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International Women's Day: Northeast Ohio women brewing change in male-dominated industry

Posted at 7:12 AM, Mar 09, 2023

KENT, Ohio — Some Northeast Ohio business owners are brewing change in a traditionally male-dominated industry. A Brewers Association survey found more than two-thirds of U.S. breweries are solely owned by men.

The Bell Tower Brewing Company is bucking the trend in more ways than one. Two of the Kent brewery’s three co-owners are female. Co-owner Jennifer Hermann is also the company’s head brewer. It’s a title held by few women in the industry.

“Ten years ago, that’s not what was being talked about. So I would get asked a lot what it was like to be a female in a man’s world,” Hermann said. “I feel like - why are we talking about it? But it is important because there are so few of us. And especially women as head brewers, there are so few even still.”

Jennifer Hermann is the head brewer at Bell Tower Brewing Co

Hermann entered the craft brewing industry after years of brewing her own beer at home. She noted the move didn’t feel trailblazing, but more like a natural step.

“I knew beer. I knew how to brew it, I understood the science behind it. I also have an intuitive sense, I think, about crafting beer and explaining beer,” she said.

Bridget Tipton co-founded the brewery with her husband and Hermann. Her background in architecture and design was critical for transforming a historic church on Kent’s Park Ave into the brewpub.

“I like that there are materials that show evidence of people before us,” Tipton said of the converted space.

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Bell Tower co-owner and designer Bridget Tipton helps customers at the brewpub.

Her previous experience in another male-dominated field helped the group frame its new business model.

“It’s kind of in a way a response to what we’re not seeing elsewhere, in terms of job opportunities and management and the way that things are run,” she said. “Architecture and construction is a tough field and Jennifer’s experience in the brewing industry - it’s a tough industry.”

An entire page on the brewery’s website details the business’s commitment to creating a safe and inclusive space, free from discrimination and harassment. The proclamation stands out in an industry that’s been criticized by some for a culture of misogyny and sexual harassment.

“I’m disappointed that the movement started because of horror stories. But because of those horror stories, I’m seeing more and more voices talking about what it means to feel safe and proclaim that you are a safe place,” Hermann said.

In holding to its commitment, Bell Tower has produced several beers to raise money and awareness for different causes. Wednesday, Hermann led a women’s brew day to celebrate International Women’s Day. Female employees and area women in business were invited to help brew a special IPA. It will be ready in April, in time for women in business happy hour.

Money from the purchase of the hops to create the beer, as well as a donation from the business, will go to the Pink Boots Society. The organization encourages and supports women and non-binary individuals in the fermented/alcoholic beverage industry.

“I think it’s important to remember that I’m also standing on the shoulders of giants because there were so many women who came before me that paved the way,” Hermann said. “If I can provide those shoulders for somebody else to get into the industry, and understand how awesome an industry craft beer is, that’s the kind of strength and that’s the kind of poise I’d like to present.”

She added, “I don’t think it’s really gender dependent. I think great beer is great beer.”

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