On April 22nd, the Tri-Cities Cask Festival Association helped create a space for women of the craft brewing industry, to celebrate themselves and each other: Siris Cask Festival.
When TCCF Director of Communications, Tim Vandergrift, reached out to me several months ago to tell me that this festival was in the works, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Beer and celebrating badass women are two of my most favourite things, so of course I hoped to be a part of it. Siris was made possible by three passionate brewmasters: Claire Wilson (Dogwood Brewing), Ashley Brooks (former Head Brewer at Big Ridge, now brewing at Four Winds), and Julia Hanlon (Steamworks).
Before I get into discussing the festival, I’d like to explain a bit about the beer that we made. The beer that the Steel & Oak team created (Awkward Eric, Kristina, and myself) was The Argonauts: a saison dry hopped with Galaxy and Azacca hops with added guava purée. There were many elements of this beer that were picked strategically and for personal connection.
First, Azacca is an ode to Projekt 001, an experimental hop series that Steel & Oak was doing when I was first hired in 2015. I fell in love with that beer and that hop and wanted to pay tribute to it.
Second, dry saisons are one of my most beloved styles of beer, as are juicy IPAs. I hoped that doing a hoppy saison, with fruit-forward aroma and flavour, would meld two of my favourite styles together (and it did!).
Third, I added the dregs of Strange Times for Modern Fellows into the yeast pitch. Unfortunately, the French Saison yeast was too beastly and overtook what I wanted to incorporate from one of my favourite local beers. Eric had some left over guava purée from the Quayside brew, so we added some of that in, as guava was one of the prominent flavours in STFMF that I loved.
Lastly, the name. The Argonauts is a memoir(ish) by one of my favourite authors, Maggie Nelson. It’s about love, gender identity, vulnerability, and challenging preconceived norms and stereotypes. Nelson is a powerful writer and woman and I thought naming a beer after one of her books, to bring to a festival that celebrates incredible women, would be fitting.
Brew Day Photos!
Prior to 11:00 am, there were a few dozen women lined up outside the Cat & the Fiddle pub in Port Coquitlam. When we were let in, we were given a welcome beer, a golden honey ale, by Pink Boots Society. We were also given a program that outlined the goals of the festival, as well as full bios of all of the women that participated at Siris.
Shortly after arrival Nancy Moore, the MC, first female Brewmaster in North America, and instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, welcomed us into the space. A poignant memory that she shared with us was that when she first started brewing, it was believed women couldn’t be anywhere near the yeast when they were on their periods, as it would negatively affect it. We all laughed, of course, but that was a real lived experience for her.
Each of the Associate Directors, Nancy Moore, Claire Wilson, Ashley Brooks, and Julia Hanlon gave brief speeches about their histories, experiences, and thoughts about being female brewers. The TCCF interviewed each of these women during the event and you can watch those videos here: Ashley video, Claire video, Julia video, Nancy video.
Throughout the event, I enjoyed a plethora of really delicious beer. As I was sipping, I was actively thinking about all the times I’ve heard: you know a lot about beer for a girl, I didn’t know women liked beer, what’s the girliest beer you have on tap? I thought about how beer is still very much gendered and how despite the slow increase in gender parity and diversity, the beer industry is still very white and male.
Going into the event, I had planned to interview women. I had my phone fully charged and I was ready to start recording conversations and asking questions. But that didn’t happen and I’m okay with that. Instead, I instantly felt comfortable and content. I mingled, met some new friends, connected with Instagram followers, and thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon. I witnessed women holding each other up, supporting each other, and enjoying beer in a safe environment. It was magical.
There were 30 breweries participating in Siris including: Big Boots/Pink Boots, Big Ridge Brewing Co., Bomber, Central City, Callister, Coal Harbour, Crannog Ales, Dageraad, Deep Cove, Dogwood, Faculty, Field House, Foamer’s Folly, Four Winds, Fuggles & Warlock, KPU Brewery, Lightheart, Luppolo, Moody Ales, Old Yale, Persephone, Phillips, Real Cask, Silver Valley, Steamworks, Steel & Oak, Storm, Tri-Cities Cask Festival, Yellow Dog Breweries.
Some of my favourite casks:
KPU’s Foghorn Earl Grey Milk Stout brewed by Kristy Mosher, Sam Rose, and Jacquie Loehndorf. It was everything I want a tea-infused beer to be. It smelt like Cocoa Pebbles cereal. It had a strong bergamot aroma and flavour, without the weird astringent aftertaste that tea sometimes imparts to beer. It was creamy, smooth, and full of complex flavours. This beer basically tasted like a London fog…I just wanted to get a donut from Lucky’s and dunk it in.
Dageraad’s Selene Saison brewed by Amy Higgins & Bree Mayer . Selene’s aroma is a floral bouquet. It had tons of juicy flavour with pockets of subtle tart berry notes. This beer had a very distinct Dageraad-esque Belgian yeast profile. It was dangerously drinkable.
Real Cask’s Bearded Lady brewed by Cheryl McNutt. Everything about this beer screamed blackberry: it’s colour, it’s aroma, it’s flavour profile. It was pleasantly tart and thoroughly enjoyable. I just wish I was sipping it outside in the summertime.
This was probably the best cask event that I’ve been to in terms of beer selection, drinkability, and uniqueness. Each brewer put a lot of thought into their brews and it was amazing to get to meet some of the women and hear about what inspired them to create what they did.
I especially loved the first hour of women-only entry. It was such a good feeling to look around and see a bunch of smiling and excited women feeling safe in a pub setting. I originally considered sleeping in a bit, but I’m glad I got up early to make my trek out; I would have hated to have missed that experience.
The branding of the event was excellent and very consistent. We each received a beautiful 8oz glass (real glass not plastic!) with the Siris logo on it. There was a good selection of merch (8oz glasses, pint glasses, t-shirts, and growlers) available to purchase with part of the proceeds going towards the KPU bursary for female brewers. I almost never buy festival swag, but I just had to purchase the Siris t-shirt. I wore it to work the next day and it sparked up several conversations with women wishing they knew about the event sooner.
I applaud Tri-Cities Cask Festival for creating a platform for some really amazing women to allow their beer to shine and I sincerely hope this is the first of many events like this.