It's no secret that craft beer is having a moment — fancy bottles crowd corner-store shelves, and robust IPAs have become standard barroom fare. Yet somehow beer is still seen as a dude's domain. Stumble into any craft-beer festival or tap takeover, and you're immediately swept up in a sea of cargo-shorts-clad men, all sipping and sniffing and waxing poetic about hops and grain. Just beneath its bro-y surface, though, more women are fighting their way into the increasingly popular industry's ranks: according to a recent survey, American women drink nearly 32 percent of the country's craft beer, with young women ages 21 to 34 making up almost half of that number.
At 29, Golden Road Brewing's Meg Gill proudly accepts the title of America's youngest female brewery owner, representing a rising tide of fellow lady beer geeks eager to slip on their rubber boots and shatter the industry's time-honored frat-party façade. Here, we talk to her about how she got into brewing, her experience being a woman in a male-dominated field, and what she's sipping on these days.
Meredith Heil: How did you get into beer? Do you remember your first craft beer or the first beer that really turned your head?
Meg Gill: Growing up in Virginia, I remember beer just always being around. My parents are light drinkers — they enjoy one or two beers a few times a week. When I was a kid and I would help my mom cook dinner or whatever, she would say, "Hey, go down to the basement and get me a beer." And if I went and got her that beer, I would get to take the first sip. I loved the taste and the carbonation and the complexity of those beers. I was always dying for that first sip — and it was only sips for a long time.
After graduation, I drove from New Haven to Boulder, Colorado, and I was super-broke, basically coasting on fumes. But that didn't stop me from paying a buck extra for a craft pint. I remember walking into a beer bar in Boulder, having a Yale degree, a ton of debt, and an unpaid internship, but ready to taste the world ahead, you know? That night, after two days of driving and a bit of anxiousness about starting a life in a town where I didn't know anybody or what my future held, I got a [New Belgium] Fat Tire, and I was like, "Oh, man, this stuff is great." That bottle was my first step in what would end up being a real adventure into craft beer.
MH: So how did you go from tasting Fat Tire in Boulder to breaking into the beer industry?
MG: I was working at this start-up event company in Boulder, and I started this event series that needed a beer sponsor. So I met with Dale [Katechis, the owner of Oskar Blues, maker of Dale's Pale Ale], and the plan was to bring his beer into new cities with my events. At first, it was just good exposure for him, but when he saw that I understood how to sell beer and was interested in the industry, he took me aside and said, "If it ain't fun, I ain't doing it. You're fun, so let's do it." He hired me right then and gave me the opportunity to open any and all markets that we could.
At that point, selling craft beer in a can was very difficult. People assumed when you came to a meeting with a can of beer that it wasn't going to taste good. You really had to get in front of people and let them taste it, and that hand-selling was what built my passion.