“I trained as a blacksmith with my father in my early 20s. That gave me a great sense of creativity; being able to manipulate a piece of steel into a candelabra gives you a huge sense of achievement. I get that from making beer too; using raw materials to create the frothy goodness we love. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Samara Füss, co-owner of Philter Brewing and former head brewer at Young Henrys, is one of a (growing) number of women singing the praises of pursuing a career in Australia’s beverage industry. Granted, Füss says there’s a long way to go before women can say they are well represented in the sector, but things are definitely heading in the right direction.
“We are a long way from where we were 20 years ago. The rules are being broken every day,” she said. “When I started brewing, there were really no females working the brewery floor or in brewhouses in the craft beer industry. Sure, the big breweries had females but most of them were in sensory or QC roles. Wineries had a reasonable smattering of girls, but still not on a large scale.
“Today it’s a different story; I find myself surrounded by amazing and inspiring women, not only in and around the brewery, but slinging barrels around distilleries, rocking some of the best bars in town or slaying firepits adorned with meats. Everywhere, I find myself in awe of the skill, grace, tenacity and dedication these women show.”
A great way to get more women into the industry is to first get them to appreciate the product. And with beers and spirits growing in popularity amongst female consumers, the future is looking bright.
“Craft beer used to be considered a bit of a niche product, you kind of had to be in the know – a bit of a ‘beer nerd’ – to find it or be exposed to the wonderful, somewhat underground world of craft beer,” Füss said. “With [increased] exposure comes more drinkers and more interest, so the natural progression from there is more people considering a career in and around the industry.”
Kathleen Davies, sales and marketing manager at Nip of Courage, a leading Australian distributor and exporter of Australian craft spirits, agrees but says women’s interest in spirits extends far beyond how they taste.
“Women are definitely becoming more aware and interested in spirit production and the distilling processes. We’ve seen consumers – the majority young women – take an interest in where the product was distilled and produced. Was it in a small local town in Victoria, or a large manufacturing company overseas? Keen interest has been shown into who distilled the product – was it a female distiller? Is it small batch? What botanicals have been used? Questions on flavour profiles have increased, and … as a result of these questions, there’s more awareness and interest in female distillers, and therefore their profiles are raised,” says Davies.
Women’s representation in the beverage industry overall is on par with markets in the US and UK, Davies says, but the same can’t yet be said when you hone in on distilling.
“I feel women who are involved in the distilling industry are few and far between compared to the overseas markets. However the number of female distillers developing their careers in Australia is definitely growing, in my opinion.”
Women supporting women
Sadly, one of the biggest challenges Davies has faced in an industry well and truly dominated by men is feeling ostracised by women. This is was at its worst in the 90s and 2000s when she was working for “blue chip alcohol companies” where women were protective of the position they’d worked hard for and reluctant to help anyone else climb the ranks.
“Female competiveness still exists. It can be vicious and is a taboo topic that is rarely discussed. These days I feel that organisations like Women in Hospitality are helping to break down this type of negative behaviour by providing female mentoring programs and a supportive professional network for females developing their career in the industry. On a positive note, people today are talking about diversity in the workplace, which never really happened much in the good old days when I was a young female developing my career in a male dominated field,” she said.
Workplaces need to be more proactive about promoting diversity in their workplaces, and women in positions of leadership and authority need to do everything they can to foster the professional development of ambitious young women, Davies added.
“We all need to encourage and promote women into higher leaderships roles within the industry. And women in leadership roles today have a responsibility to inspire and encourage younger women in the ranks to have the confidence to aim high with their career aspirations.”
One woman doing this in spades is Rose Kentish, co-founder of Adelaide-based Sparkke Change Beverage Company.
“As the mother of four children, I wanted them to feel proud and sure that they could lead in their chosen field, no matter their gender. I also wanted to show other women coming through the industry that they can have a family and grow a business, all at the same time. It was a big part of my decision to co-found Sparkke. I wanted to co-create a business that employed and empowered women in the alcohol industry. Our current branding statement is ‘made by women for everyone’. That about sums it up!”
Sparkke describes itself as a ‘for purpose’ alcohol company, and a progressive social enterprise that raises awareness and funds for important social issues. Its products, which include beers, wine and ciders, come in tins emblazoned with statements on issues ranging from gender equality to sexual consent, racism, climate change and Australia’s immigration policies.
It’s safe to say that Sparkke doesn’t sit on the fence about much. And that’s just the way Kentish wants it. She says women – and businesses – need to take a stance and be more vocal about the issues that they know their customers are passionate about. This includes Australia’s beverage industry.
“The industry needs to make significant changes,” she said. “At the top level of decision making, the leaders in our industry are still making degrading statements about women, under the guise of humour or entertainment. It is unacceptable.
“The industry is not taking a brave position on women in winemaking and brewing. There are a few brave women leading the change, however the overarching sentiment is ‘business as usual’. I don’t think there has been a general acceptance from within the industry that change is necessary. Until this happens, the bravest will continue to forge a path forward and call out inappropriate behaviours. But one day soon, with all the groundswell and momentum that will build, I believe change will happen.”
Sparkke drinkers imbibe from cans that loudly and proudly state things like ‘consent can’t come after you do’, ‘what’s planet b?’ and ‘change the date’. According to Kentish, consumers are increasingly spending their hard earned dollars with brands that aren’t afraid to take on a stance on various social issues. Brands might not be willing to take as bold a position as Sparkke does, but remaining impartial on matters that are important to your customers – and your staff – is certainly no longer the norm.
“I believe that there will come a time very soon when customers will start to leave in droves if businesses don’t take a stand on social issues. There’s an urgency and a need for debate on the social causes that Sparkke supports on its cans,” she said. “People will need to step up soon and be part of the change they want to see in the world. I have a lot of confidence that this up-and-coming generation is going to make some big and positive changes in the world … It’s a bloody exciting space to be in.”