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Bossing the Beer Industry: An Interview with Rachel Auty from Women On Tap

by Fiona Holland

Image credit: Nicci Peet

Women On Tap CIC is an annual festival that celebrates the best of Yorkshire’s brewsters and specifically the leading ladies that are involved in the industry. Following its extremely successful run from 1-5 May of this year, we had a chat with the festival’s founder and director, Rachel Auty about the history of the festival, the gendered nature of the beer industry, as well as some of the top spots for a cracking brew.

Where did the idea for Women On Tap come from? And when did the festival first come into being?

I’ve always been a beer drinker, since my uni days 20 odd years ago – when the choice of beers was incredibly limited. Being a pint drinker too, I’ve always been aware of responses and attitudes to a woman drinking pints. In 2016 I got thinking about how many other women there were out there drinking beer, like me, and started to think about women brewing beer and working in the industry. I wanted to do something to showcase the part women play and the contribution they make to a traditionally male-dominated industry. I wanted to challenge the stereotypes and I wanted to draw more women to beer.

I spoke to The Little Ale House in Harrogate – an at the time brand-new micropub committed to great quality indie beer – and we worked together to create the first Women On Tap beer festival in May 2017.

We ran a full tap takeover of beers brewed by women over one weekend, alongside some female musicians, an exhibition of work by a female artist, and two beer tastings hosted by the fabulous Melissa Cole. It was wonderful. Women On Tap began as a bit of a passion project but given the interest, support and backing I quickly realised it was so much more.

Image credit: Nicci Peet

Since the festival has just come to an end, what would you say was the most successful event and why?

The whole thing was amazing! We really grew it again this year from 10 events in 2018 to 25 events over just 5 days in Harrogate, Knaresborough, Malton & Ilkley.

If I have to single out one event…. We took a risk by devising a brand-new conference, Beer For All, which was a day of research, discussion and debate on subjects around equality, diversity and accessibility in beer. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I didn’t really know what to expect. We attracted some big names in beer from across the UK and we presented a day of sessions tackling important subjects and issues. We managed to pull together a national audience of engaged and passionate beer people who want to play a part in creating change and making the beer industry a place we all want to be a proud part of. It was something really incredibly cool and there are a number of things that came from it that we now hope to take forward in our future work.

Image credit: Nicci Peet

Does W.O.T run any other events outside of its festival period?

Last year after the festival we ran events roughly once a month, including getting involved with Leeds Beer Week. We’re hoping to do something similar this year too, but post-festival we are just catching our breath and starting some new planning. We’d like to collaborate with new partners, and we’d like to expand our events across the north. We’re also pondering over having the annual May festival joined by an annual autumn something as the two main regular features in the WOT calendar.

We’ve also already been approached by some exciting beer names who are interested in supporting us financially and working with us going forward, so it’s looking like 2019-20 could be our biggest year yet! There’s loads more still to come.

Why is it important to get women interested and involved in the beer industry?

The UK has the lowest percentage of female beer drinkers in the world (Check out the Dea Latis research The Gender Pint Gap [2018] and The Beer Agender [2019]). This is baffling. Beer has evolved hugely over the last decade with more choice and range of styles than ever before, and more women are working in beer, yet women still aren’t drinking it. Thankfully the Dea Latis research is proving insight into why that is, and through Women On Tap and in partnership with others we hope to tackle some of the issues and barriers and make beer a more welcoming, equal, and enjoyable space.

Where would you say are the best spots to grab a good pint in and around Leeds? Are there any women-run breweries in the area?

Leeds is a fantastic beer destination! I’m a huge fan of tap rooms and personal favourites include Northern Monk and the new North Brewing Leeds City Tap is wonderful!

I’d like to give a shout out to Katie Marriott who owns, runs and brews at Nomadic Beers in Leeds. They specialise in superb classic cask ale and have recently moved to a bigger brewery space where they open a tap room once a month, which is excellent. If you see their beer, try it. It’s consistently spot on.

Image credit: Nicci Peet

Finally, what’s your favourite beer? (Or a top 5 list if one is too difficult!)

Given the fast-pace of beer today, this question is getting increasingly difficult! Many beers are one-offs today, and new ones come out all the time. For me, this is what makes beer so exciting! I absolutely love the beers North Brewing are bringing out at the moment. I can’t help but think these superb keg beers and one-off collaborations are key to creating beer experiences that can engage more women in beer.

Thinking about the classics, Harrogate Brewing Co make a Plum Porter that uses Yorkshire plums and is absolutely stunning. It’s brewed in small batch and rarely makes it out of Harrogate as it flies out as soon as it’s on! One day it all sold at The Harrogate Tap within 8 hours.

Special mentions too for Roosters Baby Faced Assassin, which is a core favourite, and Brew York Imperial Tonoko takes some beating.

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