This is the second in a two-part interview with Tracy Hurst, co-founder and president of Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago. She reflects on whether craft beer has a sexism problem and why her brewery helps newer ones get off the ground.
[Read the first half of the interview, where Tracy talks about how she got her start in craft beer and why the brewery she founded with her then-husband Doug Hurst is focused on making lagers.]
Let’s talk about sexism in craft beer. There was a Slate article this summer claiming, “Craft Brewing Has a Sexism Problem.” As a woman in craft beer, do you think that’s true?
I downplay being a woman in beer because I think the less attention we draw to it, the more normal it will seem. And I want people to recognize me for my work, not the fact that I’m a woman doing my work. That said, sexism is everywhere. And craft beer may have enjoyed a time when it was so esoteric that anyone who was involved in it was unique, whether male or female. Now that it’s more mainstream, the conversation is valid again.
The conversation is more relevant because the crowd in craft beer is getting bigger. By the numbers, we’re going to have more diversity. More sexism. More assholes, as it were.
I will tell you that day to day, I don’t experience a lot of sexism among my peer group, or among my colleagues. Occasionally, I’m downstate selling beer, and I’ll get a guy looking me up and down and going, “You own a brewery?” And I’m like, “Yeah, they let me drive a car, too!”
There’s also these two robots we use to pour beer. I built them. Doug did some of it, but I shopped for all the parts and put them together.
At a beer fest I was at recently, there was a lot of “Oh, these robots are cool! Who made these?” “I did.” “You did?” And I wanted to look at them and say, “Why does that surprise you? Women do use tools.” So, I feel like it’s a valid conversation, but it’s a valid conversation over all: How do we treat women in our culture, bottom line?
In beer, for someone like me who’s been involved in it for so long, it does suck a little more, because this was my safe haven, where I could just be and do my thing and not let the fact that I’m a woman play into it.
What about the idea of “One person’s sexy is another person's sexism”? Do you think that’s true, or is there actually a line that shouldn’t be crossed?
I’m not sure. It’s a really good question. We should talk about it. What is sexist? What is sexy? And where does it come into play when it comes to marketing beer? Beer is an adult beverage, so we should be able to play with adult themes. But I think we have a special voice here. We should make sure we use our power for good and question these tropes that we’re putting out there and maybe police ourselves a little better.
You’ve discussed this topic on The Beer Temple Insiders Roundtable podcast. Your sort of rallying cry to your fellow panelists was, “We in craft beer should be better than this.”
We’re all intelligent people doing remarkable work. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard, and not just bow down to fart humor.
Right now there’s a higher noise to signal ratio of sexism, but I still say, women get jobs in breweries and no one really bats an eye. In the brewing world, if you can do the work, you get the job. So I’m not sure if there’s more or less sexism in craft beer, but we should keep an eye out for it, keep an ear to the ground.
Have you ever felt pressured to act like “one of the guys”? Or do you think that as a woman you’ve had to carve out a space that’s not so soaked in testosterone?
I have no choice but to be myself. I’ve never really been a social chameleon. So, I just fit in with the people I fit in with, male or female.
Beer draws a certain personality, a sense of DIY, personal power, dedication to what you do, passion. I think we respond to that in our industry, man or women.
There’s some part of the larger adult beverages narrative that still says “Beer is for dudes. Sweet drinks are for ladies." What's that about?
Beer was not marketed to women in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. It’s a chicken and egg thing. Did women not drink beer and so it wasn’t marketed to them or did beer companies choose not to market to women out of some ’50s and ’60s sexism. It’s probably a little of both.
You can take it a step further. Beer was marketed as anti-woman: women in bikinis, women with unattainable body shapes, women acting stupid while men drank beer. That’s not gonna get us to buy beer. That’s why when craft beer came around, because it was so weird, and only crazy people in their kitchens did it, women could be a part of it, and it would go unnoticed. Which is ironic, beer was originally brewed by women.
Are there more roles for women by virtue of the fact that craft beer has exploded in recent years, or are there just more women interested in getting involved?
I don’t think the roles have changed. I think we just come in and get the jobs. But I think the roles are the same. Selling beer is the same. Making beer is the same. Running a brewery is the same. I think it’s just people, men or women, stepping up to do the job.
You’re well-known for fostering a collaborative spirit among Chicago craft breweries and have been considered a bit of a “den mother” to up-and-coming breweries. Is that a personal thing or do you think it makes good business sense?
Both. What drew me to the industry was that attitude, that working together, working toward a better—I hate to use the word product, when talking about beer, but yeah—product. That is attractive to me, because I’ve never really been competitive.
I think because we started up when we did kind of pushed me into that position by default. And also the fact that I’m outspoken and opinionated and I have very definite ideas of what craft beer is and what I want to keep alive in craft beer, I use my voice to say these things. The bottom line is, I will work with just about anybody to help craft beer be better.
Another accident of being a lager brewery and not having a lot of money, is that we’ve had to work with a lot of interns, especially in the beginning because we weren’t able to pay anybody. So while they weren’t getting financial compensation, their compensation was being connected. Everyone who has come through the brewery who’s wanted to stay in the industry now owns a brewery or works in a brewery at this point. Our track record is strong for someone who wants to come in and put in some time.
Being the first brewery to open up in Chicago in 10 years, we learned a lot. Somehow, we ended up paving the way for a lot of people. I don’t really say that because I want credit for it, but we had to face some unique challenges. I have the knots and bruises to prove it, and I’m willing to share what I've learned
So, I’m honored that people see me that way, and I’m very proud of my work and I will continue to live up to those expectations as best as I can.
What advice do you have for fellow drinking women interested in working in craft beer?
Do your homework. Take some Siebel classes, or go to another school. Siebel comes to mind because they’re here in Chicago. Read books, and get involved. Volunteer at things.
Get your face out there, be known as someone in beer. And then keep your ear to the ground. We had someone on our staff recently leave for another opportunity. Half a dozen people around the city knew about it right away and started contacting us. So pay attention to what’s going on, and be active, be out there. Be cool. Go to events. Drink the beer and talk to brewers, be connected, have fun. DW