Crafty Women: In the region's craft beer industry, women play some key roles
Bocktown Beer and Grill founder Chris Dilla.
Jaime Hively and her mother Diana Bellisario own and operate Mellinger's Beer Distributor in Oakland.
Christine Span of Pittsburgh BrewMasters.
Tera Bevilacqua of Bocktown Beer and Grill in Robinson.
Amanda Bowen of Vecenie Distributing Co.
Lisa Donaldson, beer director of Pines Tavern.
Penn Brewery President & CEO Sandy Cindrich and Marketing director Linda Nyman.
Beth Vreeland of All Saints Brewing Co. in Greensburg.
Angela Maffessanti, founder and president of Pittsburgh Beer Ladies.
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The craft beer world still is a very male one, but there are more and more women who are making craft beer, selling it, writing and broadcasting about it, and of course drinking it.
Here -- while the local scene celebrates the first Big Pour Week of beery events surrounding Saturday's sold-out Steel City Big Pour at Construction Junction in Point Breeze -- meet some of Western Pennsylvania's craft beer women, whom you also might actually meet at a Big Pour event. Find the full list at constructionjunction.org/pages/bigpour.
Chris Dilla and Tera Bevilacqua
Dilla: Founder and owner, Bocktown Beer & Grill; Bevilacqua: Beer librarian, Bocktown Beer & Grill
Chris Dilla has just this week "gave birth to" her second Bocktown Beer & Grill -- this one in the Beaver Valley Mall near Monaca, complementing the one in North Fayette that opened in 2006 (bocktown.com). She promises to tell the world more details at the Big Pour, where both she and Ms. Bevilacqua will be working and playing.
She's succeeding with blood, sweat and beers.
She's heavily into using social media (she's @uncapd on Twitter) to promote her business and craft beer, especially local craft beer (she's been one of two women, the other being Penn's Sandy Cindrich, in a group working to start a Pittsburgh Beer Week), so she stays crazy busy. As she notes on her blog uncapd.wordpress.com, "She's dreaming of five restaurants in the area, and a future where she actually has time to blog, consult and play with her dog, Growler."
The 46-year-old, who lives in Beaver County with her husband, John, studied English at the University of Pittsburgh. She says she "accidentally" fell in love with the restaurant business, working at Amel's in Baldwin Township, where she convinced her boss and customers to try "microbrews," as they were called then. The birth of Penn Brewery had turned her on to craft beer. She expanded Amel's beer list from 10 bottles to 75 and has kept going since.
She says she designed Bocktown with women in mind. "I abhor the idea that we would ever need to hire a 'certain' look female to draw in business," she says. "We needed our message to be from day one: We sell great food and great beer, not women, not sports." And half of her customers are women.
Beer recommendation: "I usually say I'm a big fan of the IPA family. Now I'm really enjoying East End's Big Hop Harvest. Locally made, nice and fresh, great flavor. It's only around for a short time so you can savor it and appreciate the fact that you'll have to wait a whole 'nother year to get it again. I like beers like that."
Tera Bevilacqua has the great title of "beer librarian," as she "curates" Bocktown's "Beer Library" of brews. But she's also the general manager, coordinator of events including tastings and music, and is "mother hen to all the Bocktown gang."
The Hopewell native, 33, lives in Carnegie with her artist husband, Abraham. She met Chris Dilla when they both worked at Harold's Inn in Hopewell and was impressed enough to work for her when she called.
Ms. Bevilacqua and her friend Rebecca Rocereto (now Ms. Dilla's assistant) developed their taste buds by drinking their way through the beer list at the Back Door Tavern in Fallston. "Now it seems funny to me that drinking a Molson Golden or a Yuengling Porter would be any type of beer adventure," she says. "But, in Bocktown, I see it everyday -- people on the beginning of a new-found life into beer. It is beyond rewarding to be a part of their trip."
As far as women and craft beer, she thinks beer itself as womanly: "Beer is such a nurturing, mothering kind of liquid. It's like comfort."
Beer recommendation: "One of my favorite fall seasonals has been and will always be Southampton Pumpkin Ale. Pumpkin brews can have multiple personalities. Some taste like pie, some taste hoppy. My favorite is made with natural pumpkin and is sessionable. It falls in between the gourd extremes and you can really tell the flavoring is natural and fresh. It has just enough of the pie spice flavor to allude to dessert but not the extreme sweetness that makes you feel as if you have just eaten one. The ABV [alcohol by volume] stands at 5.5 percent so it's not gonna make you think you're Nosferatu. I had this bad boy on tap at my Halloween costume party wedding reception. It was mischievously consumed all night long."
Sandy Cindrich and Linda Nyman
Cindrich: President and CEO, Penn Brewery; Nyman: Marketing director, Penn Brewery
Pittsburghers might be surprised to know that the ownership at Penn Brewery on the North Side (pennbrew.com) includes two women. Sandy Cindrich and Linda Nyman, with Corey Little, purchased (with Penn founder Tom Pastorius) Pennsylvania Brewing Co. in November 2009. And while the women have been keeping a low profile, that looks to change.
Ms. Cindrich, 42, was named Penn's president and CEO in July 2010. A native of Baldwin Borough who now lives there with her husband, Gary, and sons Tanner and Alex, she says she became a fan of craft beer more than a decade ago when her husband got interested in home brewing.
Ms. Cindrich attended the University of Pittsburgh, receiving her master's degree in information science in 1994 and her master's in business administration from the Katz Graduate School of Business in 1999.
She previously worked in software engineering and project management for both U.S. Steel Corp. and BNY Mellon.
Now, in addition to working at the brewery, she volunteers with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and also is treasurer of the PTA at her sons' elementary school.
She'll be out and about at Penn's upcoming Oktoberfest parties, where she won't be surprised to be approached by other women interested in her career path. "We're really finding out that there are a lot of women who are interested in craft beer" -- even some who've expressed interest in brewing at Penn.
She doesn't believe having female owners has changed the brewery, but is proud Penn has changed and is making a wider variety of brews. "It's just really our personalities ... the outlook we have on things and the direction we're looking to take it."
Beer recommendation: "Right now, my favorite is the [Penn] Oktoberfest."
Linda Nyman, 45, is Penn's director of marketing. The Mt. Lebanon native now lives with her family in Upper St. Clair.
She has a marketing MBA from the University of Chicago and got her bachelor's in English from Franklin & Marshall College. She previously held numerous marketing and brand management positions with consumer products companies including GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, Sara Lee Inc., H.J. Heinz Co. and Giant Eagle. But there's nothing like working with beer to get people's attention.
She knows, "Women as craft beer owners are a rare breed." She says that she and Ms. Cindrich, who jokingly refer to each other as Laverne and Shirley because they have those same initials, have considered joining other beer industry women in the Pink Boots Society (pinkbootssociety.org), which has an outreach wing called Barley's Angels.
Penn Brewery does consider women in its marketing; in fact, the brewery considered making a light beer, since women tend to like those; one recent new brew, Summer Berry Weisse, was targeted at women, but turned out lots of men like it, too.
Beer recommendation: Penn Summer Berry Weisse. "It's very refreshing, and it's easy to taste that it's made with actual fruit rather than flavored syrup."
Sales representative, Vecenie Distributing Co.
Amanda Bowen is one of craft beer's cool kids on Twitter, where her handle is @amandalovesbeer, and where she describes herself as a "Rabid beer fangirl, one ear to the beer world, the other to gender discourse. And yes, they occasionally meet."
Ms. Bowen, 25, of McCandless, works as a salesperson for Vecenie Distributing Co. in Millvale (beersince1933.com). But she graduated in 2008 from Allegheny College with a bachelor's in gender studies ("originally wanted to go into sex therapy, for what it's worth") and "got my feet wet in the beer industry" doing "cellarman stuff" and festivals for Voodoo Brewery in Meadville and Blue Canoe Brewery in Titusville. Now she covers the North Hills for Vecenie and says, "Sales, samplings, fests, dinners -- you name it, I'm up for it." She's working both sessions of Saturday's Big Pour.
She also recently was interested in starting a local group for women in the industry. She's pondering hooking up with the relatively new Pittsburgh Beer Ladies (more on that later).
Meanwhile, she loves it when her interests in beer and gender intersect, as they did last week when she Tweeted about Chick Premium Light Lager beer, which comes (in Maryland for now) in a pink, purse-like six-pack holder. Her take: "This is beyond insulting."
As she explains: "No one really thinks about gender until it smacks them in the face. I guess part of my goal is just to remind people how relevant this kind of discourse still is. That we shouldn't just ignore it until we find something insulting."
Beer recommendation: A salesperson can't hardly pick one of her company's brews over another, nor another company's, so she passes.
Beer director, Pines Tavern
Lisa Donaldson works at the Pines Tavern with one of the best titles ever: beer director.
She's working on a roundtable discussion and tasting of American vs. German Oktoberfest beers, and the Pine restaurant's fall beer festival later this month. In October she's doing a dinner of three courses paired with pumpkin beers, and in November the regular monthly "Tasting Tuesday" will do holiday and Christmas beers. "Then," she says, "I start planning for 2012."
Ms. Donaldson, 45, a West Virginia native now living in West View, started at the Pines Tavern as just a server about six years ago and helped bring its beer list (there wasn't one then) up to par with its food. She'd learned to appreciate pairing the two when, before that, she worked as an administrative assistant at Tony Savatt distributing, tipping beers with salespeople and others
"I had some great teachers in the industry throughout the years who have taught me to appreciate what a beer has to offer and that there are beers for all types of occasions and food," says the woman who says her favorite food depends on what she's eating as much as anything. She finds more and more women are open to her suggestions to try craft beers, and she hopes to grow that while growing the beer program (thepinestavern.com).
"I love helping people pick the right beer for the right occasion," she says. "I love the 'WOW, that really is good' when they try a beer for the first time -- a beer they thought they wouldn't like because of the style or color."
Beer recommendation: "Something that they have never had before, something with big bold flavor. ... I suggest trying beers from Southern Tier Brewing Co. -- Pumking, Creme Brulee Stout, Choklat, Mokah, Jahva and the Farmer's Tan."
Founder, Pittsburgh BrewMasters
Christine Span was a software marketing manager who liked trying new beers so much that in 2008 she started the Pittsburgh BrewMasters tasting group. Now it meets for twice-monthly tastings -- on the first Wednesday at the Sharp Edge Brasserie in Peters and the third Wednesday at the Sharp Edge Creekhouse in Crafton (more at pghbrewmasters.com).
Last year, Ms. Span, 43, of Moon, lost her job and now works as an executive assistant with Brightside Academy, which provides early care and education for children. She describes that change as "a blessing." She also volunteers with the Red Cross and supports military families as the family readiness group leader for an Army Reserve unit.
She goes to and leads every tasting -- "It's my baby" -- with Hart Johnson and Sharp Edge cellarman Brett McMahan.
Beer recommendation: "I'm into rye beers right now and I like the Terrapin Rye Pale Ale or Founder's Red's Rye."
Diana Bellisario and Jaime Hively
Co-owners, Mellinger Beer Distributor
There are few woman-owned beer distributors and fewer still run by mother-daughter teams. Diana Bellisario took over Mellinger's Beer Distributorship in Oakland after her husband, Pasquale "Patsy" Bellisario, died at age 51 in 2004. They'd started the place in 1991.
Now their daughter, Jaime Hively, is her business partner. But she has two young children and a new temporary job in human services (and a master's degree in social work). So it's Ms. Bellisario, 56, of Oakland, who's there the most -- usually seven days a week.
Mellinger's was the first local distributor to embrace "microbrewed" beer in a big way in the mid-1990s, displaying 100 bottles for customers to see and hold on its "wall of beer." It prides itself as being first and "still the best" (mellingersbeer.com).
Ms. Bellisario says that one of the most rewarding things about her hard job is how customers always laud her late husband for being a craft beer pioneer. "He was so far ahead of his time," she says, noting: "He believed in it a little more. I backed him."
Without him, she's had to be tough with some who tried to take advantage of her because she was a woman. But she's enjoying seeing more women are getting into craft beer.
Her daughter, Jaime, 35, of Oakdale, notes that they now work with three women sales reps and more and more women customers who aren't just coming in with notes from their husbands. She and her mom pride themselves on helping customers, but she doesn't think that's because they are women: "My mom and I enjoy giving recommendations and that kind of thing. We're just easy to talk to."
Ms. Bellisario: "Me, personally, I'm more of a malty person. I really like Boddingtons. I just like the creamy, smooth taste."
Ms. Hively: "I love Troegs Sunshine Pils. It has that nice crisp pilsner taste to it, but it also has this nice hops finish."
Founder, Pittsburgh Beer Ladies
We wrote back in May about this 37-year-old stay-at-home (in Wilkins) mother of two -- ages 5 and 3 -- as she started her get-out-and-have-some-fun group. She reports, "Things are going really well with our group," which has 88 members, 19 of which were expected at last night's tasting at the Rivertowne Pour House in Monroeville. She and her vice president, Sarah Hoffman, will be at the Big Pour. Otherwise catch the "PghBeerLady" on Twitter, Facebook, gmail and at http://pghbeerladies.blogspot.com.
Beer recommendation: "Recently I tried Anderson Valley's Hop Ottin' IPA and absolutely loved it! It is one of my current favorites. Hop Ottin' has great flavor and balance."
Co-owner, All Saints Brewing Co.
Beth Vreeland already has a job -- as adjunct professor teaching in the education department at Seton Hill University (she has a master's in education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania). But she also has a love for beer that probably started growing up in Latrobe, once the home of Rolling Rock beer.
Her family vacationed in Rehoboth Beach, Del., where she grew into a fan of Dogfish Head craft brews. "I love the dynamic of that company," she says. "Off-centered ales but also very family oriented."
Closer to home, she enjoyed the brews of Jeff Guidos of the former Red Star Brewing at the Greensburg train station, so after it closed and he wanted to go out on his own, she was thrilled to be able to partner with him. Last week, their All Saints Brewing Co. finally got its federal approval, and Mr. Guidos is brewing beer -- in a former Braun Baking Co. along Route 11 in Hempfield (allsaintscraftbrewing.com). They'll both be pouring some of his wares at the Big Pour.
Ms. Vreeland, who's 42 and lives in Unity, says she's impressed by how women are a fast-growing part of the business, but, "Craft beer fans are a diverse and interesting crowd -- young, old, men, women -- who all enjoy beer and are all eager to support their local breweries. To me, that is a great opportunity for success in a growing market."
Having always wanted to own their own business, she and her husband, Jay (they have a son age 13 and daughter 10), are looking forward to working on this one to "build something that can make a contribution to our community and build a future for our children. I think that is how many women in business feel today, in or out of the craft brewing industry."
Beer recommendation: "21st Amendment Brewery's Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer. It tastes like summer in a can. It made me want to cook hamburgers and ribs."
First Published September 8, 2011 12:00 am