Pink Boots Scholarships Kick Open Doors for Women in Beer

Pink Boots Scholarships Kick Open Doors for Women in Beer

When Melissa Hoffman applied for a scholarship to an academic program designed to advance her career, she figured she probably boasted one solid point of differentiation from other candidates: her bathroom habits.

“I mentioned my three kids,” she says. “I don’t even get a moment to use the bathroom by myself, let alone study.”

She won the award two days after submitting. It afforded her the time and money to take the Cicerone Beer Savvy prep class, which taught her everything she needed to know to pass her Certified Beer Server exam. This was 2017, four months after joining Lost Rhino Brewing in Northern Virginia as cellarwoman, then cellar manager. Today the woman who had zero brewery experience before this job still runs Lost Rhino’s cellar but also heads up the lab and quality assurance program as well as designs and teaches the brewery’s extensive employee training program, School of Hard Hops.

“As a mom of three kids returning to the workforce is hard. Combine that with a total career change, in a male-dominated field, where you have little experience … let’s just say it was tough,” she writes in a summary of her experience. “I can vividly remember crying on my way home, my boots soaked and body sore, wondering what in the world I had done. Ready to quit, but scared what example that would set for my kids, especially my girls. How can I tell them girls can do anything boys can do, when I can’t even last a week?”

‘Opportunity to Work with Badasses’

melissa hoffman pink boots recipient
Melissa Hoffman runs Lost Rhino’s cellar, heads the lab and quality assurance program, and leads employee training. (Logan Martin)

Hoffman won the Cicerone scholarship through the Pink Boots Society (PBS), a 12-year-old international non-profit that devotes itself to mentoring women in the beer industry. She’s one of around 100 women to win a Pink Boots scholarship to attend an educational beer and brewing course or relevant programming, like a conference or travel opportunity. All sorts of activities fund the initiatives, including the sale of Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day beers brewed by women around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day every March 8.

“I just couldn’t have gotten where I am now without this scholarship. It has opened a lot of doors for me and now I have the opportunity to work with badasses like Lisa White!” emails Jordan Boinest, whose Pink Boots scholarship allowed her to attend the Business of Craft Beer Distribution at San Diego State University six months before opening Newgrass Brewing in Shelby, North Carolina. She now works as an inside sales rep at White Labs, a company whose headquarters she first connected with while studying in San Diego.

“Checking out their facility was a top priority while there. (Co-founder) Lisa White is a huge supporter of the Pink Boots Society and has been an inspiration to many women over the years,” writes Boinest, noting that White Labs not only hosts an annual collaboration brew but is now sponsoring Bière de Femme, an all-women’s beer fest in North Carolina Boinest was instrumental in launching three years ago.

“How can I tell them girls can do anything boys can do, when I can’t even last a week?” Melissa Hoffman, Lost Rhino Brewing

Bière de Femme emerged from Boinest’s concern that her home state only had one Pink Boots chapter at the time. In brainstorming ways to attract more women to the group, she and a few colleagues developed the idea for the traveling in-state fest, which has female brewers from around North Carolina brew unique, small-batch beers exclusively for the event. Because all proceeds benefit Pink Boots, the event has raised enough money to send two local women on Pink Boots-hosted trips to visit top female brewers and beer attractions in Germany.

“Seeing women have the opportunity to join together as professionals to raise scholarship funds for other women inspires me on a daily basis. The women here in North Carolina are tight because of this event and I think it has formed long-lasting relationships for us all,” Boinest says.

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Pink Boots Scholarship Recipients Pay it Forward

Pink Boots scholarship recipient Emily Slayton
Pink Boots scholarship recipient Emily Slayton has made the dissemination of knowledge a primary focus of Skeleton Key Brewery. (DWL Images)

Some scholarship winners have used the festival as an opportunity to fulfill their “pay it forward” obligation, which requires all PBS scholarship winners to share what they’ve learned in their studies with other Pink Boots members. Because of this emphasis on education, some scholarship recipients make it their personal mission to incorporate teaching into all facets of their careers.

Much as Hoffman’s style and service training taught her a lot of what she needs to know to school her staff on how to provide top-notch customer service in the tasting room, Pink Boots member Emily Slayton has made the dissemination of knowledge a primary focus of Skeleton Key Brewery, located outside of Chicago. Not only did she invite Pink Boots members to her brewery to learn about malt after spending four days on a scholarship to Barley Field School at the Institute of Barley and Malt Sciences at North Dakota State University, she estimates she’s taught about 500 beer lovers the nitty gritty about selecting and working with malting barley through public brew days and in-house brewery classes she and her partner teach on beer styles and homebrewing.

“To be able to tell people about the granular elements of ingredients in a way that’s approachable, you see something click in their eyes and know they’re going to take this and make their own craft better,” she says.

To her students, who comprise other commercial brewers, homebrewers and enthusiasts, Slayton passes on her passion for barley growers, the cultivation of malting barley appropriate for craft beer and the efforts to improve the long-term sustainability of the crop. She’s considering proposing a panel on barley to Illinois’ state-wide Craft Brewers Conference, while in general, her knowledge makes her a much better brewer and a much more responsible corporate citizen.

“Sheesh are we going to be able to make enough barley? It’s not a bottomless pit,” she says, referencing the threat climate change poses to traditional barley growing. “There are things to take into consideration to not overextend our resources.”

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‘Teach Yourself What You Don’t Know’

Carly Chelder
Carly Chelder says the scholarship helped her prepare to open a brewpub. (Devin Spillane)

Just days away from opening Tannery Run Brew Works in a Philadelphia suburb, Carly Chelder’s scholarship to study strategic management and marketing while obtaining a Portland State University Online Business of Craft Brewing Certificate should make her a better manager of other critically important brewery resources: people, productivity and personality. As the business partner who focuses on human resources, record keeping and marketing, she’s developing a too-often-overlooked policy handbook to guide the company’s staff and external relations while hiring outside professionals to take over tasks — like branding — that she knows she can’t do professionally enough on her own.

“Teach yourself what you know you don’t know and go ask the experts for advice,” she says.

Thanks to the course, Chelder does know what to expect financially. Many brewery owners only half-jokingly warn industry newcomers to double — if not triple — their budget and timeline for opening. But in her case, she knows what equipment she needs and how she’s going to pay for it, how to read tax tables, and everything that goes into packaging.

Neither Chelder nor her two business partners (her significant other and a friend) had commercial brewing or entrepreneurial experience before deciding to open Tannery Run 3.5 years ago. This made the scholarship and course that much more crucial to their success.

She says, “Earning the scholarship has been a game changer for me. At that point, I didn’t know a lot about the industry other than 10 plus years of personal craft beer culture, not much about the business side of things. But I had the will, and I started to soak things up.”

Jordan Boinest
Jordan Boinest’s Pink Boots scholarship allowed her to attend the Business of Craft Beer Distribution at San Diego State University six months before opening Newgrass Brewing in Shelby, North Carolina. (Alex Mengel with Get Louder Productions)

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Chelder discovered PBS back in those early days and now immerses herself deeply in the Philadelphia chapter — one of 91 in 10 countries. Scholarship recipients typically commit strongly to the group after — and sometimes before — they satisfy their pay it forward obligation.

When Jordan joined Pink Boots, North Carolina had just one chapter, which wasn’t actively holding meetings. Jordan and another woman called one together and 10 women came from around the state. They conceived of the Bière de Femme fest — the first in the world to donate 100 percent of proceeds to Pink Boots — and now five chapters crisscross North Carolina.

Hoffman, who, like Chelder, first learned about Pink Boots by researching educational brewing opportunities online, taught an off-flavor and a sensory course for the local PBS chapter at her brewery. These days, she’s volunteering as both co-leader of the Washington, D.C. chapter and secretary of the District’s brewer’s guild as she studies for her Level 2 Cicerone certification.

Though she says, “I still haven’t found a quiet moment to pee!” she calls her ongoing relationship with Pink Boots “empowering.”

“When someone originally mentioned the Pink Boots Society to me, my outlook and attitude changed. I was once again excited and positive about my new career adventure and know if it weren’t for the Pink Boots Society I would have turned back to a known path rather than the road less traveled.”

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