5 Questions With Femme Ferment

By Heather Riske
In Food

Though not even a year old, Femme Ferment has been popping up at the biggest events across the local craft beer scene, from the St. Louis Brewers Guild Heritage Festival to the South Grand Fall Festival. The group, devoted to local women in the craft beer industry, had a strong presence during St. Louis Craft Beer Week, too, hosting a “Pink Taco Night” at Mission Taco Joint and chatting during a “Women in Craft Beer” symposium at Schlafly.

As their “Third Tuesday” happy hours continue to grow each month, we caught up with two of the group’s founding members, Katie Herrera and Kristen Chalfant, to talk about Femme Ferment’s mission, why they’re not totally kicking men out and what they hope to accomplish next.

Sara Hale with the four cofounders of Femme Ferment: Kristen Chalfant, Katie Herrera, TKTK and Colleen TK. Photo by Dan Costello.

(L-R) Sara Hale with the four cofounders of Femme Ferment: Kristen Chalfant, Katie Herrera, Libby Brown and Colleen Kirby. Photo by Dan Costello.

ALIVE: How would you describe the mission of Femme Ferment to someone who wasn’t familiar with the group?

Femme Ferment: Our mission is to primarily get exposure for the women in the industry. We talk about our role alongside of men in the industry—how they differ and how they’re the same. A huge part of what we’re trying to do is provide a philanthropic role, which doesn’t seem to be too prevalent in the St. Louis craft beer community. We did that with the donation to breast cancer research at our pink taco night at Mission Taco for Craft Beer Week. We’re trying to get more women into the industry by providing that educational role for them.

We’re trying to showcase our talents and hopefully somebody recognizes them. It’s a group for people who have questions, who are interested, who may be intimidated. Especially being a group of women who are open to everybody, it helps from an approach standpoint for women or men. We’re not exclusive, and we want to drive that home. We’re just trying to be a group of people who can enjoy the same thing and not be judged for it. The more educated women can be in craft beer, the more the industry is going to grow. Educating them and making them feel that it’s okay for them to drink whatever they want—even if it’s a Miller Lite, a Bud Lite, a glass of wine, vodka. We try to be as non-exclusive as possible. All of our happy hours are completely non-exclusive, even our launch party back in May was at least 50/50, if not more men than women. There’s a huge group of men in this industry who are very, very big supporters. Probably the biggest is Stephen Hale at Schlafly. He just thinks this is awesome.

ALIVE: Tell us a little more about what being in the group involves.

FF: The organization itself, Femme Ferment, is a group of women in the craft beer community in St. Louis. In order to be a “member,” at least part of your income needs to come from craft beer, or somehow you’re strongly tied to the craft beer community. What we’re trying to do is throw events that highlight what we do, who we are, where these women are important in the industry. Our happy hours are rotating from craft beer spot to craft beer spot, alternating between breweries and craft beer bars. The happy hours and similar events are open to everybody. We’re just trying to provide that role that we think St. Louis needs for the general population. So far, the happy hours have been at places that have a woman either behind the bar or brewing, like Urban Chestnut, Bridge, Morgan Street and so on.

ALIVE: How welcoming was St. Louis to the idea?

FF: It’s been overwhelming. It’s awesome. We can’t keep up. It’s unbelievable. We had talked about it for a long time—there being a need in St. Louis. Stephen Hale is the brewer over at Schlafly, and he’s married to Sarah Hale, who was one of the very first female brewers in the city. He’s constantly throwing ideas out for us. At the symposium during Craft Beer Week, we talked about women in craft beer. Afterwards, we started chatting and he’s asking questions like, ‘How do you get women into the industry?’ ‘What can Femme Ferment do to provide that grasping role to pull people in?’ STL Hops has also been overwhelmingly supportive, and it’s a group of guys who run that. Mike Sweeney, the mastermind behind STL Hops, is printing posters for us, and others have helped with stickerprinting and T-shirts. Charleville brought us in to brew a beer. People are seeing the value of our group and really doing their part and getting the word out about us.

ALIVE: It sounds like not being exclusive to women has really helped your growth.

FF: Not being exclusive has definitely helped, at least in St. Louis. It’s a really small community here, and the majority of everybody gets along and supports each other. It’s really close-knit—the brewers themselves have their own network, and it’s kind of grown from there between them and other bars and distributors. We’re all in it together, and everybody helps each other out. We took some ideas from similar concepts like Barleys Angels and Pink Boots. Pink Boots is an organization of women in the craft beer community worldwide, but you have to get at least half your income from craft beer, and it’s strictly no men. The general premise of Barleys Angels is giving women a comfortable place to drink and talk about craft beer, and you will lose your Barleys Angels license if there are men present at your events. We were looking for something different. We wanted something more grassroots and more local.

ALIVE: What’s next for the group?

FF: We’re at the point where we need to get back together as a group and see what’s lacking and where we need to go, how we can grow and continue to make it awesome. We definitely want to do 501, or nonprofit, so we need to come up with fundraising ideas for that. To establish a solid following is huge. On top of the happy hours, we’re looking at a local chef who’s interested in doing a dorm room at 33 Wine Bar. We potentially may do some sort of beer pairing there. We’re talking about brewing anniversary beers because we will have our first year anniversary in May, but February is when we first all got together. Keeping the happy hours growing is definitely a priority. Figuring out some sort of educational component that could help out.

We’re really interested in getting this side of the river and the East side of the river connected because there’s some great beer bars over there, and they’re run by women, and they’re awesome. That would be a really fun thing to do to bridge that gap, and there’s not really many people doing that. We’re also hoping to get a job board up and running, and start blogging.

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