Grad personifies vital ingredient for brewing success: diversity

Published 12.02.2021

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When Jenn Ulmer began her first week of full-time employment as a brewer at Berwick Brewing Co., Brienne Allen, a fellow female brewer of note from Massachusetts, was also at the Columbia County facility conducting research.

Timothy L. Yarrington, brewing instructor at Pennsylvania College of Technology, says Ulmer and Allen are two more examples of women making progress in the male-dominated field.

“Women are entering the field in greater numbers to the benefit of the brewing industry,” Yarrington said. “Increased diversity in the industry strengthens the industry and expands its appeal.”

Ulmer, ’21, brewing & fermentation science, has moved from Penn College lab to Berwick brewpub.Ulmer, a May 2021 graduate of Penn College’s brewing and fermentation science program, had been working part-time jobs at Berwick Brewing and Rock God Brewing Co. in Danville, when Berwick offered her a position as a full-time brewer.

A brewer’s work is never done: Bosch and Ulmer clean kegs in the basement of the Berwick Brewing Co. on a recent Friday morning.The Millville resident says the impetus for enrolling in Penn College’s program was because she was unaware of any female brewers in central Pennsylvania. “I thought there should be, and I could do that!” she said.

On a recent Friday morning, Ulmer was working in Berwick Brewery’s basement, cleaning and sterilizing kegs alongside part-time employee Ryan Bosch, a current Penn College brewing and fermentation science student from Boyertown. Nearby, Brienne Allen was crafting a post for the 62,000 followers on her Instagram account.

Allen’s social media page served as a catalyst for a #MeToo movement that reverberated throughout the U.S. brewing industry earlier this year, resulting in internal investigations, resignations, apologies, and the establishment of new employment policies, codes of conduct and diversity training at several breweries and organizations.

Ulmer takes a sample from the fermenter as Allen stands by.The reckoning received media coverage from such outlets as The Boston Globe, NPR and Bon Appétit, as well as brewing trade sites and publications. Allen continues to be invited to speak on the topic at various brewing events.

As part of her efforts to bring attention to the issue, Allen founded Brave Noise Beer, a global brew collaborative advocating for a safe and discrimination-free beer and hospitality industry for women, BIPOC and LGBTQIA+. So far, about 500 breweries and homebrewers in various countries have signed up to brew Brave Noise, showing their solidarity with survivors of gender discrimination, racism, sexual assault and harassment within the brewing industry. Proceeds are donated to nonprofit organizations who support diversity, inclusivity, equity, safety and healthy relationships. The current rendition of Brave Noise Beer is a pale ale.

Allen had traveled to Berwick Brewing because the company is known for its unique array of historical brewing equipment, as well as owner Tom Clark’s savvy retrofitting and modifications to old and new brewing hardware.

“There are so many crazy backstories to the equipment he has here,” Allan said. “It’s like a brewing museum. It’s pretty inspirational.”

And, she points out, Clark “is an equal-opportunity employer.”

Ulmer says it feels good to be supported by individuals like Allen, Clark and Yarrington, as well as organizations in the industry.

“I have heard horror stories and read Brienne’s curated posts, but I have yet to feel anything but welcomed,” Ulmer said.

Ulmer and Allen have each engaged in various ways with the Pink Boots Society, an international organization supporting women working in the brewing profession. Allen, a society scholarship recipient, served as a leader for the society’s Boston-area chapter. Ulmer participated earlier this year at Rock God in the society’s annual Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day. Inspired by Ulmer, the Danville brewpub purchased the Pink Boots Hop Blend to brew a hazy session IPA called “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”

As part of their efforts to encourage and support women in the brewing industry, the Pink Boots Society has partnered with D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. to offer the Diversity in Brewing Scholarship. Students can apply through six brewing programs, including Penn College’s one-year certificate program.

A rare pause in the brewing action. Top row (from left): Yarrington, Ulmer and Berwick Brewing Co. owner Tom Clark. Bottom row (from left): Allen; Matt Hallowell, brewery production manager; and Bosch.At Berwick Brewing, Ulmer takes part in the full range of brewing tasks from grain to glass. The brewpub, located in a large historic brick building that was formerly a bakery, typically offers 20 of its own beers on tap, so the Penn College graduate will keep busy.

“Jenn is a great example of what women can do in our industry,” Yarrington said. “I have every confidence her strong work ethic, organizational skills, intelligence and passion for the science of beer will ensure she adds quality to the rich and storied Pennsylvania beerscape.”

Ulmer and Montana L. Bilbay, formerly of Jersey Shore, who is employed by Terrapin Beer, of Athens, Georgia, are the first two female graduates of Penn College’s brewing and fermentation science program. Two other women are currently enrolled in the major.

“In my mind, the most important things required to be an exceptional brewer are a strong work ethic, a full comprehension of brewing science and technology, intelligence and a passion for beer,” Yarrington added. “I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to teach both women and men who personify these traits.”