Women make Quebec's brewing industry sparkle

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Women make sparkle the Quebec brewing industry

The era of taverns, when beer was considered a drink for guys, seems to be long gone. Although the vast majority of microbreweries are run by men in Canada, more and more women are making their place in the brewing industry.

The co-owner of the Microbrasserie du Lac St-Jean Annie St-Hilaire and the brewer Maitena Ilharamouno

The Association des microbrasseries du Québec (AMBQ) estimates that only about fifteen women would be brewers out of a total of 302 microbreweries in the province. Women are not excluded from this industry, however: many of them hold key jobs, often in the shadow of their male colleagues, who dominate the brewhouses.

The red hair of the co-owner of the Microbrasserie du Lac St-Jean is hard to miss. Annie St-Hilaire is constantly on the move, moving from the brasserie in the basement, to the pub upstairs, then to the terrace and the adjacent boutique. She has busy days, but when asked about her responsibilities at the company, she struggles to answer.

Oh that! Hats, I have so many. By dint of not being assigned to a particular task, it is difficult to define what I do. I did administration for a while this year; there, I take care of the bistro a lot. I will often go and make up for what is not going so well, she explains, seated at the large terrace of her microbrewery in Saint-Gédéon.

The company is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, making it one of the first of this new wave of Quebec microbreweries. According to Annie St-Hilaire, many of these establishments were created by heterosexual couples. As a result, the dynamic is often the same: the man takes care of manual tasks, including brewing, and the woman is responsible for administration, marketing or planning.

A rather fair statement, according to the general manager of the AMBQ, Marie-Eve Myrand.

We often find women in a broader management role, some are in the brewhouses or have an interest in it, but it is not legion, she argues.

Catherine Dionne-Foster is one of those few brewers and co-owners. 12 years ago, she founded the microbrewery La Korrigane, located in the Saint-Roch district of Quebec, with her partner Guillaume Carpentier.

Co-owner and brewer of La Korrigane microbrewery in Quebec City, Catherine Dionne-Foster

When I brew, I really like this climate, hot, humid, tropical, it makes me feel good. It's zen, it calms me down, with the added smells, it smells really good, confides the one who hasn't brewed since the start of the pandemic, to ensure full-time work for her brewer.

Listen to the report by Marie-Christine Bouillon on the show Désautels on Sunday.

In 12 years, La Korrigane has grown and grown, and the brewing environment has evolved. But Catherine notes that even today, there are few women in the brewhouses.

“I have worked more with brewers than with owners, administrators or managers in general. And they were always men. […] Women, there are not that many who brew! »

— Catherine Dionne-Foster, brewer and co-owner of La Korrigane

The brewer has changed some of the ways of doing things to simplify the task. For example, its vats are smaller, and it divides the ground cereals that it must pour into the mash vat into several quantities, so as to reduce the weight it must support.

The fact remains that there are still some steps in the brewing that will require some physical effort. But we can always adapt the ways of doing things so that it's not too forcing and so as not to get hurt, she says.

Two vats from the Microbrasserie du Lac St-Jean used for mashing and boiling.

According to an AMBQ study, published in May 2022, approximately one-third microbreweries have emerged in the last five years. According to the director general of the association, Marie-Eve Myrand, this may explain the lack of balance in the representation of genders and minorities.

A fermentation industry

Microbreweries are really in the basics of their operations, they are setting things up. And the industry is like that, very young, she explains.

The General Manager of the Quebec Microbrewery Association, Marie-Eve Myrand< /p>

“Well yes, it's a men's environment, but I don't think it's an environment where you send the image that a woman doesn't belong. It's important to ask: are we inclusive? I would say yes. Women are welcome, have a place. »

— Marie-Eve Myrand, General Manager of the AMBQ

Neither the Canadian Craft Brewers Association nor the Association des microbrasseries québécoises compiles statistics on women working in the brewing industry.

Annie St-Hilaire, co-owner of the Microbrasserie du Lac St-Jean, points out that women are present in the industry, but that they are rarely in the spotlight.

There is a brotherhood between the guys in the brewing world, they know each other. The owner of the Micro du Lac, for many people, is Marc Gagnon. It doesn't matter, it doesn't bother me at all. I have my other end. But when I say that we work more in the shadows, girls, in the brewing world, that's it, she says.

Future brewers?

Maitena Ilharamouno has just started brewing for the Microbrasserie du Lac St-Jean. She won an AMBQ competition last year that allowed her to train at the Institut brassicole du Québec. Today, she has the chance to observe more and more women in the industry before deciding if she too intends to make a career out of it.

“When I have kids later do I see myself doing this? It's still a physical job. It doesn't look like it, but it's quite physical… I'm not sure. But to date, I like it, I learn every day. I haven't finished learning. »

— Maitena Ilharamouno, brewer, Microbrasserie du Lac St-Jean

And for those who would like to get into the brewing business, the co-owner and brewer of La Korrigane in Quebec, Catherine Dionne-Foster, launches this message:

Ben go! It really is a beautiful job. I would suggest going for a day and trying it out. Me, for real, I say it, if there are girls […] who want to try it one day, it will make me happy to receive them, that they come to brew one day and that they really see what it is, she says enthusiastically.

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