BARLEY’S ANGELS: Bringing women together over brews


You may have heard of women only groups that meet regularly to connect around common interests, like books or parenting. But did you know there’s a women’s group in the Twin Ports devoted to learning more about beer?

Barley’s Angels – Duluth Superior is a local chapter of an international organization dedicated to helping women learn about all aspects of craft beer in a comfortable and safe environment. Barley’s Angels was founded in Portland, OR in 2011. It grew with the craft beer craze — there are now 111 chapters in seven countries.

Beer has started to eclipse wine as the alcohol of choice for women. A recent Gallup showed that women consume 37 percent of craft beer. And young women (ages 21-34) are the fastest growing craft beer fan demographic. According to the Brewer’s Association, this demo accounts for 15
percent of the total craft beer consumption.

Liz Gleeson, owner of Carmody Irish Pub and Brewery and Allyson Rolph, head brewer at Thirsty Pagan Brewing, started the Barley’s Angels – Duluth Superior chapter back in 2012. “We decided we should do something to get women involved—to engage our women customers and create a space where everyone can be comfortable learning about craft beer,” says Allyson.

The woman only environment lends itself to learning, particularly among those new to tasting craft beer. Allyson says she’s noticed that in mixed brewery tour groups at the Thirsty Pagan women are sometimes more hesitant to ask questions than men.

The way women think about and taste beer tends to differ from the way men approach it. She says women starting to explore craft beer are generally not as concerned with style or what types of hops are used; instead, they want to talk about flavors. “Women also seem to have a better palate,” she says. (Indeed, a Yale University study found that women have more taste buds on their tongues than men.)


Liz and Allyson eventually passed the Barley’s Angels group on to Elissa Hansen, whose husband co-founded Blacklist Artisan Ales. Elissa organized meetings for a couple of years before she became a Duluth city councilor. Now Melissa Maki and Rachelle Rahn coordinate the group, neither is affiliated with a specific brewery but both appreciate the group’s camaraderie and have a penchant for craft brews.

Barley’s Angels is more than a beer drinking club. At least half of the Twin Ports chapter’s dozen annual events contain educational components. For a nominal fee (usually $5), participants go behind-thescenes at local breweries to tour the facilities, learn about the brewing process and taste the beer.

Members express appreciation for the chance to learn about and taste beer in an atmosphere that’s not intimidating. Those with a more experienced palate say they’re frustrated by men at bars telling them what type of beer they should order, typically assuming that women will prefer “light” or “fruity” beers. In fact, women enjoy a wide range of flavors—a recent Nielson poll indicated women are 75 percent more likely to prefer sour beers.

An interesting aspect of the group is its diverse nature, in terms of age and occupation. Women in their early 20s to 60s participate. Some work in breweries and in the service industry. Others work in fields as disparate as healthcare, education, paper production and mining. The uniting theme among these women is an interest in beer and many of these social connections wouldn’t have been forged without it.

Recent meetings have included a homebrew lesson and field trip to a hops farm. In May, brewer Ginga Newton conducted a sensory training with the group to help participants break down the different flavor components of beer, identify off flavors and feel more confident in ordering beer (or sending it back).

Barley’s Angels also holds casual happy hour meet-ups every other month, rotating through various breweries and bars. For information about the chapter’s events, visit: or

Written by Melissa Maki for the Magazine.