Q&A with Beers With(out) Beards Festival Founder, Grace Weitz

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With much excitement building for the upcoming Beers With(out) Beards festival, presented by Hop Culture and Bumble, I wanted to shed a little light on it’s founder, Grace Weitz, and how the festival came to be. Here’s our conversation:

What got you involved in the craft beer scene? “I actually went to culinary school so I was working a for a little bit in restaurant management in Chicago and pretty much got introduced to the beer scene through there. I had a full time job and was actually working for a brewery called 3 Sheeps on the weekends. That was my weekend job and pretty much found it’s going around to liquor stores and festivals and just helping them represent the brand and the beer and basically enjoyed that more than my full time job during the week. So I quit (the full time job) and became more involved in the beer industry. That’s when I got a job working for 5 Rabbit Cerveceria and then eventually ended up going to grad school at NYU. As I was in grad school, hooked up with Hop Culture and started working there and I never looked back.

What discriminations did you face, if any, during your time in sales? “I’ve never had any specific discrimination, you know, thrown my way or put against me. But you know, when I was working as an account coordinator for Five Rabbits, I realized pretty quickly that I was the only person on my route that didnt have some type of facial hair of some sort … I never felt ostracized, but I did feel a little lonely, not having a group of women to really hang out and enjoy craft beer with. So, when I moved to NY, that was actually the first time that I really met a group of strong, independent women. Not to say that it didnt exist in Chicago, I just didnt find it.”

What inspired you to create the festival? “It was a specific event that I went to hosted at Fifth Hammer Brewing. It was for International Women’s Day. Mary Izett, co-owner of Fifth Hammer, posted about a collab brew day. So every year The Pink Boots Society puts out this collaboration hop blend with Yakima Chief Hops that’s picked every year at GABF by women working in the brew industry and members of the society scales it up and sells it commercially. A portion of the proceeds goes back to PBS. Then, every year, on Int’l Women’s Day, in March, anyone across the country can participate and create a beer with the Pink Boots blend. So Mary at Fifth Hammer invited everyone, whether it was someone working in the industry or even if you were home brewing, or just enjoyed drinking beer and the community to come out and participate. We had about 40 women who came and we just hung out and made this beer and it was just so empowering and inspiring to be a part of that day so that’s what really inspired me to create Beers With(Out) Beards!”

How did your thesis in grad school translate to the festival? “So, I went to grad school at NYU for pretty niche degree called Food Studies. Essentially, if you think of food science, it’s like tackling food from a scientific perspective. Food studies is on the opposite end of the spectrum for liberal arts students that want to look at ecological and anthropological study of food and how it affects different environments. For me, I always wanted to focus my studies on beer, because that’s what I really loved. And there’s just no program in the country that’s like a ‘Cultural Beer Studies Masters program.’ The NYU program was the closest I’d found. So I basically tailored it to a graduate degree where I focused all my studies on beer. So, we had to create a thesis project at the end of our program. I’d been working at Hop Culture and we’d been hosting these festivals all across the country and bringing really amazing craft beer to cities like Pittsburgh and New York and we had the idea to create a festival that had some type of educational and social mission. As a woman working in beer, I had the idea that creating a festival that highlighted and celebrated the achievements of women in craft beer would be really dynamic and an engaging event. So, I pitched it to my boss, founder of Hop Culture Kenny Gould, and he was like ‘Yeah, if you want to plan and execute it, go for it. I’ll support you 100%’ and so I did! And here we are, years later about to throw our third BW(O)B craft fest!”

Out of my own curiosity, how long does it take to plan a festival like this from the ground up? “It takes about a year. I actually started planning this year’s event right after last year’s event. I took two weeks off last year… we held the event in early August. Then I probably took two weeks off of not thinking about it and then started planning the next year’s event. This year in particular we’ve seen a few challenges thrown our way. A few Covid curveballs. We were originally supposed to host the festival in person in New York for the third time this year and then planned to bring it out to the west coast in Oakland (CA) for the first time. Obviously we’re not able to safely host any large in person event at the moment. So, you know, we knew the festival was just too important to give it back so we pivoted and adapted and morphed it into a digital event, which is taking place in October. So, this year it’s taking a little bit longer but usually I start finding things a year in advance.”

Why did you feel it was important to anchor the fest to NYC? Why not have it travel? “New york made the most sense. It was most logical for the first year because that’s where we had our hop culture offices, that’s where I was going to grad school and I had found this amazing community of women that were already interested in working in the beer industry. So, we had a really great support system. In the first year, you know, was kind of a test drive you really wanted to help once and then build off the foundation and success from there. Second year, we were able to kind of build on what we had the first year and bring a lot more partners to the event. We actually ended up teaming up with Yakima Chief Hops the second year and they were our title sponsor, the same company that helps make that PBS blend. We teamed up with YETI and Origin Malts to create different types of events. So we saw really great success that people were actually interested in participating and supporting this event so for the third year, we wanted to continue to host in the city that we knew we had a great community in. But we also want to bring this concept to a new environment in a new area of the country and the west coast being very logical the area has a really strong culture. It’s a place we always wanted to host a couple of other normal festivals every year so we thought it would be a great place. Bring it up here (Oakland, CA) in terms of a different geographic location. But for this year, virtual it is.”

Original BW(O)B Contest Submission by artist Kailah Ogawa // Source: Hop Culture Mag

How did you get connected with artist Kailah Ogawa? “Great question. Kailah is amazing. So, the first year that we hosted BW(O)B in 2018, we actually created a design contest so we put a prompt out there to everyone on Instagram basically to have people send us their designs about what it meant to them to have women empowered by craft beer and Kailah sent us this rad design of different hands of different colors, holding different types of beers. We thought it really encompassed what BW(O)B is all about. So we put that design on the back of the t-shirt and sold that through the first year of BW(O)B. This year we were looking to revamp our look a little bit and we wanted to use a female artist to help us with that and so Kailah immediately came to mind. We thought she would be perfect for helping us create new assets for BW(O)B. She’s from Hawaii actually, pretty rad.”

Tickets are still available for the virtual event that takes place October 7 through the 10th. But if you live in one of these participating states (OH, OR, PA, VA, ND, NE, NV, NH or D.C.) and would like to order a beer box, act fast because they are closing ticket sales to beer boxes at 11:59PM on Wednesday 9/16! If you miss the window for a box and would still like to attend, you may purchase a digital pass for $5. Now, if you would be so kind, GO SUPPORT WOMEN IN BEER and snag your ticket today!

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