'I was one of the first women to qualify as a UK beer sommelier'

Meet the woman on a mission to show the world that beer is now much more than a boy’s club

I started my beer career in 1990 when I inadvertently ended up running a pub in Yorkshire. Like most bar staff in this country, this was not a career choice, more a career must after completing what turned out to be a pretty useless degree in English and journalism and finding myself short of money.

Beer was at the heart of the pub and over the next decade I learned about beer styles (pdf), beer faults (pdf) and how to condition beer in the cellar. It must have suited me, because I decided that I wanted to stay in the beer industry.

After leaving the pub, I worked for Diageo (the owners of Guinness) as a trainer, and set off travelling throughout the UK and Europe teaching bar owners how to serve a perfect pint of the black stuff.

However, I still had a passion for the burgeoning British cask and craft beer market and this drew me back. Cask ale, once the domain of the beards and sandals brigade was starting to draw in a new breed of drinkers, attracted to the huge variety of flavours and styles. I joined Cask Marque, an organisation founded to promote great quality beer in pubs. My taste buds were tested and I became the organisation’s first female beer inspector, working alongside the organisation’s 49 male inspectors.

In 2012 I qualified as an accredited beer sommelier, one of the first women in the UK to achieve this. I am regularly appointed by brewers, pub companies and corporate organisations to arrange and host beer and food events and I also host tutored beer tasting sessions for a variety of clients. In between all this I’m a co-founder of Dea Latis, an organisation to promote the beauty of beer to women both inside and outside the industry.

One of the pleasures of my job is its diversity. I can be training a group of managers about cellar management, one day and judging a beer competition the next; currently I’m involved with The Can Makers and the Indie Beer Can festival where I have been asked to find the nation’s best craft beer in a can. Often I find myself writing articles for the trade and consumer press in my spare time.

A beer sommelier has a slightly different role to that of a wine sommelier. Yes, we are trained to advise what beer would suit a drinker’s palate, and which food would go best with that beer; but more importantly a beer sommelier’s role is to get consumers to rethink beer as a drink of choice; to get them to understand that that there is an unprecedented variety of styles and flavours in the beer category and that you can find a beer to suit everyone.

Our job is to make someone fall in love with beer and rid them of some of their misconceptions. Common misconception include “beer is fattening” (it’s actually the least calorific drink ml-for-ml you can order at a bar) or that beer is for men (16% of all beer purchases in the UK are made by women over the age of 25). We also aim to overcome the perception that beer is merely a poor relation to wine.

There is a big preconceived idea that brewing and the beer world is still a boys’ club. It comes as some surprise when I tell people that during my 30 years in the industry I have never once experienced any form of gender discrimination. The beer industry judges you on your ability, skill, knowledge and hard work. Tick all these boxes and your gender is not even noticed.

Emma Gilleland runs one of the biggest cask ale production lines in the UK at Marstons. Professor Katherine Smart heads up global giant SAB Miller’s brewing department. Brigid Simmonds is head of the British Beer and Pub Association. And women, like me, are trusted the same way as men to judge professional beer events. The men in the industry don’t see our gender, because we don’t see it – we’re just getting on with a job, like any other industry.

However, encouraging more women to consider beer as a drink of choice is more of an issue. Many women are becoming open to more education about beer after years of conditioning. Women don’t want a beer brewed especially for women, we’re quite happy with what’s available out there. We want to be encouraged to dip a toe in the beer world without being considered a curiosity.

Annabel Smith

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Cheers to the women brewing (and drinking) beer
Beer-making is too often seen as a man’s world but times are changing, says Sue Cooper, co-owner of Yorkshire’s Little Valley Brewery

Sue Cooper

01, Apr, 2016 @7:31 AM

Article image
'I am the first women's-only tailor in the history of Savile Row'
Entrepreneur Phoebe Gormley quit university and invested her tuition fees in her made-to-measure womenswear business

Phoebe Gormley

27, Nov, 2015 @7:20 AM

Article image
How our theatre workshops are empowering migrant women in China
Arts is a force for good, our workshops show how participation can turn them into tools to develop confidence and leadership skills

Caroline Watson

20, Nov, 2015 @11:56 AM

Article image
‘A typical day? Crawling out of a tent to find a fur seal staring at you’
Explorer Sally Poncet is one of the few women to be awarded the Polar medal. She shares the story of her amazing career path

Sally Poncet

13, Nov, 2015 @7:16 AM

Article image
'I hope we can open more doors for women in Formula One'
The lack of female drivers often grabs headlines, but for women interested in a F1 career there many winning opportunities

Emma Rotherham

30, Oct, 2015 @7:25 AM

Article image
'I realised that something was missing in the British confectionery market'
From a crumbling apartment block in Paris to the shelves of Harvey Nichols: how one entrepreneur turned a passion for sweet treats into a thriving busines

Oonagh Simms

06, Nov, 2015 @7:17 AM

Article image
'Handouts can be essential, but enabling people to empower themselves is inspiring'
Dreams of building a responsible tourism business took Amy Carter-James on a tough but rewarding journey to Mozambique

Amy Carter-James

08, Jan, 2016 @7:19 AM

Article image
'One of my ambitions is to produce a documentary - radio of course. It’s the best, most intimate medium"
Night shifts, breaking news and an action-packed green room: a day in the life of a broadcast journalist

Julia Pittam

29, Jan, 2016 @10:34 AM

Article image
I launched a social enterprise after becoming a mother, widow and HIV positive
Lizzie Jordan’s own experience inspired her to start a new business, helping young people deal with difficult conversations

Lizzie Jordan

19, Feb, 2016 @7:16 AM

Article image
'I am part of an eight-member assembly, running a small country'
The honourable Jan Cheek MLA is part of the Falkland Islands legislative body, responsible for trade and industry

Jan Cheek

04, Dec, 2015 @7:25 AM