has to go in breaking down barriers and providing opportunities for even more women to grow and learn in this burgeoning industry.

“Why are women not more presenters at conferences? Why aren’t we seeing a significant amount of female judges in Canada or the smaller markets in U.S.?” says Engdahl. “Pink Boots is interested in finding out what those barriers are and what we can do to break them down.”

Pink Boots Society 10th Anniversary Conference and Festival will take place June 2 and 3 in San Diego. For more information or to buy tickets, visit 10thanniversary.pinkbootssociety.org.

SARAH BENNETT is a freelance journalist covering food, drink, music, culture and more. She is the former food editor at L.A. Weekly and a founding editor of Beer Paper L.A. Follow her on Twitter @thesarahbennett.

A previous version of this post stated that membership in the Pink Boots society is exclusively for women in the craft beer industry. In fact, women in non-independent breweries can be members.
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