Women In Beer: In Conversation with Alex Sewell

Women In Beer Alex Sewell

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, we’ve once again spoken to a select few of the many inspirational women working within the craft beer industry today. This time we spoke to Alex Sewell, the founder of the Black Malt Bottle Share Club. Discover more interviews and Women in Beer content here.

Why do you think it’s important that we have a day that celebrates women?

The economic, social, cultural and political disparity between genders still exists to the detriment of women; examples have been well-documented throughout history. Highlighting an array of issues from the gender pay gap to workplace sexism in the form of open discussion is imperative to enticing tangible change. Simultaneously, it’s important to lift up the accomplishments of, and come together to support, ALL women, who have had to grow a lot of strength in the face of dire inequality. To continue to teach young women and girls that they can utilise their intelligence to be technical, scientific and business-minded is extremely necessary to pave the way for the next generation of female leaders. IWD is a celebration of overcoming struggles many women have faced, whilst providing a platform of awareness to acknowledge the struggles that, unfortunately, still remain.

What are you enjoying drinking at the moment? What is your go-to beer?

Those that know me, know that I tend to lean moderately towards the heavy stouts with ridiculously high ABVs. I love a beer that I can just sit with and take an occasional sip from. As I’m constantly discovering my next favourite beer, it’s hard to pin down one that I always go to so I’d have to shift the attention onto my favourite brewery, Põhjala from Tallinn in Estonia, whose assiduousness means they consistently brew some of the most impressive dark beers I have ever tried.

What do you love about craft beer?

I love the variety of flavours that can come from a single ingredient. I am excited by the fact you can pair a beer with just about any type of food. I am fascinated by the sheer geekery of rare beer acquisition and collective sharing of beer knowledge but most of all, I love the proximate relationship between brewer and consumer. It really drives home the “craft” aspect of the industry when you are never far from the person that made what you’re drinking.

As an industry how can we encourage more women to get involved in craft beer?

Beer brewing was once the territory of women. With the industrial revolution, men took over as primary brewers. That led into the unfortunate progression into beer being gendered, along with some banal typecasting of women who drink beer. Writer Krystal Baugher mentioned that “The main obstacles that women continue to face in this industry include perceptions of taste, media influence, and preconceived notions about their skill and ability.” This has changed significantly within the last 7/8 years but one of the ways the brewing industry can come through for women is by seeing us as multifaceted and capable beings, therefore reversing these negative stereotypes. We need to see more women writing about, home-brewing, reviewing and simply going out and sampling beer.

What prevents more women and PoC becoming involved with craft beer/working in the industry? Which specific hurdles do you think stand in their way?

One of the many obstacles that stand in the way of women and people of colour getting into beer is probably lack of awareness about beer based upon the fact that everything about it, from the buying to the brewing, is still overwhelmingly homogeneous. The bearded white male trope is being squeezed out and elevated to a point where that image has bizarrely become the norm. To create spaces, accessible and welcoming spaces for women and PoC to explore their tastes, is imperative to getting a more diverse interest. To see someone who looks like me managing a craft beer bar, a local bottle shop or telling me that they’re a brewer garners an element of comfort. To feel a basic sense of belonging in a job or an interest is to thrive in it.

Do you think we have a problem with a lack of diverse representation in craft beer, and how do you challenge this through your role as a craft beer influencer?

The two main problems with the lack of representation in the beer industry is that there aren’t enough of us being actively involved and there aren’t enough employers taking interest in the issue. A natural human instinct is that we are generally drawn to people that look and sound like themselves. And if everyone in your company is white and middle class, then what’s the reason to deviate from what you already know? I’ve had some of my black peers tell me that they had no idea that they could come to a craft beer bar because they’ve always thought it was the reserve of one type of person. That made me upset so I’ve put myself in the position of being that face behind the bar that PoC recognise, the one PoC that’s always talking about and reviewing beer, meeting people and forming acquaintances with brewers and beer lovers. If just being visible and tirelessly existing within the craft beer realm can bring at least one person of colour into it, then I’ve done my part.

Tell us about the Black Malt Bottle Share Club and why you started it.

The Black Malt Bottle Share Club is London’s first monthly, dark-beer only bottle share event where people, regardless of race, gender, ability or background can come together to socialise and explore their palates.

I originally started The Black Malt Bottle Share Club to focus on appreciation of dark beer. Working behind the bar, I wondered why dark beer wasn’t getting enough love and I always liked the notion of taking the idea of the “bottle share” – which was already a prevalent practice for beer lovers – and putting my own twist on it, so every month I like to showcase a diverse range of brewers, artists, musicians and poets dedicated to a social cause.

Image credit: Nicci Peet