Women Collaborating in the Name of Beer

Confession: I’ve been on multiple tours of the new brewery at Pale Fire and I haven’t learned nit about brewing. Most likely because a toddler was wedging matchbox cars into my ear holes or needing a diaper change or having a meltdown or all three things at the same time. My long gone days at Calhoun’s Brewing, where I know I was taught about brewing, are now forgotten. But thanks to a day spent brewing with Mary Morgan (home brewer, science teacher, gardener, and most importantly, brewmaster) I finally think I know what’s going on! I won’t get into the details  of brewing below; there are so many places you can learn about that. Susan Keeler of Pale Fire Brewing Co recommends The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer by  Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune. I will however, be happy to tell you about a particularly awesome day spent with a group of craft beer pros who all happen to be women.


Kelly, realbeerwife

Pale Fire ladies about to mash in!!!
Pale Fire ladies about to mash in!!!

Happy International Women’s Day! In the craft beer world we celebrate International Women’s Collaboration Brewing Day or IWCBD, promoted and sponsored by the Pink Boots Society.

Our local event was the brain child of Mary Morgan, brewmaster of Three Notch’d Brewing Co in Harrisonburg. Along with Betsy O’Brien, Tasting Room Manager, Three Notch’d hosted a collaboration with the professional craft beer women of Harrisonburg. Susan Keeler, Pale Fire Tasting Room Manager, and I were there to pitch in, learn, and scheme.


Mary explained that Pink Boots Society sets “basic parameters” for IWCBD, but allows for personalized additions to this backbone recipe. The 2015 guidelines for Unite Red Ale, from the Pink Boots site:

EBC 70/L
SRM 31/L
Hops: Willamette
IBU: 50
ABV: 4.6%

Scanning #IWCBD posts today I’ve seen participating brewers use a variety of spinoff ingredients: grapes, tea, hibiscus blossoms, cayenne pepper and even, raspberry rhubarb! Mary went with rye, a favorite of hers, with a little bit of chocolate milled in too. As brewers do, she kept careful notes on the process, checking to make sure she was falling within the set guidelines for Unite Red Ale.

Freshly milled from Charlottesville in a bag marked Pink Boots!
Milled from Three Notch'd Cville special for us!
Milled from Three Notch’d Cville special for IWCBD!

As we worked, the discussion revolved around our roots in craft beer and the role of women in the brewing world. Mary started in New York, cutting her teeth on brews from Ithaca Beer Co and Saranac. She moved to Northern Virginia for a slower pace of life and when she realized NOVA was still pretty intense, she headed to the Shenandoah Valley. But she was back in New York, spending time on an organic farm, when she picked up a book about home brewing and read it cover to cover. She was hooked and couldn’t wait to get back to VA to  get started. From there she become heavily involved in the Harrisonburg Home Brewers Club, making connections with fellow brewing lovers and even serving as club VP for a time.

She brought up the role of women in craft beer and said her gender has never been an issue for her in the beer world. When she heard Three Notch’d would expand a tasting room/brewery to Harrisonburg, she immediately contacted Dave Warwick with offers of help and suggestions. She put herself in the company’s sights and proved she was the best brewer for the job. The heavy lifting isn’t anything she can’t manage, she says at larger system breweries things are so automated that she is surprised more woman do not brew. Mary doesn’t home brew anymore, her position as brewmaster has turned her hobby into a career. She frequently brews collaborations with home brewers at Three Notch’d too, which I’m sure has won her loyalty and respect.

Mary Morgan: dog lover, science teacher, gardener, brew master
Susan Keeler, Tasting Room Manager of Pale Fire Brewing Co, adding the hops
Susan Keeler, Tasting Room Manager of Pale Fire Brewing Co, adding the hops

Susan Keeler, a long time beer slinger and beer buyer for Jack Brown’s and Billy Jack’s, said she has had an equally great experience with her employers. However, she did get overlooked or ignored often by male sales reps. She would select an excellent brewery, put on a unique event, promote it, get a huge turn out and the guy reps would walk past her with no hello, and go straight to her boss. Men would often categorize her, consciously or unconsciously, into an administrative or secretary role, never getting to know she holds a wealth of info on the craft beer world and is quite the craft traveler with a distinguished palate. Their loss…

Betsy soon joined us and we got to sample quite a few Three Notch’d offerings, as well as an Adroit Theory bottle she’d brought back from an event in Purcellville, VA the night before.  They made some great snacks to share with the ladies, including Mary’s Beer Brownies.  The recipe is simple to follow, sub your favorite beer for the water. Mary used her own Three Notch’d Apple Crumb Donut. Delish!

mmmm Beer Brownies
Willamette Hops
That’s not rabbit food: Willamette Hops

We also talked hops. Today, per Pink Boots, we used the called for Willamette. Both Susan and Mary, expressed affections for New Zealand hop varieties including, Mosaic and Nelson Sauvin. And we joked over the “penis measuring contest” that goes on sometimes with the extreme IBU trend. “Just a waste of good hops,” says Mary. Everybody’s got their own taste preference!

I learned about mashing in, sparging (my new favorite word), using Whirlfloc or Irish Moss to get the sediments out, and I even got to add hops too!

I was so excited!
I was so excited.

So when will you be able to try this Unite Red Ale collaboration for yourself? Mary predicts the batch with be ready at Three Notch’d Harrisonburg around the weekend of April 11th,  which as many locals know, is the 18th Annual Blacks Run Clean Up Day. Of the beer earnings made from Unite Red Ale, proceeds will go to Pink Boots Society and brewer’s choice charity. Mary has chosen to support CleanStream.org, which is the organizing force of city and community behind the annual clean up day. An excellent choice!

I don’t know a number of how many locations are participating in IWCBD today, but Pink Boots Society provided this map on their page to feel out the scope!

It really was an amazing day, Mary was a knowledgable and patient teacher.  I’m really honored that Susan and I were able to be a part of this great cause. I hope this is the start of something good for the craft beer ladies of Harrisonburg and am looking forward to future events: be it brewing, bottle sharing, tasting, or touring. Here are a few parting shots:

no beer for you Teva dog
checking our brew
Mary explains the controls, here she sets the temperature.
measuring our hops


clean, clean, clean
clean, clean, clean
Brewing involves a lot of waiting. Millie, the dog is happy to chill.
Brewing involves a lot of waiting. Millie, the dog is happy to chill.
Susan Keeler: whirlpooling
Susan Keeler: whirlpooling under Mary’s guidance
moving Unite Red Ale to the fermentation vessel... ready the weekend of April 11th
moving Unite Red Ale to the fermentation vessel… ready the weekend of April 11th
Mary, Teva dog, and Betsy hanging out watching the craft brew at Three Notch’d on IWCBD

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