Written by Sara Maginn Pacella
Photos by Jenna Hum
When you’re looking for something that doesn’t exist, there is a potential to build it yourself. After noticing a lack of female representation in the local beer community, Erica Campbell and Jaime Dobbs set out as a part of the five founders of The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies (SOBDL).
Together, they run events (called ‘bevies’) that bring women together to celebrate, build each other up, and enjoy craft beer. Five years into their journey, it’s clear that not only ‘if you build it, they will come’, but ‘if you build it, you can change the face of the Toronto beer community.’
What inspired you to form The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies?
After working in craft beer and meeting a few ladies working in the industry, we were inspired to create a space to bring more of us together to chat beer, our experiences, and to inspire other women to join the industry. Seeing yourself reflected in a job or career helps you to imagine yourself in that role. Seeing more women selling, brewing, and drinking beer helps to solidify our relevance in the craft beer industry.
What has surprised you about the response from Toronto women?
Initially, we were shocked at how quickly the Society grew. But now it’s just great to see the kind and welcoming environment that has sprung up in such a huge city. It’s a beautiful sight to see women of all walks of life drinking and laughing together.
How is the female craft beer community unique compared to other Canadian craft beer events/associations?
The energy at our events is unique. There’s something special that can only be experienced by attending our festival. I attribute it to the feminine energy that’s not usually dominating our society or our environments. When that energy is in abundance, it’s almost tangible. Our events allow that energy to flourish.
Why did you feel it was important to carve out this space for women only? Have you had any pushback on this?
Most of the men we’ve interacted with love what we’re doing, believe in what we’re building, and support us in a variety of ways. We allow men as guests to our bevies at midnight, and they’re welcome to work at our events and attend our beer dinners. Anyone who doesn’t understand the need for this space is likely the reason this space is necessary.
What are some common misconceptions you've found specifically related to women and their enjoyment of beer?
The major misconceptions are that either women don’t like beer at all, or not as much as men do, or that the beers women like are light and fruity and sweet. This is as absurd as saying women don’t like parsley or men don’t like cake. Of course, everyone’s taste buds are different and varied, and this extends to tasting beer. There have been studies that explore the idea that women are better tasters than men, evolutionarily. We are all on our individual beer path. Some of us can’t get enough hops and others have jumped on the sour train. Mainly we want a well-made, tasty, fresh beer, just like anyone.
How has The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies evolved and grown over the past five years?
We started out with five founders, and the five of us wore every hat we could make fit in order to get the job done. Now, five years later, we’re run by two of the original founders, a crew of five multi-talented ‘coordinators,’ and a roster of ‘volunbeers’. We’ve hosted the biggest all-ladies beer festival in North America with an attendance of over 1200. We’ve added a performance element to our events with our Ninkasi Revue, where we feature an all women–identified line-up of comedians, singers, dancers, and entertainers. And in 2019, we’re releasing our first beer at the LCBO. Brew 0001 will be a Blood Orange Saison we made in collaboration with Henderson Brewery.
How has your involvement with The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies shaped your views on the need for community among women?
Our events have shown us that when women come together, a unique and beautiful environment is created. There’s a stereotype that women can’t work together, or that we’re catty or competitive, but this community has proven that we all grow more when we’re propping each other up. And that is the spirit the SOBDL promotes.
Can you tell me about your affiliation with the Canadian Women's Foundation, and why The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies chose to donate to this valuable cause?
There’s a lot of women in need in Canada, and the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF) (https://www.canadianwomen.org/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIppPPk6SO4QIVBLnACh3gKwv7EAAYAiAAEgLpq_D_BwE) is working dynamically with a lot of different groups of women on an array of issues. We’re a diverse group, Toronto is a diverse city, and we wanted to work with a company with diverse interests.
The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies gets many requests for expansion to other cities. Why have you decided to keep your focus on Toronto?
We expanded last year to Ottawa and have held two bevies in Canada’s capital. And in November of 2018, we held our first bevy in the city of Hamilton. We’ve had a great response from the ladies in these cities and with time, we would love to see the SOBDL expand into more cities.
What are some of your favourite stories about the people you've met and experiences you've had at your events over the years?
It’s a proud feeling when [I learn] women—who I assumed had been friends forever—met recently at a bevy, enjoyed a beer together, and became great friends. Also, the women that attend alone are an unexpected source of pride. It’s great to know we’ve created a space where women are comfortable being themselves, breaking out in dance to a favourite song, and even walking up alone to a group of women and asking, “What are you drinking?”
What are some of your goals for The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies in the next few years?
We’ll be building up our crew and our lady beer squad in both Ottawa and Hamilton as we continue to hold events in these cities. We’d like to expand our Good Tap program, currently at C’est What in Toronto, that raises funds for the CWF with each pint of women-brewed beer. But you’ll have to join our mailing list to learn all our secrets. We’re also excited to be launching our new website, www.ladiesdrinkbeer.com.
What have been the most rewarding/challenging things about founding and running The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies?
It’s a huge amount of work but we thrive on a challenge. Any time we’ve helped in some way to get someone a job in the industry, it’s always a great feeling. It’s very rewarding to hear, ‘Where has this been all my life?!’ And women thanking us for creating this community is truly the biggest reward. And of course, there’s the magic moment at the bevy where we finally get a chance to look around, see what we’ve built, and just take in all the fun and friendship, dancing, and cheers-ing.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to attend a bevy for the first time?
Come! You’ll find your people. And if the hesitation comes from thinking you don’t like beer, come find me and I will find the beer for you!
What are some of your favourite beers and places to enjoy craft beer in the GTA?
Toronto is full of amazing bars and restaurants and breweries, so there’s no shortage of places we could name right now. But as east-enders, we love to treat ourselves to Maple Leaf Tavern on a semi-regular basis. Lake Inez is another east-end favourite, and Left Field Brewery will be seeing even more of us (if possible) when we brew our collab with them in Fall 2019.