INTERVIEW: Fermenta Michigan Women’s Craft Collective

Pauline Knighton, Beer Liberator at Short’s Brewing and Manda Geiger, Brewer at Pike 51 join us to talk about Fermenta, a non-profit women’s industry group whose mission is to provide a network and educational resources for women (and men) who are interested in getting into the craft beverage industry.

The Women of Fermenta

In this special edition of the Michigan Beer Show Interview Series, Brandon speaks to Pauline Knighton and Manda Geiger of Fermenta Michigan Women’s Craft Collective.

Pauline works for Short’s Brewing and has the exciting title of Beer Liberator, which means she’s a Short’s Field Rep. Pauline works on events and promotions representing Short’s—a Northern Michigan operation—in the southern part of Michigan.

Manda Geiger is a brewer at Pike 51 in Hudsonville. Brandon mentions Hudsonville Ice Cream and Pike 51 combining forces (and ingredients!), which would surely be a delicious craft collaboration.

Fermenta Women’s Craft Collective

What is Fermenta?

Fermenta is a non-profit organization and a professional trade group that celebrated its first anniversary in August 2015. It was started by Michigan women who work in the craft industry — they represent not just craft beer but wine, cider, spirits, and kombucha. Their goal is to cover the entire spectrum of craft beverages, and the group was formed to encourage camaraderie, networking, mentoring, and education around the state.

Fermenta Events & Membership

Fermenta hosts monthly events aimed to educate Michigan residents about the craft industry. The events are open to Fermenta members as well as the general public. Usually held at locations like breweries, all members of the public are welcome, but Fermenta members are eligible for discounted admission.

Fermenta has different tiers of membership depending on the level of involvement in the craft industry: a range of working professionals earning an income in the industry, corporate partnerships sponsoring education efforts within the industry, and membership tiers for those who are interested in the industry but who aren’t currently earning an income working in the field.

Fermenta ladies at a beer event

How does one get into the craft industry?

Manda started in the industry as a bartender at a local brewery ten years ago and became a brewer four years ago. She said that brewing jobs don’t just “fall out of the sky,” and talks about the importance of building and maintaining a network.

Over time, women who weren’t in the industry began approaching Manda and Pauline asking how to get involved which inspired them to start Fermenta—connecting women with educational and work opportunities.

To get involved in the craft industry or with Fermenta, Pauline and Manda recommend spending time in breweries, getting to know the staff and asking to shadow the brewers. They describe the craft industry as being both a science and an art, and say that everyone involved puts a lot of energy and effort into the quality of what they produce. Michigan is a growing beer industry but it’s still a small, tight-knight and very friendly community.

Collaboration Brewing with Fermenta

Fermenta hosts events that bring breweries and craft enthusiasts together to brew beer for beer festivals. They collaborated with 26 breweries this year. Their goal is to have a new artist create a beer label for each collaboration to promote the brands of the breweries and Fermenta.

Since Fermenta is a non-profit, a portion of the proceeds from the collaboration beers sold at tap rooms and beer festivals supports Fermenta’s continuing education fund.

Breweries approach Fermenta about ideas for collaboration brews, but Fermenta women also submit ingredient ideas for these special edition beers. Pauline and Manda promise that all 26 collaboration beers that are in the works in 2015 are creative and unique.

Pauline is excited about the It’s About Thyme IPA, an herbal IPA brewed with fresh thyme in a collaboration with Short’s. She helped come up with the idea and the recipe and also helped with the brewing. Manda discusses a double IPA four-way collaboration: Fermenta with Our Brewing Company in Holland, Hophead Farm in Hickory Corners, and Pike 51 in Hudsonville.

Four Fermenta collaboration beers were featured at a beer dinner at Rochester Tap Room and more of the collaboration beers were featured at the Summer Beer Fest.

A collaboration beer dinner: Short’s + Fermenta creations at Rochester Tap Room

Short’s + Hopcat Tap Takeovers

Brandon asks Pauline about the multiple tap takeovers Short’s has done at Hopcat locations around the state. Hopcat started in Grand Rapids and recently expanded to East Lansing and Detroit with grand openings featuring 100 brews on tap for world record tap takeovers.

Pauline says that it makes sense for both brands: Short’s wants to stay small and stay in Michigan and they love to constantly be brewing new beers and Hopcat celebrates the craft beer industry in Michigan. The Hopcat partnership allows Short’s to showcase what they’ve been working on and bring it to the masses.

100 Short’s brews on tap at the Hopcat East Lansing grand opening / MLive

Pike 51

Brandon asks Manda about Pike 51. Pants Cream Ale was the first beer that she made at Pike 51. She says that The Kush IPA and Sabotage Coffee Milk Stout are other popular brews.

Manda said they’re getting into barrel-aged sours and mentions that Pike 51 has a lot of them on tap right now. Brandon asks about barrels and Manda explains that they are currently experimenting with both red wine and whiskey barrels. Sours aren’t Brandon’s favorite style of beer, but he noted that they are gaining popularity in Michigan. Manda said that with sours, you just have to find the right one.

Pike 51 brewers

Next Steps for Fermenta

Brandon asks about support for and interest in Fermenta from outside the state of Michigan. Pauline and Manda explain that women from surrounding states email them asking if they can attend Fermenta events. Men are encouraged to attend events as well — Fermenta aims to be open to anyone who is interested in the industry.

Fermenta’s scholarship program was launched in August, and their goal is to ultimately send someone to a brewing school or send someone to a degree program at a Michigan college. The funds currently help send people to educational seminars and events in the state, but Fermenta’s ultimate goal is to help send someone to get a degree or certificate in brewing and help set them up with shadow, internship and job experience.

Beer Education

Brandon mentions the piece that the Michigan Beer Show did on beer education in Michigan and asks more about Fermenta’s relationships with brewing schools and university brewing programs in Michigan. The newly launched program at Schoolcraft in Livonia is reaching out to the community to get feedback on what industry leaders want to see in an employee at their breweries.

Exciting things are on the horizon for the craft industry in Michigan thanks to the awesome brewers, the interest in beer education and organizations like Fermenta bringing people together.

To learn more about Fermenta, find them Facebook, visit their website and check out their upcoming events for 2016.

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Michigan Beer Stories is brought to you with love by Natalie Venuto, Ashley Weigel, Brandon Manson and Tony Huff.


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