Craft Women Connect: A Space of Our Own
How Craft Women Connect Created a Community for Women of Color in Beer
by Ruvani de Silva
There’s no question that the pandemic has held a lot of us back, both personally and professionally, in the beer industry and pretty much everywhere else. With plans cancelled, movement restricted, and our social lives reimagined online, this has not been a time for most of us to think about growth and expansion.
Craft Women Connect has a different story. The Atlanta-based collective has used their infectious energy and creative positivity to not only reshape their organization into a Covid-practical format but has used the opportunity to adapt in a way that has significantly expanded their reach and membership, offering a safe, relaxed, and most importantly, fun space for women, particularly Women of Color to drink beer together online.
Access to physical spaces where we feel heard and feel like we belong are either limited or completely unavailable. Craft Women Connect has become an invaluable resource for exhausted, drained, over-worked and spirit-crushingly bored beer-loving women who want and need some down-time relaxing and chatting with their peers over a few beers. This is a group full of laughter, where everyone converses collaboratively. No standing on ceremony, no awkward pauses. Genuine exuberant conversation – the kind many of us have been starved of.
At a time when drive and optimism have been in short supply, Craft Women Connect has built a pressure-free community where women have space to recharge and replenish their emotional energy. While the need for this kind of space could not be greater during the pandemic, the impetus to form Craft Women Connect came from the need to fill a noticeable physical absence well before our spaces moved online.
Craft Women Connect started back in January 2019. The five founding members are Jen Price (@AtlBeerBoutique), Michelle Turner (@ExcitedtoFeast), Chris Hughes (@TheeCraftbeerconnoisseur), and Britne Dionne, and Caitlin Bradfield (@beersagogo). They were all prominent in the Atlanta craft beer scene in their own right. However, upon meeting at Price’s book launch at Second Self Brewing, a diverse event with a woman-led panel, they realized that there was a need for more of this kind of meet-up, both for themselves and within their community.
While women-in-beer groups like Pink Boots and Girls Pint Out are inarguably important and offer essential positive resources for women in the industry, there were no specific spaces for Women of Color to come together in the Atlanta beer scene. Chris Hughes, a prominent blogger and beer influencer, describes the need that they aimed to fill. “When I first started drinking beer, I realized how hard it is for people to be comfortable and engage when they don’t see people who look like them, especially Women of Color,” she says. “We wanted to create a space where Women of Color know they are welcome and where their experiences will resonate”.
While this may sound like a small or a simple thing, it isn’t. When you’re part of a minority, there’s a big difference between being in a space where you’re not being actively discriminated against and a place where you are actively welcomed, blend in, and feel at home. This is an important distinction, one that has been substantiated in much recent empirical research, including Nathanial G. Chapman and David L. Brunsma’s academic study of Beer and Racism, Holly Regan’s survey of LGTBQIA+ people in the beer industry for All In The (Chosen) Family in Good Beer Hunting, and my own Good Beer Hunting article, A Rare Gem or a Llama In A Suit? about South Asian women in the beer world. Recognizing and addressing this proven discord affecting all minorities is a major factor in the transition from performative diversity to genuine inclusion.
This sense of place, community and belonging is what Craft Women Connect is all about. They are unapologetically, pro-actively focused on supporting, empowering, and reaching out to women, especially Women of Color. Unlike many beer groups and organizations, Craft Women Connect demands no industry membership, industry knowledge, or even beer knowledge. They are, first and foremost, a social group.
Prior to the outbreak of Covid, the ladies of CWC can be found exploring the taprooms of Atlanta on any given Sunday. Britne Dione is one half of Beers A’ Gogo – a blog exploring all facets of brewing and beer appreciation from a Black woman’s perspective. “We met up to enjoy the company of other Women of Color who liked drinking beer,” she says. Beer educator, author, and entrepreneur Jen Price agrees. “Our early meet-ups were social and casual,” she says, “because this was what was missing from the Atlanta beer scene – there was nowhere where you could find ten Black women drinking beer together!”.
This problem, this absence, is not specific to Atlanta. It lies at the heart of how and why Craft Women Connect has now grown into a nation-wide community. With nearly 1,500 followers on Instagram and close to 350 Facebook members, with 75% and 59% respectively from outside the Atlanta area, Craft Women Connect can now certainly consider itself to be a nationwide organization. Their recent 2-year anniversary Zoom call was attended by over 30 women from around the country and was such a happy occasion that it ran on for several hours.
These conversations aren’t just about beer. They are a way of bringing together beer-loving women in an environment where they can connect over all things beer-related, life-related, and community-related. The energy of the group positively sparkles. Dione tells me, “It’s been great to reach so many different women in the beer scene – we’ve been able to connect with way more women from all over the country than we imagined, everyone can take part!”
The strength and power of Craft Women Connect was already building significantly prior to Covid. “Our last in-person meet-up was huge – we had 30-40 women!” Hughes says, “This was at Bold Monk Brewing. We had really built up a big momentum – and then Covid hit. We had to consider what we could do to try to keep the momentum going”. Moving online made sense and approaching their virtual meetups with the same relaxed exuberance of their physical get-togethers was exactly the right approach. “Our first virtual meet-up was also huge, with over 50 attendees,” Hughes tells me. “People want and need our virtual meet-ups because they are an authentic experience,” she explains, “Although everyone has been at home, we’ve still been drinking beer, so it’s been good to be able to do it together”.
As Craft Women Connect grows, they are also expanding their presence and their goals. A new weekly meet-up on Clubhouse aims to offer a chance for members to catch up in real-time rather than waiting for the monthly Zooms. “Clubhouse is a great space to express our opinions and feelings,” says Dione, “and our discussions are more educational”. Price agrees, “Our Clubhouse meetings aren’t as much of a party as our Zooms,” she quips. “We get to discuss different topics, including current events, as well as sharing what we’re drinking”. But the focus on women’s needs and voices and the creation of a female-friendly space remains the central goal. “The discussion is led by and focused on women, although men can attend as audience,” Price confirms.
Craft Women Connect plans to use their new reach to enhance the visibility of women in beer in a broader range of ways going forward. “We want to use our space to highlight Women of Color in the industry and shine a light on their work,” says Hughes. “We plan to reach out to different women and find out how to support them, and offer access to different opportunities (e.g., mentorships), and offer ways for them stay connected and build new networks and relationships”. With the pandemic slowly, hopefully, drawing to a close, this has also meant a staggered return to in-person events in addition to their online activities. Dione and Bradfield have recently moved to LA, where they have begun hosting in-person brewery meet-ups.
Most recently, CWC and Atlanta’s Reformation Brewing released their Venus collaboration beer, a whiskey-barrel-aged Belgian Dubbel with blackberry and fig. Working closely with Reformation’s Creative Director, Jessica Miller, the CWC team experimented with different barrels and flavors to find the perfect combination to reflect their identity. “This was our first time working on a barrel-aged beer,” says Hughes, “It was lots of fun and we’d definitely do it again!”.
I was delighted that CWC was able to mail me a sample of this highly limited brew. I enjoyed every sip of full-bodied, warm, chewy figgy Dubbel — rich in viscosity with balanced oakey bourbon, interspersed with hints of bright blueberry. It’s not just me who loved this beer either – the distanced launch event, held at Reformation Brewing on February 21st had over 50 staggered attendees, and all 200 bottles of Venus had sold out by 4pm. The half-hour panel discussion between Miller, Hughes, Price, and Turner, moderated by Rashan Ali, was fantastically lively, informative, and empowering. It can be viewed on IGTV – it’s impossible to watch without wishing you’d been there!
With International Women’s Day collaboration brew days coming up with Reformation and The Lost Druid Brewing in Atlanta and the release of their next collaboration beer with Pontoon Brewing on March 27th, Craft Women Connect shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. As the space for opportunities grows, CWC is growing with it. “The industry is changing, and it’s important that we keep up with that change,” says Hughes. “There are now so many more Women of Color in the beer industry than when we started that we now have new opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, and targeted speaker events within the community”.
With their potent, inspiring mix of enthusiasm and expertise, their fun and inclusive community spirit and strong, all-embracing drive to forward the representation of women, especially Women of Color, in all areas of the beer world, Craft Women Connect is thriving, and deservedly so. They owned the pandemic and are emerging from it as a high-profile voice in the beer community, and an important space and resource for women, particularly Women of Color.
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