Beer Man

Wynkoop Brewing hires Bess Dougherty as its first female brewer in 24 years

The Wynkoop Brewing Company was founded in 1988, just three years after Bess Dougherty was born. And although there have been plenty of women who have worked in Denver's oldest brewpub, Dougherty will be the first to don the rubber boots of a full-time brewer. And you can bet those boots will be pink. "Hot pink for sure," Dougherty says. With a few notable exceptions, there are very few women working in the craft beer industry in Colorado -- or nationwide, for that matter -- and fewer still in the brewhouse, heaving fifty-pound bags of malt, filling kegs and shoveling out kettles.

"It's intimidating for a lady to try to go into this because it's a boys club, a super boys club," says Dougherty. "It's a very physical job, and that keeps a lot of women away, too. It's scary and it's hard and you really have to want it."

An experienced homebrewer and a graduate of the Siebel Institute of Technology's online brewing school, Dougherty broke into the boys club on June 5, becoming part of a four-person staff led by Andy Brown, the Wynkoop's head brewer since 2008.

"A lot of people are interested in working in a brewery," says Brown, who got his first brewing job in 2001 at Left Hand Brewing in Longmont. "I look for education and experience when I hire someone. But passion also goes a long way."

And Dougherty, who's often carrying around a book on beer styles or recipes, has plenty of passion. In fact, she got a chance to practice on the Wynkoop's system in February when she and a group of writers from Denver Off the Wagon brewed a beer there to commemorate the blog's one-year anniversary. The beer, called Wagon Ryed, was designed by Denver Off the Wagon founder P.J. Hoberman.

"We really bonded in the brewhouse that day," Brown says.

There are many women in Colorado and nationwide who are involved in the ownership or breweries, as well as in executive, quality control, research and sales and marketing jobs. But fewer than ten percent of the 1,600 existing craft breweries nationwide employ women in the brewhouse, according to the Boulder-based Brewers Association.

One notable example locally is Ashleigh Carter, who has been a brewer at Aurora's Dry Dock Brewing for a little more than a year.

To help out, the Portland, Oregon-based Pink Boots Society exists to encourage women to become brewers or get into the brewing industry, to homebrew and to enjoy beer. For female brewers, they also sell various shades of pink rubber brewer's boots.

Dougherty is a member, and her boots are on order.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes