MICHIGAN—Did you know that, throughout history, the art of beer-making was primarily led by women. That was until the 16th century, when a woman brewing beer became a sign of witchcraft, spoiling the party. Go figure.
Five centuries later, people still mistake the production and consumption of beer as masculine things. Pshhh. Come on. Just because you don’t see a ton of women representing the industry doesn’t mean they’re not there, and that representation is growing all the time.
Michigan’s craft beer scene contributes $133 billion to the state’s economy. Not only do we have the fifth-largest craft beer industry in the country, we have more distilleries than any state in the Midwest. That’s a lot of booze.
Yet, the owners of American breweries are still overwhelmingly white men. In 2021, the Brewer’s Association reported that 58.6% of randomly selected breweries had no women among their ownership, and only 2.9% were entirely women-owned.
But humans have been brewing beer for thousands of years. Though women in the craft beer industry may be a minority today, that wasn’t the case for the majority of human history. In fact, the art of beer-making was primarily done by women as far back as ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
But when the Reformation began in the early sixteenth century, women brewing beer became associated with witchcraft. Gender norms took this idea further, questioning whether it was proper for a woman to spend her time brewing beer—even to the point of some municipalities outlawing the practice for women entirely.
Thus, what was once a thriving industry for women—married, unmarried, or widowed—shifted to a primarily male-dominated business.
However, women are increasingly taking interest in the art of crafting beer and spirits again. Organizations like the statewide Fermenta and the worldwide Pink Boots Society are bringing non-men together in the interest of brewing.
Want to find the often-unsung heroes of Michigan’s women-led brewing and distilling industries near you? We’ve found several who deserve a toast.
Guardian Brewing Company
3657 63rd St., Saugatuck
Women in Charge: Kim Collins and Kate Bishop
Guardian Brewing Company is Michigan’s only brewery that is both women-owned and LGBTQ-owned. Kim Collins and Kate Bishop serve as the co-founders of Guardian, with Collins also serving as head brewer. The duo decided to open a brewery in 2015 and originally looked around Colorado for a suitable property but were unable to find anything satisfying. So instead, they returned to their home in the Midwest, where they set up shop in the old Red Barn Theater property in Saugatuck.
Guardian Brewing Co. opened in December 2018 with a primary goal of inclusion. The brewery features 24 different taps and puts on many events, including weekly trivia, bingo, and yard sales. One of the best offerings they have are the monthly “Beer School” classes, led by Certified Cicerone Kim Collins, who also serves as a board member for the Michigan Brewers Guild and is founder and co-chair for the organization’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee.
Multiple locations: 237 Jos Campau, Detroit; 1175 Lakepointe St., Grosse Pointe Park; 201 Michigan St. NW, Grand Rapids
Woman in Charge: Katy McBrady
In craft beer and all industries, female CEOs are a big deal. As of April 2022, Atwater Brewery, one of Detroit’s top breweries, welcomed Certified Cicerone Katy McBrady back to the Mitten to lead its brand.
And ever since McBrady took over, Atwater’s been making a lot of headlines. In collaboration with the Pink Boots Society, Atwater released the Pink Gang IPA last March in honor of International Women’s Day. In addition to the new beer, Atwater also changed its mascot, the Atwater Man, to the Atwater Lady for the day.
McBrady has also overseen a few other fresh ideas. Atwater released the “D Light” beer in partnership with the Detroit Tigers, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Detroit Tigers Foundation. The brewery also made a bold choice this year when it created one of the first beers designed using artificial intelligence software, the Artificial Intelligence IPA. With a young woman at the wheel, we’re bound to see more big moves from Atwater.
Three Blondes Brewing
1875 Phoenix St., Suite B, South Haven
Women in Charge: Megan Zernicke, Carrie Troyer, and Amanda Johnson
Sisters Megan, Carrie, and Amanda—the eponymous three blondes behind Three Blondes Brewing—all grew up in South Haven. The sisters had an idea to start a brewery, so they set up shop in their hometown, right next door to their parents’ car dealership.
After the three sisters went off to college and found husbands, they eventually all congregated back together in West Michigan. The sisters wondered when a craft brewery would open in their hometown, then got sick of waiting and took matters into their own hands. Thus, Three Blondes Brewing was born in June 2018.
In opening and starting up the brewery, they consulted with other South Haven locals and alums like former Greenbush head brewer Jake Demski and master chef Sean Marr for the restaurant side of things. The brewery remains a family affair, with the sisters’ husbands closely involved and their own children helping out where they can.
Waypost Brewing Company
1630 Blue Star Hwy., Fennville
Woman in Charge: Hannah Lee
Waypost Brewing focuses on delicious traditional farmhouse styles and craft lagers, including its gold medal-winning Waypost Saison, recognized at the 2021 Great American Beer Festival. But by far the most impressive part of Waypost is its head brewer and co-owner, Hannah Lee.
Lee and her partner, Chuck Steinhardt, opened the doors of Waypost Brewing in September 2018. They chose the Fennville area after being inspired by how much the locals cared about who made the goods they used. Lee and Steinhardt set up their brewery in an old fruit farm. Lee, not just as a rare woman brewmaster but a woman of color, is a refreshingly diverse voice in the Michigan craft beer industry. Her favorite type of beer is still the saison, an accessible fruity beer.
Ann Arbor Distilling Company
220 Felch St., Ann Arbor
Woman in Charge: Alyssa Hughes
Alyssa Hughes may be one of Michigan’s only female distillers, but she thinks of herself more as an alchemist. Only instead of creating gold, she turns grains and fruits into alcohol.
Hughes is the head distiller at Ann Arbor Distilling Company, a position she took over in 2020. Ann Arbor Distilling Co. is described as a “grain-to-glass” distillery, with ingredients sourced locally. They produce vodka, gin, whiskey, and other spirits. The company opened in 2015 in a former flour mill.
Hughes had previously worked as a cheesemaker, an experience that translates surprisingly well to brewing spirits. Now, at Ann Arbor Distilling Company, she channels what she learned in her last gig into fermenting spirits like the popular seasonal gins. She started at Ann Arbor as an apprentice, getting hands-on experience distilling spirits in her first week, and now she’s in charge. She’s bound to keep churning out her own unique mixes of alchemical flavors for years to come.
North Center Brewing Company
410 N Center St., Northville
Woman in Charge: Dakota “Kodi” Amritt-Wall
She’s both a head brewer and a roller derby girl—that makes Kodi pretty damn awesome. Though she’s known as “Jane the Ripper” in her role with the Ann Arbor Brawlstars, Kodi Amritt-Wall is also known as the beer-nerd brain behind North Center Brewing Company.
Amritt-Wall has a family history of alcoholism, so she doesn’t drink herself, but she found a creative outlet in homebrewing during high school. She worked as a barback at North Center on the weekends, but soon got an opportunity for promotion when the original head brewer stepped back. Now she uses her position as head brewer at North Center to shape a more positive iteration of America’s drinking culture. One of her passions is making collaborative beers with other breweries and community groups for fundraisers.
Speciation Artisan Ales
928 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids
Woman in Charge: Whitney Ermatinger
This Grand Rapids-area brewery was Michigan’s first brewery to focus solely on wild ales, or beers using spontaneous nature-driven fermentation. It’s also got a pretty awesome woman co-running the whole shebang.
Whitney Ermatinger opened Speciation Artisan Ales with her husband, Mitch, in 2017. The couple had formerly been working at breweries in Colorado, but returned to their West Michigan home to start Speciation. Shortly thereafter, Mitch was diagnosed with celiac disease, meaning he could no longer drink anything with gluten, especially beer. This is part of what makes Whitney so important to the equation—she taste tests and approves all of the beer Mitch crafts.
She’s also an idea woman, as she came up with the premise for the brewery’s Laurentian Series of beer.
Pink Barrel Cellars
3025 6 Mile Road NW, Grand Rapids
Woman in Charge: Stephanie Ginsberg
The Ed Dunneback & Girls Farm is a family farm that has charmed the Grand Rapids area for nearly a full century thanks to four generations of the Dunneback family. While Pink Barrel Cellars, the taproom inside Dunneback Farm, is new, Stephanie Ginsberg is the “Dunneback Girl” who ties them all together.
Pink Barrel Cellars is a true “she-shed”—a taproom inside a historic 1938 barn. Ginsberg originally left the family business for a job in banking, but lost her job and returned to the family farm with the recession in the late 2000s. Ginsberg helped to put the “Girls” back in “Ed Dunneback and Girls” with additions like a bright pink vintage John Deere tractor. The pink tractor has a sister, a pink 1962 Chevrolet C-10 pickup truck, which was a wedding present from Ginsberg’s now-husband.
Now, Ginsberg brews beer, wine, hard cider, and seltzers “farm-to-glass” right in the farm’s barn.
1371 Gray Drive, #200, Traverse City
Woman in Charge: Jamie Kidwell-Brix
Craft breweries might typically be a little unusual, but Earthen Ales has a lot of unusual going for it. This brewery is located in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, an urban development project in Traverse City that revamps the old Traverse City State Hospital. Jamie Kidwell-Brix heads this sustainability focused brewery with her husband, Andrew.
When Jamie met Andrew, before they even started dating, she gifted him a growler from Short’s. The two met in the City of Ann Arbor’s planning department but soon realized they had chemistry as homebrewers. It was only later that they realized they had chemistry as a couple. Andrew started growing vegetables in Leelanau County and the couple decided to plant their roots up north.
Now with their joint project, Earthen Ales, Jamie and Andrew are equal partners who share brewing responsibilities, enjoying the cooperative rapport they’ve developed over the years. Jamie also serves as the communications and outreach director for Fermenta.
Rare Bird Brewpub
229 Lake Ave., Traverse City
Woman in Charge: Tina Schuett
At one time, Tina Schuett was the only female brewer in northern Michigan. Fortunately, there have been some newcomers since, but Schuett is still representing her gender and northern Michigan ingenuity at the Rare Bird Brewpub in downtown Traverse City.
Schuett started out homebrewing in college and started brewing professionally out of Wisconsin. Working with her business partner Nate Crane, Schuett manages the entire brewery side of things as head brewer at Rare Bird, even coming up with clever names like Pants Party, a reference to the Will Ferrel-fronted movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
Drafting Table Brewing Company
49438 Pontiac Trail, Wixom
Woman in Charge: Kristin Rzeznik
Along with her husband Aaron, Kristin Rzeznik is the co-owner of metro Detroit’s Drafting Table Brewing Company, among the smallest breweries in the state.
Rzeznik has an interesting story about getting into craft beer. In their Spartan days, Rzeznik and her now-husband had their second date at Crunchy’s in East Lansing. Aaron spilled an entire pint of beer on her—but instead of that being the end of the date, it was her “baptism” into craft beer. She followed Aaron to his hometown of Wixom, where they opened Drafting Table Brewery in August 2015.
Before becoming a brewery co-owner, Rzeznik was an interior designer. Those skills came in handy when it came time to make a welcoming atmosphere for the brewery. If you visit, your attention will be drawn to the live-edge wood and concrete bar top as well as the hand-crafted table—all Rzeznik’s skills at work.
READ MORE: Michigan’s Best-Kept Secret: Indulge in 8 Black-Owned Michigan Restaurants for a Soulful Experience
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