Sidhe Brewing's Kathleen Culhane on the craft brewing "boys' club"

Sometimes brewing can seem like a boys' club. Sidhe Brewing hopes to change that perception.

Opening a 1000-square foot taproom in late July or early August (city licensing pending) on St. Paul's East Side, the "brewed by women, loved by all" company will bring yet another twist to the craft beer boom. They hope to have six taps, including four regular brews, one rotating selection, and one house-made soda.

Hot Dish sat down with founder and head brewer Kathleen Culhane to talk about breaking into the Twin Cities brew scene.

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Hot Dish: How did you first get interested in brewing?

Kathleen Culhane: I was always good at science in high school, but for whatever reason it didn't occur to me to go into it in college. I thought engineering would be the thing to do. Then in the early '90s they came out with a tuition reimbursement program and I really thought about what kind of field I would be interested in and I went back and took freshman chemistry and then I found out yup, this is it. From then on I did nothing but chemistry and the few electives I needed. It's a very natural hobby for a chemist who does lab stuff to play with yeast and beer. About that same time I started home-brewing. I have a notebook that goes back to '98. I'm still making a beer from that first notebook. 

Was that before home-brewing was a big trend?

It was pretty well going then, but it's going way better now. The growth rate in the home brew segment of market is like double digit growth, like 25%. Craft brew is in like the low teens growth per year and mass market beer is flat.

How did you decide to brand yourself as an all-woman brewery? 

Well it's always been an all-woman brewery. We bring together an awful lot of expertise and knowledge, and I got all the technical stuff. One of my spouses is an IT person and she's gonna be VP of operations because she can help troubleshoot things and then we have someone who is extremely good at spreadsheets and organizing things so she's gonna be secretary, and my other spouse is finishing up an accounting degree so she'll be our financial officer. We are calling interns right now so they will learn how to brew when the time comes. A couple of them are friends and one of them is someone I just met and they are all working very hard and getting very excited. 

Do you think brewing is sometimes seen as a boys' club?
Oh yeah. I have a friend that's gonna knit me a beard and the first time a guy asks for the owner I'm gonna throw on the beard and come back out. Everyone in Minnesota it seems is a bearded young white guy and a lot of them are very, very good, but there are other people that can brew and it's nice to see that we are getting some diversity in the group. We've got Urban Growler in the group and they are very supportive of our efforts and hoping we succeed and I feel very much the same about them. 

How did you come up with the name Sidhe? 

First of all, all four of us are queer women, so the word spelled s-i-d-h-e is actually Irish and it means fairy. There's puns on three levels here -- it works! So I get to say things like, it's pronounced "she" like "she likes really great beer!" I'm also Pagan, which is uncommon in the Twin Cities other than in bookstores. We may be the first non-bookstore, non-coffeeshop, non-gathering place that is Pagan, Wiccan specifically in my case. 

Why do you think there are so few woman-owned breweries? 

You know.. I'm not really sure. I can speculate. Historically we are led to believe that up until the Middle Ages women were the brewers because it was a hearth thing, and in times of antiquity priestesses and temples were the brewers. A guy goes out in the day and a woman stays home and works. About the time of the rise of industry, it became a mass production thing and since men had the capital, I believe that's when it probably became their thing and women just kind of got pushed out.

So for now this craft boom is primarily a male-dominated movement?

Yes, but it is shifting some. There are some organizations that are extremely beneficial. One that I can think of is Pink Boots Society. [It's] brewers and other women in the industry. Pink Boots Society was founded by this woman Kerry whose goal was to provide a perpetual society for women in the beer industry -- not necessarily brewers but all in the industry. It's free to join and they do have an off-shoot group for women to get together and appreciate beer and that is Barley's Angels. It's really nice to get together with other women and enjoy beer because it seems to be a lot more egalitarian and we sit and we share and the environment is much more congenial to that kind of sharing and knowledge gathering.

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