“So, what do you think?”
Tuesday afternoon, I was standing in the lab at Black Tooth Brewing Company in front of a beaker of Whoa Nellie, a craft beer in its last stage of the fermentation process. Ruth Martin, the quality assurance director at the brewery, handed me a taster.
Whoa Nellie was brewed at Black Tooth by a group of local women to celebrate Collaboration Brew Day on March 8. The event, coinciding with International Women’s Day, was created by the Pink Boots Society, an organization dedicated to supporting women beer professionals in the U.S.
The goal? To encourage women to make, sell and drink craft beer.
I first heard about Collaboration Brew Day through a friend steeped in the local beer world.
Michelle Forster, a Ranchester native who recently returned to Sheridan County after more than a decade in Los Angeles, is a level 2 cicerone — the only in the state. (Cicerones are highly trained beer “sommeliers”). Believing “craft beer can save the world,” she is the executive director of the Wyoming Craft Brewers Guild, a nonprofit that represents the collective voice of the state’s craft breweries.
As she described the lively women gathered in the brewhouse — in the “Year of Wyoming Women,” no less — I wondered about the rest of the group. Who were they? How did they end up in the industry? We live in a small town, so it turns out I already knew a couple (and even used to ride the bus to elementary school with one).
I’ve already mentioned Ruth from Black Tooth, a Pink Boots Society member who instigated Collaboration Brew Day in Sheridan. A transplant from the acclaimed Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in California, she has been in the industry for more than 20 years. Ruth loves the science behind brewing. As QA director at Black Tooth, she monitors fermentation through daily gravity readings, performs analytical procedures, runs testing on raw material — and so much more.
Also among the invitees was Tiffany McCormick, the co-owner of Smith Alley Brew Co., which opened in Sheridan in January. Tiffany originally hails from Portland, Oregon, where women outnumber men among craft beer drinkers. She feels Wyoming is headed toward equality in the industry.
“I think Wyoming, with its history of women’s rights and hardworking culture, actually is more okay with women working in craft beer than most places,” Tiffany said. “The women who are here, particularly in Sheridan, do a phenomenal job of representing that. But still, I don’t think Sheridan is quite aware how many awesome women are in the craft brewery world.”
But this is changing, Tiffany suggested, thanks to women like Kathryn Law. Kathryn, the taproom manager at Luminous Brewhouse, is all about education. Whether she’s behind the bar or on Facebook Live, Kathryn projects the message that craft beer is for everyone.
As the brewer at MISHAP! Brewing in Buffalo, Emily Nielsen probably endures the most public surprise as a woman in her profession, which is stereotyped as “too tough for girls,” she laughed.
“It is super challenging, but that’s one of the things I love about it,” Emily continued. Her background in agriculture paired with her side gig in construction — all added to growing up with brothers — has primed her to challenge gender stereotypes.
These five women in the local beer scene came together for the Collaboration Brew Day, accompanied by servers, bartenders and managers who may now want to grow in the industry.
“I thought that it was great to share our facility with the other women and get them excited about beer,” Ruth told me. “There were quite a few that had never stepped foot in a brewhouse or tasted the malt that is used in the brewing process…We had a lot of fun.”
In the weeks since the brew day, throughout the beer’s fermentation process, Ruth has been monitoring the tanks daily.
Whoa Nellie — an homage to Wyoming’s own Nellie Tayloe Ross, the first female governor in the U.S. — is a session IPA with an ABV of about 5 percent. The craft beer was brewed with loral, glacier, mosaic, simco and sabro hops, a bouquet selected by the Pink Boots Society for all Collaboration Brew Day events.
So what did I think of the beer, Ruth asked?
Whoa Nellie is fresher and lighter than most IPAs — very “sessionable.” On the nose, I sensed tropical fruits; on the palate, I tasted notes of peaches and mangos. But don’t worry, it wasn’t too sweet. The beer still had a bite of bitterness typical to my favorite IPAs, though that will have lessened slightly by the time it’s on tap next week.
Whoa Nellie will be released Friday, April 19, at Black Tooth, Luminous, Smith Alley and MISHAP!.
“I’m super excited to see (the beer) come to fruition,” Ruth said. “I think it’s going to help the community and help the camaraderie between all of the breweries.”
Continuing the collaboration, the breweries have created a beer trail, complete with a punch card, specialty food pairings and a beer-themed prize. For details, visit the event Facebook Page.