The craft brewing industry is famously collaborative. Brewers share insights and techniques as they brew a collaboration beer, the label of which bears both logos and a brief declaration of undying friendship. They hang out together at beer festivals, praising one another’s beers, swapping memories and promising future projects together. The whole thing looks suspicious as hell, but the evidence is overwhelming.
One of the strongest collaborative programs in craft beer is the Pink Boots Society (PBS), founded in 2007. According to the PBS website, the organization was established “to assist, inspire, and encourage women in the fermented/alcoholic beverage profession through education.” The group has chapters in most states, and has also organized chapters in Europe, South America and Oceania. Breweries raise money for the group’s scholarships by brewing a special beer, usually on International Women’s Day (March 8).
The fundraising model is pretty simple. Yakima Chief Hops offers a special hops blend for the beer and donates a portion of their sales to the scholarship fund. Country Malt Group offers a grist blend with a similar deal. Breweries may choose to kick in some margin of sales to local chapters on top of dedicating time and facilities to the project. Host breweries invite PBS members in for the brew day, even PBS members who work at competing breweries. The beer is then packaged and sold, often with a cheerful label explaining the good work the beer is funding.
Heather Holland, co-owner of Outland Farm Brewery, in Pittsfield, was a PBS member before Maine had a chapter. Her husband, Michael, brewed at Firefly Hollow Brewing, in Connecticut, before the couple relocated to Maine. Heather owns a farm in Pittsfield, and Michael owns a small manufacturing company that makes control panels for breweries. Anticipating that they would open their own brewery in a few years, Heather Holland connected with other PBS members in Maine to organize a chapter.
Mary Weber and Elizabeth Johnston were also founding members. Weber, co-owner of Monhegan Brewing, and Johnston, co-owner of Lake St. George Brewing, were fortunate to have the very best mentor in Maine beer: their father, Danny McGovern, founded a brewery back in 1993 and has been commercially brewing ever since.
Heather Holland recalled that the sisters hosted the first PBS brew. “They were an integral part of starting the chapter,” she said. “The first collaboration brew was at Lake St. George and anybody in Pink Boots could come. At that time, we had about twelve people and that felt phenomenal.”
The Maine chapter now has about 50 members, and at least 10 breweries will participate this year. The group is also expanding to the wine, cider, seltzer and spirits industries. Heather Holland noted that she will join Courtney Kaslow of Portland’s Goodfire Brewing Co. for “our first non-beer collaboration brew day,” at Après, the cider and seltzer company in East Bayside.
Although the hops blend is specified as part of the fundraising program, the resulting beers are far from identical. In 2020, Rising Tide Brewing collaborated with their East Bayside neighbor, Three of Strong Spirits, to create Uncharted Waters, a cocktail-inspired beer that incorporated barrel staves in the brew.
This year, both Flight Deck Brewing, in Brunswick, and Nonesuch River Brewing, in Scarborough, brewed black IPAs for the program, a style that was briefly popular before virtually disappearing again. Shea Cusick of Nonesuch dubbed her beer 90’s Night, while Flight Deck honored a squadron of WWII female bomber pilots known as Night Witches. Flight Deck’s version will be available in cans and on tap, but 90’s Night will only be available on tap at Nonesuch.
And the money raised? Last fall, Yakima Chief Hops and Country Malt Group donated $124,296 to the national Pink Boots Society. In Maine, Katie Beaucage, of Allagash Brewing, and Gabriel Clarke, of Maine Beer Company, both received scholarships to advance their careers. Beaucage will participate in the Pink Boots Exclusive Yakima Chief Hops Experiential Trip, providing her with knowledge and skills to apply in the recipe development and pilot program. Clarke received Portland State University’s Business of Craft Brewing Certificate scholarship.
On the Pink Boots Maine chapter’s Instagram page, Clarke wrote, “It doesn’t seem so lonely as a trans person in this industry, knowing I’m on my way to create space for other people like me.”
Heather Holland also noted that local scholarship money has paid for all members in Maine to participate in the Cicerone Beer Server Training program, which schools attendees in beer styles and proper storage and service. Restaurants and breweries around Maine have hosted training nights for the members, 10 of whom have already taken their Cicerone certification exams.
Tell Tom Major whether he should have used half of this column to geek out about this year’s hops blend (Loral again?!) at firstname.lastname@example.org.