Melissa Diaz smiled as she looked at the photo of four craft brew-loving friends. Although Utah’s beer industry is dominated by white men, not one was in the picture.
“I was like, ‘Oh man … Look at that gradient,’” Diaz said, admiring the skin color of each of the women. And that gave her an idea.
She and her friends launched the Instagram account Brown Gradient Beer Wenches (@bg_craftbeer_wenches) to shine a light on the fact that there isn’t much diversity, or many women, in the brewing industry as a whole and particularly in Utah.
The four share their adventures in beer on Insta, shouting out the brews and events they’re enjoying.
Diaz, 37, works at Bewilder Brewing Co. in Salt Lake City, “serving up beer” and “laughs” with Shyree “Ree” Rose, 29, Rose said.
Melissa “Mel” Dahud, 33, works at Level Crossing Brewing Co. in South Salt Lake. And Stephanie Biesecker, 44, works at Red Rock Brewing Co. in downtown Salt Lake City.
The women, who met each other at past jobs and while sampling local breweries, delight in their shared passion and in their differing backgrounds.
Diaz, who goes by her last name among friends, is Mexican and her “family has Aztec blood,” she said. Rose, her co-worker, is French Creole and Scottish, she said.
Dahud is Palestinian, Ecuadorian, Native American and Nicaraguan. And Biesecker is half Samoan “and half honky tonk farm white girl,” she laughs.
Diaz, Rose and Dahud made their first post in July of last year; Biesecker would join them later.
“Yooo! Utah, what’s good?! We are the brown gradient,” they announced. “A trio that loves all things craft beer. We all love hiking and usually have a fun beer in our back [p]ack for summit drinks. We each work at local breweries in SLC and love spreading joy through craft beer.”
Looking at the three other women sitting beside her in Bewilder early December, Diaz said, “Our friendship kind of grew over the last year, but [I had] instant connections with all of them.”
The name Brown Gradient Beer Wenches “was 100% this chick,” Rose said, gesturing toward Diaz. “Because we are,” Diaz laughed.
Women who like beer
After moving from Las Vegas to Utah a couple of years ago, Diaz said, “I kind of felt alienated a bit because I don’t look like a craft beer drinker, but I am very much a craft beer drinker.” She felt people didn’t expect her interest in the industry simply because “I’m a woman and I’m brown,” she said. “That stereotype is what’s most bothersome for me.”
Nationally, women make up about 7.5% of brewers, and 88% of brewery owners are white, according to data released in 2019 by the Brewers Association. Staff become more diverse in service and support roles, the report showed.
With the Instagram account, Diaz said, “I wanted to put it out there: Look, we’re here. … We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to drink all the beer. So, get to it fast.”
Their talent, Rose said, “gets overshadowed a lot.” A woman who shows interest in beer is not taken the same way “as if a bro walks in,” Rose said, “and is like, ‘Yo dude, I want to learn about this.’ They’re immediately like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome. You can lift a keg, bro.’”
Rose pointed to Dahud and said, “Have you seen this frickin’ girl lift kegs?” Dahud, who likes to exercise outdoors and run trails, smiled and said the most she’s ever deadlifted is 315 pounds.
“‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is the epitome of the beer industry and women,” Rose said.
Like Diaz, Dahud said she was used to being surrounded by more diversity when she lived in New Jersey, and she’s been underestimated by male customers in the Beehive State.
“They’ll just go on the menu, look through, and then I’ll try to go to them, ‘Hey, have you been here before? Can I suggest something for you?’”
Some men act “like they don’t think I’ll know,” Dahud said. “But then I surprise them, and come up with some suggestions” that “they end up liking.”
“It’s really fun to blow people’s minds that way,” Rose smiled.
Support and role models
While some customers may question their beer knowledge, Rose and her friends said they have received lots of support from both men and women working in the industry.
“As much as we fight both of these battles … like we’re women, we’re brown, there is a sense of community,” Rose said. “I feel so safe at Bewilder. I love it here. [The owners] Cody [McKendrick] and Ross [Metzger] are probably some of the best owners I’ve ever worked for. They listen to input.”
Recently, McKendrick asked Rose, “What do you think we should do for our small batch?”
“I went through my head,” Rose said, “and I started rattling off different beer styles. And he was just like, ‘... We should totally do that.’ So, the fact that we’re being heard here makes us feel good.”
Biesecker said she looks up to Erika Palmer, sales director at Red Rock, who she described as a “beer world rockstar.”
“I can go to her about anything,” Biesecker said, “and I always feel welcome. … She always makes me feel included in things.”
Dahud also is a member of the Pink Boots Society, “a group of women that are in the beer industry,” she said. Lauren Lerch, one of the leaders of Utah’s chapter, is the brewing supervisor at Uinta Brewing. Lerch has been “super helpful to me, too, in learning about beers,” Dahud said. “She’s an amazing brewer,” Rose added.
Rose also pointed to Jacquie King, head brewer at Roosters Brewing Co.’s 25th Street location. “She’s phenomenal,” Rose said. “I look up to her so much.”
“Just watching the brewing process and watching a woman do it … it’s empowering,” Diaz said.
Find the right beer for you
Biesecker’s fridge “is overflowing” with bottles and cans, and Rose jokes that the copious amounts of beer she keeps on hand makes her “look like a bachelor.” Diaz, meanwhile, has “three different coolers” at home that are “temperature controlled for very specific beers.”
But the Brown Gradient women didn’t always like beer.
Rose remembers going to Beerhive Pub in downtown Salt Lake City with a friend. When he stepped away from their table for a moment, Rose looked at his beer for a while before she decided to try a sip.
“It looked like chocolate milk,” Rose said, laughing with the others.
The more sips she took, the better it tasted. “By the time he came back …, I finished most of the beer,” Rose said. “He looked at me and was like, ‘So, you like beer?’”
Biesecker used to work at an allergy and asthma office. When the doctor retired a couple of years ago, “I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. She applied for a job at Red Rock.
“I feel like selling beer and taking care of patients are the same thing,” she said, “because … you’re just making people happy, or making sure that they get what they need or want.”
To anyone who thinks they don’t like beer, Rose has this advice: “I don’t think you don’t like beer. I think you just haven’t found the right beer, is what it is. Because there are so many different styles of beer, it’s ridiculous.”
Dahud compares developing a taste for beer to learning wine preferences.
“Right off the bat, someone’s not going to want to go for a chardonnay or a cab,” Dahud said. Instead, a newbie to wine should start with “something on the sweeter side,” she said, such as a riesling or moscato.
“Your taste buds mature over time,” she said.
Diaz said her friends and colleagues from Vegas “all made fun of me when I moved to Utah. They’re like, ‘Oh, good luck finding good beer.’”
“Because everyone’s sleeping on Utah,” Diaz said. “Everyone doesn’t believe that there’s good beer here, simply because we have such strange liquor laws,” such as requirements to buy food in some circumstances.
But, she said, that’s just not true.
Advice for other women
Once, while at T.F. Brewing in Salt Lake City, Diaz and Rose were recognized from their Instagram page. Diaz was surprised since they don’t have that many followers, and they run the account just for fun.
“These two guys came over,” Diaz said, and asked, “Are you guys the BG Gradient?”
The men told them what beers they’d just drank and asked what to order next. Diaz and Rose started rambling.
“We were like, ‘Oh wait, we’re probably overwhelming you,’” Diaz said. Instead, Rose said, the men told them, “This is great. This is what we needed.”
“That was kind of cool,” Diaz said.
To any other women who want to get into the brewing industry, Diaz suggests, “Do it. Do it now.”
“Do it yesterday,” Biesecker added. “Just shove your way in like we all did,” she laughed.
“Hit us up,” Rose said, saying they would be willing to talk to anyone interested in beer.
This is an industry they plan to stay in, and all four friends said they dream of opening a brewery of their own someday. For Diaz, it would probably be a combination of a bakery and a taproom.
“I’m going to have four stools, and they’re all going to have your little names on them,” she told the others. “And if someone’s sitting in your chair, and you come in, I’m going to say, ‘Please move.’”
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.