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BABES group breaks down beer-drinking barriers

Posted by boston.com  January 3, 2014 12:17 PM

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Photo courtesy of Kristen Sykes

Members of BABES at a recent crafting event in Dorchester

Karen Miller, 38, is a full-time mother of two from Somerville and works in retail at 10,000 Villages while her kids are in school. Jennifer Shell, 40, is a sewing instructor at the Stitch House in Dorchester. Klara Junker, 29, came to Boston from Sweden to study microbiology. And Nicole Labrecque, 36, is an oncology nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. 
 
Once a month, this diverse group of women meets up with others for an activity that’s traditionally associated with men: beer drinking. They are members of the Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society, known as BABES. Founded in February 2012, the little-known society is emerging as one of Boston’s newest niche social groups. 
 
“We wanted to bring together women who are interested and knowledgeable about beer,” said Kristen Sykes, a home-brewing veteran and founder of BABES. She said that the social group aims to enforce the idea that women not only like beer, but can be as knowledgeable about it as men. 
 
“I have female friends who like beer, but it’s definitely a male-dominated, totally stereotyped thing,” Miller said. “It’s always been ‘women with wine, men with beer.’ It’s neat to meet other women who really like beer.” 
 
Although BABES doesn’t have an official website, the group has several hundred Facebook followers, and usually 15 to 25 members meet monthly for beer-related activities and excursions, such as brewery tours, beer tastings and food pairings, and crafting parties. 
 
Events have included a bike ride and beer tasting at Watch City Brewing in Waltham, a Firestone Walker beer tasting at the Meadhall in Cambridge, an overnight trip to Vermont, and most recently, a crafting party at the Stitch House in Dorchester, where members utilized beer bottle caps, cardboard beer coasters and labels to create package toppers and ornaments for the holidays. 
 
Occasionally, the ladies are joined by a member’s husband or boyfriend who wants to tag along on a BABES outing.

“There are a lot of men who are BABES, too,” said Sykes. She explained that men who are supportive of women in the beer industry are welcome at meetings.

The idea for BABES came when Sykes moved to Boston from Philadelphia in early 2011. While living in Philadelphia, Sykes was a member of a women’s beer club there, called IPA (In Pursuit of Ales). Once in Boston, she wanted to create something similar. 

The first BABES meeting was a beer-and-chocolate pairing held at Meadhall in Cambridge on Valentine’s Day 2012. Finding women who were interested in beer (and chocolate) wasn’t too much of a challenge, Sykes said.

“I printed flyers and put them up in coffee shops and bars along the Red Line. There was an ad on Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, and we advertised in the Improper Bostonian,” she said. Nowadays, the group attracts members mainly by word-of-mouth. 
 
The BABES members have varying levels of beer knowledge – from hobby drinkers to seasoned home brewers. 
 
Klara Junker is interested in beer on a molecular level; she interned with Mystic Brewery in Chelsea, where she helped to develop the yeast strain in its award-winning “Vinland 2” brew. She’s enrolling in the PhD program in yeast science at the Carlsberg Research Lab in Copenhagen, Denmark, and plans to move there and start the program in February. 
 
Members such as Miller and Shell are occasional home brewers. Miller says she enjoys the experimentation and socialization that comes from home brewing with her friends, which she does three or four times a year. Shell’s husband, a home brewer of about four years, inspired her to give it a try, and she’s been brewing for the last two years. Some members, like Labrecque, have never home brewed, but enjoy learning about it. 
 
 “We all share that we maybe don’t know everything. There’s no competition, and everyone is really supportive,” said Sykes. 

Sykes said some BABES members are also members of other groups, such as the Massachusetts chapter of Girls Pint Out, a national women’s beer group (founded in Indi-anapolis in 2010), with chapters across the country. The groups aren’t in competition, Sykes said.
 
“There’s so many beer things to do, so many brewers, it’s never been a problem as far as overlapping events,” she said. Sykes said that the BABES do a wider variety of events, such as an upcoming book presentation, and meet on a more regular basis than Girls Pint Out. BABES also collaborates with other social groups for some events. 
 
“We’re open to doing things with different organizations. A lot of people are interested in beer and weaving that into what their groups are doing,” Sykes said. She said she has been in contact with the co-founder of the Maine Beer Mavens, a women’s beer group based in Portland, about future joint events.
 
The BABES will meet at Doyle’s Cafe in Jamaica Plain Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. for a presentation by Lauren Clark, author of “Crafty Bastards – Beer in New England from the Mayflower to Modern Day.” Clark will discuss the historical role of women in the beer industry. All are welcome. 
 
This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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