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Women Driving Growth in Maine's Craft Beer Industry
03/31/2014   Reported By: Tom Porter

America's love affair with craft beer shows no sign of cooling off. According to the Brewers' Association, the craft brewing industry in the U.S. grew last year by 20 percent. That's on top of 17 percent growth the year before. In Maine, the numbers are even more meteoric: Since the start of 2013, the number of craft breweries - smaller, independent beer producers - has increased by nearly 50 percent to 51. Craft breweries have basically been springing up at the rate of about one a month, and one major factor behind that growth is the increasing involvement of women. Tom Porter reports.

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Brewing 3

Left to right, Nathan Sanborn, Haley Campbell, Heather Sanborn and Stasia Brewczynsk, employees at Rising Tide Brewing Co. in Portland

"This is Day Mark - this is our pale ale." It's tasting time at Rising Tide Brewing Company and tasting room manager Stasia Brewczynski - yes that is her real name - is giving a couple of customers a quick tour of what's on offer. "It's got a nice spiciness from that local rye," she says, "as well as a bright bold citrus character."

"What I specialize in is drinking beer and talking about it," Brewczynski says, "which is really the best job in the brewery - but don't tell."

Brewczynski is one of three females on the staff at Rising Tide - which is located in a 5,500-square-foot facility in Portland's East Bayside neighborhood.

Haley Campbell is another. She also has a job that many would envy: "I'm the director of quality control at Rising Tide."

Tom Porter: "Which means you do what?"

Haley Campbell: "I'm surprised you didn't make that joke about how I get to taste a lot of beer."

While tasting beer is an important part of her job, Campbell - a chemistry graduate - says she also does microbiology work in the lab, "to make sure that the yeast that we want to be in our beer is in our beer in the right amounts, and that the bacteria and wild yeast that we don't want in the beer isn't in the beer."

Brewing 1The tasting room and brewery at Rising Tide are all in one big space. Huge steel vats are visible as soon as you walk in. This is where sugar is extracted from malted grains, and then mixed with hops and yeast to make beer.

"I absolutely adore watching people drink my beer and enjoy my beer," says Heather Sanborn, who co-owns Rising Tide brewery with her husband Nathan. She's one of the small, but growing, number of female brewers or brewery owners in Maine.

"I think there's something really wonderful about making something tangible, and something that you're really excited about sharing with other people," she says.

Nathan and Heather started Rising Tide four years ago when their home-brewing habit grew too big for their house. In their first year of operations they sold 150 barrels. Last year, Rising Tide sold 1,500 barrels - three times what they sold in 2012. This year Heather says the brewery is on track to sell even more.

And, according to industry surveys, a growing number of their customers are women. "We've moved past that idea that beer is somehow a male world," she says, "so there are a lot of women who are very interested in beer.  I think craft brewers have helped move the culture well beyond that."

"What I think a lot of people don't realize is a lot of companies aren't founded by big companies and board rooms full of people or men, they're really founded often by husband and wife teams, and I think a lot of women are seeing that their voice is valued in the brewing community," says Sean Sullivan, the executive director of the Maine Brewers Guild, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the state's craft brewing industry.

Sullivan says the greater choice of beers on offer is also enticing more women.

"It used to be that there were only a few varieties of beer and styles of beer that were commonly available, and for one reason or another, women didn't drink those beers," he says. "With the enormous variety of styles that are being produced, both in-state and out-of-state, frankly, I think women are finding their palate with some of the newer varieties of beers that are being brewed."

As well as finding their palates, says Sullivan, an increasing number of women are also finding a career in their pasttime.

Click here for a list of Maine craft beer breweries.

Photos: Tom Porter

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