Meet the Woman Who is Leading the Fight to Change Texas’s Broken Beer Laws

Bitch Beer’s founder, Caroline Wallace talks broken Texas beer laws and explains how women can get involved and connected with their local beer community.

caroline wallace

I met up with Caroline Wallace after she spoke at a SXSW panel. To avoid the craziness of downtown, and to my relief, she suggested we meet somewhere up near my side of Austin. My side of Austin ended up being near her side of Austin. Making it an easy agreement on Brewtorium as the perfect refuge from downtown’s bustle.

Caroline’s SXSW panel was Mesopotamia to Millennials: Beer & Food Connection, which discussed the history of beer and food.  As the culinary world continues to collide with the craft beer revolution, Craft beer is finally getting its seat at the dinner table. Having worked in all areas of the beer industry, she brought years of experience and unique insight to the discussion.

beer sxsw panel

Panelists, from left to right: Richard Martin, Food Republic Editorial Director; Jake Maddux, Founder of The Brewer’s Table; the lovely Caroline Wallace, Deputy Director of Texas Craft Brewers Guild; and Alison Tozzi Liu, from the James Beard Foundation.

Kicking up Dust with Pink Boots Society to Fixing Texas’s Broken Beer Laws

For our interview though, I wanted to pick her brain about beer laws and how she helped established a community for women beer enthusiasts in Austin. Working as the Deputy Director of Texas Craft Brewers Guild, she has creates and organizes events such as the Texas Brewers Craft Festival and Partners in Craft, to representing the guild at the Great American Beer Festival and taking on the challenge of fixing Texas’s broken beer laws.

And that’s just Caroline Wallace’s ‘day job’. She’s also a passionate co-lead of Austin’s Pink Boots Society chapter, an international non-profit association which aims to assist, inspire, and encourage women beer professionals through education, a two-time author, and co-founder of one of the first all women-run craft beer website, Bitch Beer.

This wasn’t my first interview with Caroline, either. I first got to chat with her a year earlier about Trappist Beer Travels, the fascinating book she wrote with two of her best friends. To write that book, the three traveled to all 11 authentic Trappist monastery breweries to chronicle the history and legacy of the tradition. It’s an incredible interview, and you can head over here to check that out.

Women in Craft Beer: Caroline Wallace

Caroline Wallace has a lengthy (and diverse) resume packed with accomplishments that have had a massive impact on not just Austin’s craft beer community, but the industry at large. And it’s an honor to share her story and passion for craft beer with you all!

Some of the highlights from our chat include:

  • How broken beer laws are holding Texas brewers back.
  • The importance in talking about the experience of being a woman in a male-dominated industry.
  • The role models that keep her pumped up about about beer.
  • How women can set up groups for female beer lovers and industry workers in their area.
  • Austin’s shift from a male-dominated beer culture to an inclusive community.

You’ve been working on CraftPAC, a general purpose Political Action Committee (PAC) founded by Texas Craft Brewers, a lot lately, how’s that going?

Caroline: I think the response to CraftPAC has been really amazing. We started the CraftPAC because we were trying to change beer laws in Texas and we’ve been right on the issues for decades but our opponents have been right in the wallet, I should say.

“We want to keep the candidates who care about craft beer in office so we can keep growing the movement.”

craft beer laws

Beer distributors have been contributing over $18 million in the last ten years in Texas politics and we just had to get in the game. So we’re bringing craft beer brewers, consumers, craft beer fans together to pull our collective resources just to be supporting the right initiatives, and supporting candidates who support us.

You’ve said that beers laws are broken, Texas beer laws are broken. What are some of the impacts that these broken laws are having?

Caroline: So Texas is now the only state in the country where production breweries can’t sell beer to go. Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, etc., these other southern states who kind of had some parity with us in terms of beer laws, they’ve had some really good legislative successes over the past few years. And now, we’re to the point where, at least when it comes to tap room sales, they have a better deal than us. And I think as Texans, we don’t like to be last.

Plus, our craft brewing industry is really a force to be reckoned with. You know, we have roughly 250 breweries in Texas. The guild has over 200 brewery members so we have 80 more in planning brewery members. We really have a vibrant craft beer scene but we are still 46 nationwide per capita, when it comes to breweries.

I think we have an opportunity to turn Texas into a craft beer destination. We’ve gotta get our beer laws to where these craft beer fans and travelers can actually leave with a six-pack from the brewery they visit. Simple things that people take for granted in other states. You know there are opportunities and challenges in being a large state.

BWSG: You mean size-wise?

Caroline: Yeah, population and size-wise, right? I was just in Vermont and it’s the number one brewery per capita state, but because it’s such a low population state. Their state and tourism board are really on board with marketing craft beer in Vermont. For what it is, I think Texas has an amazing craft beer culture, amazing craft beer scene, third-most medals of any state at GABF [Great American Beer Festival] last year.

The craft brewery industry in Texas is here. We’re a major employer of people around the state, we’re a growing US manufacturing sector, we’re in your small towns, we’re in your large cities, rural counties, there’s craft breweries all over Texas. I think our breweries have been fighting for a long time to get people to take notice and we’re just gonna have to keep fighting even harder.

When did this craft beer become a passion for you, when did it start becoming more than just drinking beer?

Caroline: I started drinking craft beer in college. I studied abroad in New Zealand when I was and I was suddenly legal. I really got into beer culture and started trying a bunch of new interesting beers. And then coming back and going to college in Austin, I started drinking local craft beer. So it was 2012 when we started Bitch Beer, me and my group of friends, and that was when we really brought craft beer from a hobby into like a slightly-more-serious hobby.

 

A post shared by Arianna Auber (@ariauber) on

Above, Caroline Wallace with Arianna Auber, two bad-ass ladies and part of the founding team at Bitch Beer.

BWSG: That group of friends, did all of your craft beer passions kind of meet at the same step in the road?

Caroline: Definitely. Like our early Bitch Beer founders, we were all in the newspaper together, at St. Edward’s University here in Austin. We all were editors, or writers, or designers for the Hilltop Views, our student newspaper and would find ourselves going to happy hour a lot.

One of the first places we would go to back then was Opal Divine’s, right by St. Ed’s. They would have $2.50 Texas pint Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and so it just became incentivized to us to try all these local craft beers that were all of sudden cheaper than the Blue Moon. or whatever we would be drinking normally at happy hour. So that was where I first started to try Independence STASH IPA, (512) Wit, (512) Pecan Porter.

Then, about early 2012, we were at a brewery together and we were looking around and we’re sitting around like, and we’re the only group of women in the brewery. I look in this room right now [Brewtorium’s taproom, a new north Austin brewpub] and it’s almost 50/50 in this room, you know?

I think our beer scene in Austin has come a long way in a short amount of years. It was really male-dominated, not just the industry either, but fandom and taproom culture five or six years ago was very male-dominated. So we women saw a little place for us to carve out a niche with our [Bitch Beer] blog. We mostly focused on like what you do, telling people where to go, what they can drink, covering events. We’re all just out of the love for it.

Who have been your beer role models?

Caroline: On the national level, I’ve really been inspired by Teri Fahrendorf who started the Pink Boots Society. I’m really inspired by Julia Herz of the Brewers Association. I saw her speak just a few weeks ago. Every time I hear her speak, I hang on every word. She leaves me feeling energized, pumped up about craft beer.

And then the women in Pink Boots Society here in Texas. I get so much from the community of that group. It’s made up of women who work in all different facets of the industry, from brewers to owners to marketing, to bloggers, to bars and restaurants that serve craft beer. I think we just have a really great community of women who are really starting to make noise in the craft beer scene.

Have you ever had any frustrating moments when people assume what you feel and know about beer just because of your gender?

Caroline: Yeah. I’ve definitely had the moments where my boyfriend will order a margarita and I’ll order a beer and the person will come back and mix them up. It was a big reason why we started Bitch Beer. We were tired of being underestimated for our knowledge of beer, our passion for beer, being mansplained from bartenders. My experience, the people who work in this industry, whether that’s at the breweries or at reputable craft beer bars and stuff, are really accepting. They understand that if craft beer’s gonna grow, we should probably have both of the genders on this planet.

We’re in Austin and there are a lot of resources and groups for women. It’s a big city and there’s just more women in craft beer networks that are already in place. Where do you think women in small towns should start if they want to get together and get involved, but there’s nothing in place?

Caroline: That’s a really great point to make because we already live in a progressive city and we have a lot of breweries here, right? When I say things have gotten better, I can only speak for my own experience and I know there are women in more rural areas or places with less of our craft beer culture who probably are like, “Nothing’s gotten better for me, I’ve still got the sexism.”

So I would say starting a Pink Boots Society would be really important for women who work at these breweries because you can do that wherever you live in the US. Also, get the women who work at these breweries involved, and networking. One of the greatest things about craft beer is this idea that still largely persists even as the movement has gotten bigger. We’re all in it together right? The rising tide raises all boats.

“I get the reaction that all these women are willing to go to work and work hard, but to allow some space outside of work to be able to talk about those issues is important for all of us.”

Any woman who works in any male-dominated industry is likely facing some of the same issues that they’re facing in beer. It’s good to just be able to talk about it. We’ve seen so much of that in our Pink Boots Society group, being able to really open up to each other. Whether it’s talking about that kind of stuff, the hard stuff, the heavy stuff, or talking about technical brewing stuff where gender’s not involved at all. It’s just good to form that connection..

So Pink Boots Society is nationwide and kind of like you can start up a chapter if there’s not already one?

Caroline: Yeah, you join at the national group and then you can go through a training to promote a chapter leader and to establish a chapter in your area. You do have to have a minimum amount of members but it’s pretty small to start a chapter.

If you’re just a craft beer lover in a town that doesn’t have much. We’ve seen a lot of success from our Girls’ Pint Out chapters in Austin. There are definitely groups for women beer enthusiasts and if one doesn’t exist in your town, you can start one! I really think people disagree about whether the best thing to do for women working in the industry, to advance in the industry is to keep your head down and just do your job, not talk about being a female.

I’m in the camp where I feel not talking about that didn’t get us very far. I’m gonna talk about it. I think representation matters and I can’t count how many times women have told me that seeing other women in the beer industry be vocal, and speak up about it… inspired them to feel more comfortable in their community and in this industry or take that next step up. So I think that’s really important.

Still, what do you think? Do you still feel the same way about the term “bitch beer”?

Caroline: Yeah! I mean I wouldn’t say things are perfect. I’m involved with- obviously I work for the [Texas Craft Brewers] Guild, and I’m involved in Pink Boots Society in Austin. I really am passionate about lifting up women working in the beer industry and recognizing that we have a long way to go to reach parody in our industry. But in terms of people enjoying craft beer, stereotypes about people enjoying craft beer, I think we’ve come a long way.

“What is admittedly a male-dominated industry, it’s nice that the focus is turned. There’s still a bit of a dark underbelly sometimes. Online culture, trading culture, the forums. There can still be some nastiness. But from what I see, craft beer is overwhelmingly a positive communal supportive industry, no matter who you are. I really believe that.”

Still every once in a while, a sexist beer name or beer label will crop up somewhere. But I think the community response makes it so you’re not alone anymore for being critical of something like that. I feel in 2012, people thought we were brave for speaking up about that kind of stuff when it just seemed common sense. Now, just a short six years later, the tide has turned where that’s the common consensus. We don’t need this kind of stuff to sell beer, we don’t need this kind of sexism in our community and our culture.

texas craft brewers festival

Winning the Reader’s Choice award for “Best Event” at the 2017 Austin Beer Guide awards. Source, The Second Shooter

You’ve done so much for craft beer: you’ve written books, you’ve started blogs, you’ve done politics, you’ve organized beer festivals, so on. Out of all of that, what’s been your proudest accomplishments?

Caroline: For me, I think Partners in Craft, was really neat. That was the first event that has been my brainchild from the inception. It was cool to bring a new craft beer event into the world that hopefully will have some legs and continue to develop and grow over the years.

I think it’s a good time to be a Texas craft beer fan and I’m excited about where we’re going with the launch of CraftPAC.

The work we’ve been doing with the CraftPAC is really rewarding so far. It’s new, and we are not yet into a legislative session, but I’ve been really heartened by the response that’s in the launch. Especially the success of the launch, the amount of brewers and craft beer fans who kind of supported the PAC.

Want more interviews from my 2018 Austin Women in Craft Beer series? Keep checking back all during the month of March for the latest stories. Or, you’ll never be out of the loop if you follow me on Instagram and like my page on Facebook!

If you’re interesting in learning more or contributing to CraftPAC’s efforts to fix broken beer laws, head over here.

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