More Utah women learning to brew beer at home

More Utah women are learning to brew at home.
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The highest award in the national home-brewed beer competition is the Ninkasi, named for the Sumerian goddess of beer.

Brewing was once women's work, first for high priestesses and then a routine part of keeping house.

Women around the country, including Utah, are increasingly returning to the roll of "brewster." They're still a minority of home brewers, but their numbers are slowly rising.

"I started noticing a large amount of women coming in to buy beer supplies, and that got me excited," said Jamie Burnham, manager of the brew supply store Beer Nut. In response, she created the women-only brewing group Hop Bombshells last year.

"Advertising companies have done a disservice to us," she said. "You think of the Bud commercials and it's girls in tight tank tops and wet T-shirts. While there are those people, the majority of it is intelligent women from different backgrounds that are really just enjoying the craft."

Another women's beer group, the Utah chapter of Barley's Angels, educates women about beer. Members take field trips to breweries and hold tasting events, such as the recent sold-out beer and chocolate pairing.

That kind of education is needed, Burnham said. "There's such a social stigma that girls are only supposed to drink light beer or fruit beer or wine."

But girls can like stouts and porters, too. Or at least they might, if given the chance to explore beer styles.

And they can make them, as well.

Brewing contests • Before 2009, it was illegal to brew beer or make wine at home in Utah. A University of Utah law student realized his hobby was illegal and sought a change in the law. The proposal failed in 2008, but HB51, sponsored by then-Rep. Christine Johnson, passed a year later.

Not long after, the state's first home-brewing competition, sponsored by the Beer Nut, was held and about 130 people submitted 330 entries.

The fifth annual Beehive Brew-Off, an event sanctioned by the American Homebrewers Association, takes place Sunday, Aug. 4. Burnham expects 800 to 1,000 entries.

A second sanctioned home-brewing competition, The Bier Brauen, will take place Sept. 20-21 as part of Grace Lutheran Church and School's annual Oktoberfest celebration. (See box for details.)

Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association, based in Boulder, Colo., was involved in changing Utah's law. Utah had been one of a handful of states that maintained Prohibition-era regulations against home brewing. As of July, all 50 states allow home brewing — Alabama and Mississippi were the last holdouts. While lawmakers in those Southern states viewed the making of alcohol in moral terms, Glass said Utah lawmakers recognized allowing home brewing could lead to business development.

"The majority of people who are starting breweries in this country are home brewers," he said, noting that membership in the national association has exploded from 9,700 in 2005 to more than 38,000 today. The growth coincides with several trends: the millennial generation turning 21, a boom in craft beer and an interest in supporting local farmers and food artisans.

"You take that one step further, you're home brewing," he said. " You're not going to get any more local than that."

Beer queens • Many of the Hop Bombshell members plan on entering the local competitions. Becky Nix, who is still deciding which of her brews to enter, started experimenting more than five years ago in part to avoid paying Utah's high liquor taxes. The scientist by day has now devoted her basement bathroom to beer brewing and has a beer fridge with four taps pouring her beers.

"I use it to try to get my friends to come over so I don't have to drive," she jokes. "Now it's at the point that it's more fun to brew it than to drink it. It's just fun to be able to build things."

She joined Hop Bombshells because she didn't have any beer-making girlfriends and likes teaching what she knows about the craft.

Tiffany Steele, who won a silver at the California women's-only Queen of Beer contest last year, is entering a bitter ale she made last year in the Old Ale category. She started making beer with her husband after they bought themselves a Mr. Beer kit.

She joined Hop Bombshells to find like-minded friends. "It was a good way to get ladies together that love beer. There's a lot of us out there, but we're overshadowed by our partners."

Brewing is like baking to Emily Park, an assistant pastry chef who loves to play with beer flavors. She's made a honey basil beer, and she's entering a cherry red ale this year, made with cooked-down cherries.

The 29-year-old doesn't expect to win, but that's not the point. She wants to make better beer.

"It takes time and patience," she said, "but the best things always do." —

New home brew contest

The Bier Brauen is Utah's newest home-brewing contest. It is sponsored by Grace Lutheran Church as part of its two-day Oktoberfest celebration. The emphasis is on German-style brews, although other beers will be accepted for judging. Entries accepted the first two weeks of September.

Where • Grace Lutheran Church and School, 1815 E. 9800 South, Sandy

When • Sept. 20-21

Details • or 801-572-6375