The craft brew business may be dominated by male brewers, but there are plenty of women in the industry who have made it the success it is today.
The Tulsa area has 18 brewing facilities, and almost all of them have men doing the brewing. However, women are involved in a lot of the breweries at all levels. Some are owners who work behind the scenes keeping an inventory, hiring employees, making labels and doing whatever it takes to keep the beer flowing.
Here are some of the women who keep Tulsa's beers on the shelves and in the kegs.
Embracing 'new culture' for Tulsa
Erica Healey, Co-owner American Solera, 1702 E. Sixth St.
Erica Healey has been a big part of two significant Tulsa breweries. Her husband, Chase Healey, started Prairie Artisan Ales and grew that brewery until they sold it and started American Solera. Chase is the brewmaster, but Erica runs the brewery's day-to-day operations.
"About eight years ago I was kind of dragged into it by my husband when he started Prairie. He was just sort of on his own and needed a little bit of help. I was working full time as a therapist in town and left that job and just kind of dove right in to see what I could do to help and have been here ever since."
"It's pretty much been trial by fire. I definitely wouldn't say I was qualified by any means to start running a brewery, but that's sort of what being an owner of a business and entrepreneur is, just learning as you go and being willing to do whatever it takes. Right now I'm doing all the sales for the brewery and the social media. So I've just sort of picked up skills here and there. I think the main thing about being an owner is you just have to be a good problem solver."
"Sometimes people think that women don't like beer, but I always have. I always liked that we've always done interesting types of beers, wine, hybrids, and stuff, which are always just interesting. I think they're a good way for anybody to kind of get into beer."
"The beer culture has come a long way here in Tulsa too, and it's been neat to be a part of that. I think that's something that Chase and I have enjoyed over the years and, after doing Prairie, why we wanted to do another one. It's just something that kind of kept moving Tulsa forward and kind of kept pushing a new culture that didn't exist a decade ago."
"I just never thought that I would be doing this really, I guess eight years later here I am and it feels right, it feels like home now."
"I think there's a lot of women doing really great and exciting work in the beer industry. I've been told point-blank before when someone's like... Oh yes, one of the owners is here, let me grab them for you or something... and then people have been like, 'Oh, I didn't expect you to be a woman.' People are just kind of thrown off by that sometimes. I'm not like in the brewhouse, but there are women at other breweries that work on the production side. I think that's becoming more and more normal. I hope that women are capable of doing that if they want to."
A 'beer educator'
Desiree Knott, co-owner of High Gravity Fermentations and High Gravity Brewing, 6808 S. Memorial Drive
Desiree Knott has been involved in Tulsa's beer scene for almost 20 years, selling beer kits with her husband, Dave, at their shop, High Gravity Fermentations. Desiree has probably helped every brewery in Tulsa by either selling them supplies or giving brewing advice. She has developed the recipes of many beers that are served at Pippin's Taproom at High Gravity, which is adjacent to their home brewing supply store. Desiree is very involved in teaching about beer, be it homebrewing or just the different styles. She could be called the first woman of Tulsa beer.
"I was developing an interest in craft beer when I met Dave, my husband. He was a homebrewer and that's basically why I married him, I found out he brewed his own beer. So that became like the clincher for us to be together. A few years after we got together we were outsourced from our corporate jobs and decided to own a homebrew store. That homebrew store gradually morphed into a brewery as well. So now we have a brewery and a retail homebrew store. We've had the retail store for 16 years now, and the brewery is getting close to four years old."
"So being a woman in the beer industry has been interesting. I have found that it takes a little bit more work for me. On the retail side, especially homebrewers, they don't realize I can answer their questions. It's taken a while for them to not ask for Dave every time they have a question."
"The cool part about being involved is the recipe development. A lot of our kits we sell on the retail side are kits that I came up with and which has made it fun on the brewing side. I brewed a lot of our test batches."
"The biggest challenge of being a woman in the beer industry, or in a lot of industries I guess, is being taken seriously. I've been around such a long time now that everyone takes me pretty seriously. I feel like I'm very respected in Tulsa. I think everyone values my opinion. They value mine just as much as anyone else in the industry at this point, which is very rewarding. I love being in the craft beer world."
Desiree has been on the front end of the craft beer movement and has seen the growth of women in the consumption of craft beers.
"You could use our Homebrew club fellowship of Oklahoma Ale Makers as kind of a guide. When I joined, there were like four ladies in it and then as the club grew over the years. Pretty soon you started seeing the women brewing as much as the men. I would say 20% of the club now is female. They aren't just light-beer drinkers, which is what women kind of get pegged into the super-light, White Claw seltzer, Coors light types. But that they really have a diverse taste just like guys do."
"So one of the things that I've done to try to help encourage women to be more into beer and to be a little bit more exploratory instead of just sticking to the one kind of beer is to have classes. We used to do a 'Beer for Chicks' every six weeks that I was involved in. We have beer gatherings where it's female-centric so that basically only women are invited so that you can talk about different beer styles, so that they can feel more comfortable in an environment where a lot of beer terminology is being thrown around. I definitely do consider myself a beer educator. I get teased a little bit by the ladies over there. They're surprised at how much I know about brewing beer."
Artistry and passion
Lisa McIlroy, co-owner of Cabin Boys Brewery, 1717 E. Seventh St.
"Back in 2014, 2015, the laws in Oklahoma were about to change, making taprooms official and legal. And so we knew it was kind of a perfect time for the state of Oklahoma. Back then, there were not very many breweries, Dead Armadillo, Marshalls, COOP were kind of the big ones around, and there was Prairie. That was about it. So we were like, it's kind of now or never. So Austin started researching schools. And for me, it was just kind of... I'm an artist I can paint and draw anywhere I go. That's my passion. It's time for you to find what you're passionate about. I just encouraged him to go all in."
"We're young enough and dumb enough that we can take on this risk and like, be OK. His parents were really supportive of this as well. They invested in us and became business partners and Austin went to the brew school. Three years into the company opening and ... now I can't imagine doing anything else."
"So when I first came into the company... I was supposed to just do the labels. I create all of the artwork and design for the company. So any poster flyer signage, can, bottle — that's my stamp on there, and that's my artwork. But as any other small business owner can tell you, you're never just doing one thing or wearing just one hat. I started off as the taproom manager for the first year and a half. I was the cleaning lady for the first year and a half. I used to wash all of our bar towels every single week. I'm so glad that we've hired that out now."
"Actually, nine out of 10 times, the male consumer wants the light lager, a drinkable, crushable, kinda more beer-beer. And the women love the chocolatey stouts. I think like three years ago, there was a stigma that women didn't really drink IPAs, and I'm not finding that to be true. I have a lot of women coming in and being like, I only drink IPAs, the hoppier, the more bitter, the better.
"I've certainly met other business owners that kind of have a similar path, me and Austin, we're husband and wife, we're business partners. So people kind of ask us about that a lot. Like, how is that working with your spouse? And I'd say, Hey, it's nice because we have two different sides of the business that we're both taking care of. He's the expert on the product and the brewmaster. He totally respects that I am the expert on the marketing side of things and the visuals. But that doesn't mean that we don't give each other feedback and try to push each other to be better."
"I think it's really cool that I get to use everything that I'm passionate about in this job and also work alongside my spouse, doing what he's passionate about. I feel very blessed."
Lacy Richards, co-owner of Nothing’s Left Brewery, 1502 E. Sixth St.
Lacy and her husband, Travis, started Nothing's Left Brewery. They first brewed at another brewery to get their beer into the market. They found and remodeled an old Texaco station near Sixth Street and Peoria Avenue into a brewery and taproom. Lacy has her master's degree in counseling but chose to be with Travis, working at the brewery. She manages the payroll and sets up all the events and social media. She also is a new board member for the Craft Brewers Association of Oklahoma.
"My husband, Travis, started home brewing at our house probably 10 years ago. It was really just a hobby that took up a lot of space in our home and a whole spare bedroom. We found it as an opportunity to be really creative."
"I had finished up my master's degree in counseling and we kind of came together and said, it's either now or never on this brewery thing. I had just finished up my internship at Cancer Treatment Center, working as a therapist, and the same day we signed the lease for our taproom and it was a huge leap of faith, but I think we both saw it as an opportunity for us to not only be what we wanted to do creatively every single day but also be together."
"We don't make any decisions unless there's a hundred percent agreeability on it. We both like to run off in the field in both directions and I'll say, hey, what do you think about if we did XYZ? And he's like, 'there's no way that's going to fly. You can't do that.' My favorite part of our business is that every single night when we go to bed we get to discuss everything from, you know, sizes of glassware, to events, to Tulsa stuff to what's in the fermenters right now. We get to do everything together and honestly, we're really lucky to have that kind of relationship."
"So front of house is my expertise level, he lets me have the final say. Then when we are talking about a brew house issue and I say, 'You're the expert. You do what you think is right.' And then we'll go from there. We have a really balanced relationship for that kind of thing."
"Never in a million years did I think I'd be in the brewing industry. I've never been a beer drinker. I've never liked it, I'm a Moscato and juice and all that kind of stuff. I didn't think there was a place for me in brewing ever. Until we discovered that there were not just German-style beers or there was not just Bud Light kind of things. I didn't know there was anything in between. And my first favorite beer was Lindemann. I love that stuff."
Jessica Hermann, taproom manager, and Melissa French, co-owner of Heirloom Rustic Ales, 2113 E. Admiral Blvd.
Jessica Hermann and Melissa French go back before beer. Hermann used to dog sit for French. Now they work together at the same brewery. Heirloom Rustic Ales is both dog-friendly and community-friendly. Hermann and French are involved in helping the Tulsa community but specifically the Kendall Whittier community.
"I was begging her for a job because I needed out of the job that I was currently in and I started bartending here," said Hermann.
"I've had, I feel like, a long history with beer and the beer community in Oklahoma. We opened this brewery back in 2017 and we're coming onto our fourth anniversary in November. And when we opened it, we had the idea of opening up a brewery in a neighborhood that felt like Tulsa, you know community-oriented, art, culture. And I feel like Kendall Whittier embraced that for us," said French.
Discovering their own love of beer led French and Hermann into the brewery business.
"I've always been surrounded by people who were in the beer community. So I've drunk a lot of different types of beer and a lot of beer in general. It's nice to kind of incorporate that now into this business. We can actually make beer that we like and that people like," French said. "When we opened up the brewery in 2017, I had been maybe a resident of Tulsa for about almost three years. Opening up a brewery has opened up a whole new perspective of Tulsa that I have grown to love so much. I love Tulsa, but I didn't get to see this side of Tulsa. I feel that the beer culture has helped open us up to that community and of the local art culture. I'm really enjoying our neighborhood."
"One thing that I'm very proud of is the Tulsa fridge project or the Tulsa Community Fridge Project. There've been so many local businesses that have been a ton of people who have donated food to this fridge project that we have going on. We are overflowing with food, and people come and pick it up all the time. It's just like a constant rotation of giving people in need, taking and during the snowstorm as well, so many people donated so much, like warm clothing blankets, tents, just kind of anything. I drove around all day, one day, picking up stuff from people," said Hermann.
"I think that is a good example of the things that we've done currently or in the past, whether it's helping local elementary schools with Christmas gifts or supporting nonprofit organizations, raising funds for either environmental projects, we try to help in some way, like the puppy Haven rescue. We love dogs," said French.
"My personal opinion is that I think it's been such male-dominated (industry) for so long, breaking into something that's male is daunting and a little intimidating. Intimidating when you're kind of breaking into that culture of male domination. And with that being said, I know that there are great women brewers out there. There's a lot of them that we know ourselves. I am amazed by them every single day. And I know women are capable of doing it. And I think that if you want to brew, you should. If you're passionate about it, why not give it a go?" French said.
Tom Gilbert 918-581-8349