Last year, Hop Culture Magazine—one of the most rapidly growing online publications specializing in all things craft beer—took a bold step toward creating a female-oriented beer fest. Just months after its first major beer affair, Juicy Brews, the digital outlet planned a series of events designed to highlight women in craft beer, culminating in a large jamboree. Its goal was to spread awareness of the growing female presence in the craft beer industry, and to provide a space for women to meet, share their experiences, and of course, enjoy some brews.
This month, Hop Culture will be hosting the second run of the Beer With(out) Beards Festival. Once more, festivities will begin with a week-long pre-game hosted at bars all around the city, starting with the Blind Tiger on Wednesday, August 7 at 6 p.m. You can find the entire list of this year’s events here. The main festival will return with over 20 breweries and 30 women represented and will be held at The Well in Brooklyn on Saturday, August 10, from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets for the main event are available here.
The festival was one of only five events this year to receive a special grant from the Brewer’s Association, which awards $20,000 to each honoree under its Diversity and Inclusion Event Grants Program for intentionally fostering inclusive practices in the craft beer world for groups that historically are underrepresented in the field.
But all of these facts, grants, and fun beer events aren’t necessarily telling of the real experience women face in the craft beer world today. On a quest to dig a little deeper, I decided to get a little more real world experience by reaching out to the lovely people behind one of New York City’s newest breweries, Talea—the brainchild of Tara Hankinson, a former marketing consultant, and LeAnn Darland, a U.S. Navy veteran. Both women always loved craft beer, but were fed up with the male-centric packaging. So they decided to launch their own brand of brews. Founded in late 2018, the company—whose beers are currently contract brewed by Torch and Crown—aims to make beers that are light, approachable, and “easy to love.”
What was that first craft beer that you had that pulled you into it all? How did you get your start in beer?
LeAnn: When I was stationed in Hawaii, I remember two beers in particular that sparked my interest in craft beer: Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale and Gordon Biersch Marzen. After Hawaii, I was stationed in San Diego and had no shortage of incredible beers. I really fell in love with Coronado Brewing Company, Ballast Point, Alesmith, and Karl Strauss.
Tara: My first craft experience was having Sierra Nevada Pale Ale with my dad and realizing I actually liked hops! I grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania, so Dogfish Head (Delaware) and Victory were staples. I’ve always loved beverage and hospitality. I spent the summer after my MBA at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in the Hamptons, which created educational experiences and a high-touch environment unlike any brewery I’d visited. I wanted to create a winery-type experience in a brewery. I knew I needed to learn more about the process so I started homebrewing, joined Brewminaries (a homebrewing club in Brooklyn), and participated in homebrewing competitions.
What inspired you ladies to take the leap from homebrewing to opening your own brewery?
Tara: No single moment inspired us to open a brewery—it was a five-year journey from the moment we thought about a brewery of our own to the moment we made the leap. We both had an interest in beer and were homebrewing while learning as much as possible from our corporate careers. LeAnn worked in finance operations at Google while earning her MBA at Berkeley after serving in the Navy, and I worked at PwC and The New York Times after getting my MBA at NYU. We left those more traditional paths to work at Hopsy, a beer e-commerce company, to gain experience in the industry. Meeting each other at Hopsy was the ultimate catalyst for taking the leap and starting TALEA.
Were there particular people who played an instrumental role in guiding your beer careers? What impact did they have?
Tara: We learned about entrepreneurship first-hand from Seb Tron, cofounder and CEO of Hopsy, as the company scaled operations while remaining agile and resilient. He created a multimillion-dollar business from scratch and supported dozens of craft breweries along the way. Seb was incredibly supportive of our decision to pursue our own entrepreneurial dreams.
LeAnn: Mike Seitz, cofounder and CEO of Barebottle Brewing Company in San Francisco, is still such a tremendous mentor for us. He was the first person I sat down with for hours at a time to talk about all aspects of opening a brewery, including how to raise capital. He was an open book from the start and still remains just a phone call away. That kind of support is not uncommon in the craft beer community, but he has been particularly influential.
Talk about your brick-and-mortar plans. What kind of brewery are you looking to build, and where? What types of beers do you hope to produce?
Tara: We will build a production brewery and taproom, drawing inspiration from the winery experience in terms of education and hospitality. The taproom will be light, bright, airy, and playfully designed like our branding. We hope to expand the consumer base beyond current craft beer drinkers and will create a beautiful, approachable space to do so.
In terms of beer, we’ll continue to push the boundaries of popular beer styles with experimentation. We’re excited to have our own taproom where we can quickly iterate based on customer feedback. Ultimately, we want to make beer that consumers want to enjoy. Right now, our focus is beer that are low in bitterness and have a fruit-forward flavor profile.
We’re looking at spaces in Brooklyn or Queens that are easily accessible from Manhattan in a residential neighborhood with foot traffic from offices and local businesses. Our top neighborhoods are Long Island City, East Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Gowanus.
Speaking of beers, what would you say is your favorite style? What styles would you like to see more in the market?
Tara: I’m not loyal to any one style, but generally opt for more sessionable beers. I love our new Raspberry Crush Gose, which is tart, refreshing, and has a silky saltiness and minerality at 5.2% ABV. I’d love to see more breweries talk about the process and sourcing of ingredients. We are working directly with family farmers through contract hop growing to source the majority of our hops for 2020 production. We’re excited to feature these beers and their stories in our taproom.
Have you ever faced any sort of adversity that you would say stemmed from the male-dominated beer industry?
LeAnn: Overall, the New York craft beer community has been nothing but supportive. Unconscious biases exist in all industries and craft beer is no exception. People often assume Tara and I are sales reps instead of the owners, or that our focus is “skinny” beer since we are trying to speak to more female consumers; these are just assumptions that are quickly corrected with a conversation. We have, however, experienced skepticism from the predominantly male fundraising community, but have still been able to raise more than $1 million in the past three months from women and men.
Do you have any advice for other women in the industry, or for those looking to launch a career in craft beer?
Both: Network! If they are having a difficult time finding a role in craft beer, seek out breweries who have women or diversity within their teams. There is a strong group of women in craft, including organizations like Pink Boots, who want to help diversify the craft community. Also, please reach out to us!