The Strongest Women on Earth
SJ women are brewing up something special
By Klein Aleardi

Forgotten Boardwalk Brewery isn’t normally packed on a Monday morning – in fact, it’s closed. But that wasn’t the case last month during Women’s Brew Day when nearly 100 women from across the state joined together to craft a 9% Belgian Tripel.

The Strongest Woman on Earth – that’s the name of the beer – says a lot about both the beer they created and the role of women in the growth of New Jersey’s craft industry. This was the largest collaboration among New Jersey breweries to date.

“The thing I loved so much about the event this year was how many people came because a woman in another brewery told them about it,” says Alexis Degan, executive director of the New Jersey Brewers Association (NJBA). “That helped them get over their insecurities about women making beer, and now those women will feel empowered next year to say to the next woman, ‘You have to come.’”

Among those processing hops together at the Cherry Hill brewery’s boardwalk-themed tasting room were owners, brewers, tasting room “beertenders’’ and other industry professionals. Sporting hoodies and other swag emblazoned with logos familiar to fans of local crafts, they shared their experiences while prepping for fermentation.

Jamie Queli, owner of Forgotten Boardwalk, said the collaborative energy of the day inspired the name of the beer and logo, which depicts the Strongest Woman on Earth as a female carnival barker in a “strong-man” suit working a fair-type game. That’s totally in keeping with Forgotten Boardwalk’s shore and carnival-themed labels for drafts such as “1916 Shore Shiver” and “Funnel Cake.”

“I got the concept for the name from old-time marquee posters,” Queli says. “It’s a little Forgotten Boardwalk-esque. I wanted a way to represent every brewery, so each version will be named for the brewery who made it: Forgotten Boardwalk presents The Strongest Woman on Earth or Double Nickel presents The Strongest Woman on Earth, and so on.”

The easy bonding that the women experienced wasn’t always an aspect of the state’s craft beer industry. When she first started in 2014, Queli says, it had much more of a boys’ club feel. She credits Degan with building the tight-knit community of women who support each other.

“I was never purposefully pushed to the outside,” Queli says. “But this industry was for sure male-dominated and I felt like an outsider. Then Alexis got involved and introduced me to so many women, and I realized I wasn’t alone.”

Today, about 29 percent of all U.S. brewery workers are women, although only 4 percent of them hold positions like head brewer or brew master, according to national statistics. New Jersey is currently home to approximately 115 craft breweries. Events like Women’s Brewing Day, only in its second year, are helping to change the notion of what a brewer looks like.

That was Degan’s main goal when she joined the NJBA: to make sure no one feels alone. She says she knew the industry was collaborative and supportive in nature, but realized it was easy to feel isolated since many brewers are in their own brewing bubble.

“Sometimes it’s hard to know who your fellow brewer is since you’re working at the same time and you’re off at the same time,” says Degan, who lives in Barrington.

Lori White, co-owner of Zed’s Beer in Marlton with her husband Geoff, says South Jersey breweries seem to buck national statistics.

“It’s impressive how many fantastic women are involved in South Jersey,” says White. “In Burlington County alone, nearly every brewery is owned or co-owned by a woman. Plus, there are other women working in all different roles.”

White adds that women have always been involved in beer making. Through Colonial times, for example, “alewives” dominated the industry.

To that point, while together for Women’s Brewing Day, participants decided the time was right to form a New Jersey chapter of the Pink Boots Society, a national organization which supports women professionals in the beer industry.

“Women in North Jersey have been involved in Pink Boots in New York, while in South Jersey we’ve been doing Philly events,” notes White, who will be a co-chair. “We decided we need a chapter here that represents New Jersey interests.”

All breweries involved will be tapping their own version of The Strongest Women on Earth and holding release parties throughout this month.

March 2020
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