Photo: Kristen Sykes, left, along with other BABES members, take a break at a hop farm in Western Massachusetts during the Pedal to Pints brewery bike ride.
By Tera Dacek
Kristen Sykes knows a thing or two about beer. She is the former Executive Director of the Massachusetts Beer Guild and currently works on trails and land conservation during the day, while managing a women’s beer club BABES (Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society).
We all know some of the best movements and communities start at ground level and are consumer driven. So for our third post in a four-part blog series on Women in Beer, we wanted to learn more about what drives Kristen and what a group like BABES can contribute to the craft-beer industry.
Building a Craft Beer Community:
We understand that you have visited quite a few breweries. What was your most memorable visit and why?
My most memorable visit to a brewery was a super-cool brewery called The Ale Apothecary, which I discovered on the Bend Beer Trail in Bend, Oregon. The brewery, described as a “wilderness brewery” in the beer-trail brochure, is located in a National Forest on the outskirts of Bend. The brewer, Paul Arney, a veteran of Deschutes, is brewing some pretty wild stuff, using a blend of old and new methods. While we were there, Paul pointed to a log lying on the ground of his property that he planned to use to make a Sahati [beer brewed by The Ale Apothecary] the way they were originally made, open-fermented and using juniper branches. I really like unusual beers and have made quite a few weird beers myself, such as a Japanese Knotweed beer, so this really appealed to me. After talking with Paul for quite a while, we also discovered that I worked with his wife, Stacey, years ago, when I was doing an environmental education program.
We noticed BABES was recently in Vermont. What was the purpose of the trip, and was it a success?
There is so much good beer coming out of New England that the BABES like to travel to different beer destinations to sample the local libations. This was our second trip to Vermont. We’ve also done trips to Portland, Maine, and the Seacoast of New Hampshire.
The trip was a great success due in most part to my friend Ruth Miller, the Beer and Cheese Maven. Ruth has been part of the beer and cheese scene in Vermont for many years and set up tours and meetings for the BABES, particularly with women in beer in Vermont, such as Destiny Saxon, head brewer for Zero Gravity out of the American Flatbread location, and Kate Cartwright, Manager Imagination Realization at the Beverage Warehouse of Vermont. It also helped that Burlington has so many breweries/cideries that are a quick walk from each other.
How did you start your career in the beer industry?
My first start in beer was not as a career, but as a hobby when I began home brewing more than 15 years ago. I delved even further into beer when I became a certified beer judge in 2009. My first actual gig in the beer industry was when I became the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild.
Did your role as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild motivate you to start BABES? What is the goal of this society?
I started BABES a couple of years before I joined the Massachusetts Brewers Guild. I moved to Boston from Philadelphia for a promotion. While in Philly I joined a women’s beer club called In Pursuit of Ales (IPA). This was the first time I had ever heard of a women’s beer club. When I moved up to Boston, I looked for a group similar to IPA, but none existed, so I started BABES in November 2011. The goal of BABES is to introduce women to new beer styles, food and beer pairings, beer professionals, and all things related to beer. We also support women in the beer industry and promote the positive image of women who enjoy beer. We take our beer seriously, but don’t take ourselves too seriously and overall aim to have fun! Men who support women who love beer are welcome.
Do you have chapters outside of the Boston area? What do you recommend women do in their own areas, if they are looking to connect with other women in the beer industry?
We do not have chapters outside of Boston, but we have done collaboration events with women’s beer clubs in New England, such as the Maine Beer Mavens. If you’re looking to connect with women in the beer industry, see if there’s a women’s beer club in your town. If not, start one! You can also join the Pink Boots Society (PBS) and use its database to see if there are any other PBS members in your area.
Do you think there are stereotypes around women and beer that prevent qualified women from joining the craft-beer industry?
While things are changing, there are still stereotypes that exist that women don’t like beer, and if they do, it will be something sweet or fruity. I don’t believe that these stereotypes are preventing women from joining the craft-beer industry, but they do continue to perpetuate the idea that beer is a guy thing.
What do you think beer lovers can do to open up these barriers?
Beer does not have a gender. Don’t assume that because the person ordering the beer is a woman, she would like a fruity or light beer over a hoppy beer. The best beer bars have well-trained servers who ask what flavors people like when trying to find the best beer for them and not presuming what kind of beer they might want because of their gender.
Tera Dacek is a consultant and freelance writer. She most recently worked as Marketing Manager for Alchemy and Science. When she unplugs, she can be found at her local mountain or one of the many wonderful breweries in her home state of Vermont.