Women’s History Month: Crafting a new normal in the beer industry

BALTIMORE — It’s a busy Friday night at Suspended Brewing in Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood. Working behind the bar is co-owner Yasmin Karimian.

She started the brewery five years ago with her partner Josey Schwartz, with the intentions of creating a diverse and inclusive space.

“Every aspect of craft breweries is really under-represented for people of color and women so we wanted to attack it in all sorts of ways,” said Karimian. “And not just come in and say ‘hey we are owned by minority and women’, but we also want to make sure we’re serving and creating an environment where women and people of color feel included and feel welcome.”

They are taking great strides toward building a welcoming environment, from the signage in the bathrooms to the glasses they use to serve beer.

“We think about the size of the glasses and whose hand can fit around those glasses so we do some non-traditional beer glasses. We’re breaking that tradition [and saying] you can use a wine glass and have really good carbonation for your beer in that way,” she said.

Carbonation is always on the mind of Judy Neff, co-owner and head brewer at Checkerspot Brewing, about a mile south of Suspended.

“I love science, there’s definitely science in brewing,” she said.

And Neff knows science, she has a PhD in microbiology. She did home brewing for years before taking the leap in opening her own brick-and-mortar brewery in South Baltimore.

She said one of the groups that helped her get her business started was the Pink Boots Society.

“It really allowed that networking and support system for women who were truly truly in a male dominated arena,” she said.

In 2021, the Brewers Association put together a demographic audit of breweries in the U.S. It found that 23% of brewery owners were women and just two percent of all breweries were fully-woman owned.

“What I think we need in craft beer, and I think it’s going in this direction, is having more women in positions of power,” Neff said.

Karimian agrees, adding that she still gets customers who are surprised to learn that she is co-owner of Suspended.

“I think anytime we’re in management roles or ownership roles we might get that reaction. Women in science, women in business is still really new and I think we forget that because we’ve made so much progress,” she said.

And while there is much progress to be made, Neff and Karimian are among those knocking down barriers and shifting the culture in craft beer so more women can get into the industry.

“A lot of people do want to come out and support women-owned businesses and the more women-owned businesses get supported, the more of them there will be,” said Neff.

“We can bring different flavors and we can bring a different technique there, both in the front of house and the back of house,” said Karimian. “I think there’s such an opportunity to get more women into both of these spaces to push the boundaries of the what the craft beer community has already accomplished.”

Suspended Brewery was recently named by Yelp in its top 25 women-owned breweries to watch.

For the Brewer Associations of Maryland’s list of women-owned breweries, click here.

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