BIDDEFORD, Maine — On a recent night, a dozen women converged in a tasting room and knocked back glass after glass of fresh-brewed beer from Banded Horn.
“The stereotype is that a woman is going to go for a glass of wine and guys go for beer,” said Christie Mahaffey, a member of Maine Beer Mavens, gathering in a new brewery for their monthly meetup.
One part girl’s night out, one part beer appreciation club, the Maine Beer Mavens, together since 2012, are putting a new swirl on the craft beer scene.
As the once-male-dominated beer industry reaches a fever pitch in Maine — there are 51 craft breweries and more in development — females are reaching across the bar to pull the taps.
And groups like the Mavens are changing the image of the quintessential beer lover from bearded and flannel clad to feminine and fearless.
“It’s not just men enjoying beer, as a majority of people likely believe,” said Nichole Stevens of New Gloucester, who runs Maine Beer Tours with her husband Mark and joined the mavens in Biddeford last week.
To Stevens, the group is “casting aside the stereotype that women like their fruity cocktails and that cocktails and wine are the norm among women. For the Mavens, that is just not the case. Plain and simple, we love beer.”
And the industry loves them. Sean Sullivan executive director of the Maine Brewer’s Guild says the more women step up to the pint, the bigger the craft scene becomes.
“For a long time bars have been the realm of males, not only is it changing, but it’s changed,” he said.
Groups like the Mavens, a Facebook fellowship of 300 plus, that host potluck suppers at breweries, coordinate oyster and beer dinners and next month run a pub crawl with Boston BABES — Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society — in Portsmouth, are making women and ale strange bedfellows no more.
At Maine Beer Tours, for example, females dominate excursions “with 64 percent of our overall ticket sales from women,” said Stevens. “More women these days love beer and are even organizing groups, such as the Maine Beer Mavens, based on that common interest.”
The same pattern is playing out on the Maine Beer Trail. Sullivan collects passes for the self-guided, statewide tour to breweries such as Funky Bow in Lyman and Marshall Wharf in Belfast and beer broads lead the way.
“Women are certainly getting out there, visiting brewers and sampling what’s there,” said Sullivan. “Having a beer at its core is a really social thing, it’s creating community.”
This community of women that bonded over a love of lager is made up of homebrewers, professional brewers, beer believers and absolute beginners. What they share is a zeal for learning and a willingness to travel for beer.
The informal, private tour and tasting at Banded Horn Brewing Co. last week gave Ian McConnell a chance to promote his new beers to an undertapped market. From hops to Russian imperial stout, double IPAs to toasty, roasty malts, the beers flowed freely for these women only.
“I haven’t been drinking a lot of hoppy beers recently,” says Lora Burns, a petite blonde with oversized specs gently swirling honey colored ale in a glass. “I forget how good they taste.”
While it may seem they are breaking new ground, they are following a well-blazed trail. Karen Geary set the stage when she founded D.L. Geary Brewing Co. in Maine in 1983.
At Banded Horn last week, lady brewer Shonnee Strickland was surrounded by admiring mavens. The surfer who lives in Biddeford is opening her own brewery this year.
“Historically women made beer,” says Strickland, a brewer at The Run of the Mill Public House & Brewery in Saco. “I never really thought what it’s like to be a female brewer, just a brewer.”
Heather Sanborn, co-owner of Rising Tide Brewing Co., helped the group brew their first beer, Maven Voyage Saison. Featured at Portland Beer Week in 2012, it was concocted by Ashley Fendler, who works at Allagash and brewed at Rising Tide with the help of 11 other Maine Beer Mavens.
Sanborn, a maven rockstar has hired many women at the Portland brewery which she runs with her husband Nathan. As more females enter the industry, the scales will continue to tilt. “It’s traditionally and historically an industry dominated by men,” said Sanborn. “There have always been women in industry. Now they are taking a stand.”