Like most great things, the idea for a professional association of women in Michigan's thriving craft beverage industry came up over a few beers. Sometime during the Polar Vortex of 2014, several women, including brewer Angie Williams of Griffin Claw Brewing in Birmingham and Pauline Knighton, a sales representative with Short's Brewing, got together over some pints and voila! by last summer Fermenta: Michigan Women's Craft Collective was born.
A year later, Knighton, the president of the group, says it has already grown beyond its founders' initial vision.
"It's much bigger than we thought it would be in a year," she said. "How we've been welcomed in the craft industry is well beyond our expectations. Not that we didn't expect to be welcomed, but breweries routinely jump on opportunities to collaborate and ask us to do events with them. We thought we'd be begging, but people are coming to us to the point we have to say no to things."
Not that Fermenta is limited to beer people. The notion of forming a state chapter of the Pink Boots Society, a national women's brewing association based in Oregon, was rejected in favor of welcoming women in the craft mead, wine, cider, and spirits businesses too, according to Annette May, Fermenta events coordinator.
"All of these industries are growing fast in Michigan, more so than in other states," she said.
According to Knighton, Fermenta now boasts 140 members, with membership roughly split in half between professionals — women who earn a living in any capacity from the craft beverage industry — and "association" members — women who are otherwise active in the industry or interested in becoming employed in it.
"We've been surprised by how many people outside the industry are so excited about joining," she said. "It helps us fulfill our mission of camaraderie, education, and bringing more women into the industry. I know of several women who have gotten jobs because of someone they met at a Fermenta event. That, to us, is success."
Recently Fermenta achieved nonprofit status, a goal championed by founding member Williams. This status has enabled the group to establish a fund through which they will provide scholarships for members wishing to bolster their knowledge or keep up on the latest trends and techniques, said Knighton.
"Any monies we raise from events or donations go into the fund, which we use to offer continuing education scholarships, which can cover anything from a class or a seminar to the cost of a Cicerone [beer sommelier] exam," she said.
As they did for last year's Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival, Fermenta members (and even some interested nonmember women) again partnered with a number of breweries throughout the state to brew special collaboration beers that will be available for festgoers to try. This year there are 25 of them, up from last year's 10 — everything from a Thyme IPA to Cucumber Basil Gose to a French saison brewed with Slovenian hops. Many of the breweries are donating a portion of sales to the scholarship fund.
Fermenta's official first anniversary bash is taking place Aug. 23 at Block Brewing Co. in Howell and will feature great beer (duh), barbecue, Fermenta merchandise, raffles, executive board elections, a mini-trade show, scholarship announcements, and educational seminars including a presentation on carbonation by Ashleigh Hayden, the field quality control manager for Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing.
In the meantime?
"We're all just having a hell of a lot of fun," said May.
Learn more about Fermenta on the web: fermentamichigan.weebly.com.