I got into craft beer four or five years ago after enjoying some experiences at new breweries in Vancouver. A positive experience became, an interest, and an interest became hobby. However, in my short time in the craft beer world, I have come to realize how male dominated the industry is and have experienced some prejudice myself as a woman. I love seeing how things are changing in this ever-growing industry and am seeing more and more breweries and events making strides in changing how craft beer is viewed, marketed and enjoyed.
Ahead of Vancouver craft beer week, I was fortunate enough to interview Leah Heneghan, co-founder and festival director of Vancouver craft beer week. VCBW is known as one of the best events in Vancouver, and it takes a massive team of people to make it as special as it is. I asked Leah not only about the amazing events that will be taking place in Vancouver from May 25th until June 3rd, but also how VCBW works to create an inclusive event.
What experiences lead to your interest in the craft beer scene?
One of the first restaurant jobs I had was on Granville Island, and even waaayy back then, we had a pretty great local beer selection:Shaftebury, Granville Island, Bowen Island, Bear Brewing—that got me on board with craft beer, although, I probably didn’t realize that’s what it was. I had basically zero beer knowledge then, but I knew what I liked. =)
How did you become involved with VCBW?
I always have to thank my brother when this question comes up—he took me on my first craft beer pub crawl, and introduced me to the Vancouver craft beer scene when I moved back to Vancouver after living in England for 8 years. That fateful autumn pub crawl lead me to a meeting at the Alibi Room, where I met the fine folks I run VCBW with now.
More recently there has been a push from many stakeholders to make craft beer more inclusive of all genders, creeds, peoples, and orientations how has vcbw responded or reacted to this?
The VCBW team has always done our best to be inclusive from inception, promoting craft beer for the people, each and every one of them. We have a zero tolerance policy in regards to intimidation and harassment in all forms at our events and have an attendee safety team at the VCBW Festival to ensure that it is a safe space for everyone to enjoy. You’ll see a big increase in signage to this effect this year as well, and we are working with the fine folks at Good Night Out to really bring this message to the forefront.
We are also modernizing the traditional beer festival by working with partners such as the Vancouver Mural Festival to bring in live art demos and interactive art installations. Other activations such as Leis Des Buds also add to the experience and over all atmosphere of the festival, and of course we insure that performers and artists are representative of as many different people as we are able!
Macro beer is well known for using women as props for marketing, when vcbw first started how were women viewed in craftbeer?
From my own experience, it wasn’t easy being a female beer festival producer in a sea of men in the beginning, admittedly. I was second guessed a lot, and more often than not, people dealing with me would ask one of my (male) business partners the same question they’d asked me, hoping for a different response. Inevitably the person asking would be told to ask me, or my partners would ask me anyway, and give them the same answer. It started out as frustrating, but swiftly became a somewhat comical reflection on not only the industry but society as well.
How in your opinion has this changed and how has VCBW been a part of this change?
Our attendees were about 80% male back then, and beer marketing was certainly very different. Women weren’t as visible at events or working in the industry then. Now things have visibly changed—our festival attendees are nearly 50% female-identified, and you see more and more women leading the way in the beer industry, across the board. It’s fantastic.
We strive to have women working the event and our organizing committee (outside of my three male business partners, of course) are all women (social media, sponsorship, marketing and PR, volunteers, venues, guest relations and onsite management). We also request that our sponsors and vendors send both male and female spokespeople to represent their brands at the festival.
What does VCBW do that you are really proud of?
We do a lot of work with our charity & community partners, and are really proud to produce events that help support their causes. Our annual Official VCBW Collaboration beer raises money for a different charity each year, this year it’s Eastside Boxing Club’s(ESB) free self defence series for all female-identified, non-binary folks, and anyone who identifies as a member of the LGBTTQQ2S community living in and around East Vancouver. We also work with ESB to produce Beer Wars and now Aprons for Gloves, two great events that help to fund their community-based support programs for at risk youth.
We love our work with the Create Vancouver Society, who we partner with at multiple events through the year, most recently ARTSmash on Granville Island, and upcoming Strathcona Street Party (June 23) and the Vancouver Mural Festival in Mount Pleasant on August 12th, merging our fantastic craft beer community with the local art community.
Music Heals is a long-time partner of ours as well, we helped them to raise over $5,000 last year alone, and we will continue to be a proud supporter and advocate for all of the great work they do.
In addition to this, we pride ourselves at being a conversion engine for craft beer, and helping to grow and showcase the amazing beer scene here in Vancouver and BC.
Thanks Leah for the insightful words and for being such a great advocate for women in the craft beer world!
VCBW celebrations kick off this friday May 25th at the East Van Crusher and events run all week at various locations throughout Vancouver. The main celebration and beer festival take place June 2nd and June 3rd at the PNE! Visit vcbw.ca for more information and to get your tickets before it sells out!