Creative juices: Florida Women in Brewing makes beer for education, charity

Founding member Sharmila Duncan says her goal was to create a community on a very local level.

click to enlarge "Anytime a group of women get together and combine their talents, something good happens," Duncan says. - Ryan Ballogg
Ryan Ballogg
"Anytime a group of women get together and combine their talents, something good happens," Duncan says.

Craft beer is getting stylistically more diverse than perhaps anyone could have imagined (pizza beer, anyone?), and diversity is up when it comes to who’s drinking it as well. A collective of Florida women in the industry are now out to make the workforce behind the beer more diverse, too.

Florida Women in Brewing, a nonprofit organization formed in August 2015 with the mission of exciting, educating and empowering women with an interest in craft beer, released its dazzling first effort for Tampa Bay Beer Week a few weeks ago.

The group chose to brew a blackberry barley wine, a strong style of ale that works well with fruit flavors, in keeping with the spring season. Their Barley Berry Jam, as it was dubbed, pours dark like cobbler and tastes like it, too, with an extra zing from the 10.3-percent alcohol by volume.

The beer was released in 16-ounce bottles and on draft at 12 taprooms, plus two beer festivals, during Beer Week; it ran out almost everywhere within a few days. The reception was ecstatic, and also brought the group lots of potential new members, according to founding member Sharmila Duncan.

Duncan, the finance and operations manager for Cigar City Brewing, started FWIB with some other friends in the area beer business last year. Several women’s brewing groups operate nationally, but Duncan’s goal was to create a community on a very local level, and not just for industry insiders.

“We said, ‘Let’s do something for everyone,’” Duncan told CL. “We wanted to try to create a very inclusionary, educational environment.”

A simple interest in craft beer is enough to get involved, and all kinds of talent are welcomed. There are more skill sets involved in beer-making — production, marketing and accounting know-how among them — that offer prospective careers than many people realize. Even artwork plays a role; the barley wine’s label was designed by two FWIB members, Kim Johnston and Jen Sladky.

The brewers of FWIB collaborated with Cigar City Brewing for the barley wine release, and head brewer Wayne Wambles helped secure the experimental dwarf hop used in its production. In the future, the organization plans to create similar partnerships with local breweries who have the facilities and bottling capabilities needed for a big launch.

“Hopefully, two releases a year,” Duncan said.

The profits from the barley wine’s sale will be divided between two charities that help women in the community, to be announced soon, and the group is also creating a scholarship fund for women who want to learn about the business. The new Brewing Arts program at USF St. Petersburg is one educational opportunity.

For the moment, FWIB is focused on Tampa Bay. Attendance has ranged from 25 to 30 women at their monthly meetings so far; they’re recruiting new members and planning the next bottle release. The group hopes to expand, covering southeast Florida, and their long-team goal is to create and host an all-women craft beer conference.

A limited number of Barley Berry Jam bottles are available at Tampa’s Cigar City, Jug & Bottle Dept. in Seminole Heights and Ybor’s Brass Tap. Those interested in joining FWIB, should contact the organization via Facebook or at [email protected].

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