'We're here, we're queer, we brew beer': Brewing collective wants to shake up the suds business

·4 min read
Chelsea King (left) and Natalie Dignam work on a new batch of beer. (Andie Bulman/CBC - image credit)
Chelsea King (left) and Natalie Dignam work on a new batch of beer. (Andie Bulman/CBC - image credit)

Despite the Big Bang-like explosion of craft breweries and at-home artisanal beer clubs in Newfoundland and Labrador in recent years, not much has been written or said about queer brewers.

Queer Beer N.L. is here to change that.

Members of the group met in 2018 at an International Women's Day event about the science of brewing beer at Mill Street Brewery in St. John's.

"Most of the information went over my head, but we sat next to each other and randomly decided to start brewing together," said Terra Barrett, one of the group's founding members.

While the members of Queer Beer N.L. have rotated, the collective currently consists of Barrett, Stacey Pike, Natalie Dignam and Chelsea King — and their beer skills have improved considerably since they began brewing four years ago.

Andie Bulman/CBC
Andie Bulman/CBC

"In the beginning, we did a kit, which took us the entire day. It's almost embarrassing because we've come so far from that," Barrett said.

"Then we did Brew in a Bag. Next, we attempted all-grain recipes. Now we develop our recipes with our own flavours. Our knowledge has grown so much."

Queer Beer N.L. typically — barring the challenges of the pandemic — gathers every six weeks for "brewing day," when they create beer, eat sandwiches and sample beverages from local breweries. They'll reunite a month later for the bottling day when they'll divide the spoils.

"Brewing day is the greatest," Pike said.

"Pre-pandemic, we also had Beer and Book night, where we talked about different styles of beers and had a book discussion. The books didn't have to be queer literature, but we made sure the authors weren't just straight and white — we wanted to read other voices. We'd like to do that again as the group grows."

While Queer Beer N.L. has many brewing memories, collaborating with Port Rexton Brewing remains a highlight. They've brewed four beers with the popular brewery.

"Working with Port Rexton has been an amazing life experience," Pike said.

"They showed us how to use their equipment, walked us through our first beer, brewed alongside us, and invited Queer Beer N.L. back out to drink our beer during the first-ever Port Rexton Pride."

Beer, fun and inclusion

The main goal of Queer Beer N.L. is to get together, brew beer and have fun, but the group also wants to ensure that queer-identifying folks see themselves in the brewing industry.

"There is this association between straightness, traditional masculinity and beer, so I feel good that we're getting in there to mix things up," Pike said.

Queer Beer N.L.
Queer Beer N.L.

Marketing, Barrett said, plays a significant role.

"Certain beer companies use marketing to exclude potential customers. When you're learning a new skill, it's important to see yourself in an industry. It's intimidating when companies release sexist beers or indulge in old-school marketing campaigns. The home brewing industry can be like that too," she said.

"We were intensely intimidated when we bought our first kit, so we're here to help other queer people get into brewing. We'd like to be a resource."

Queer Beer N.L. has big dreams. They keep an ongoing list of beers they want to create, trips they want to take and potential names they'd like to see on cans.

"We love naming beers. We've got a Lipstick Lesbian Lager planned, Pillow Princess Porter, I's the B'y (sexual) PA. Those names aren't under copyright, but we will be bummed if anyone takes them," Barrett said.

The group's immediate plans involve making a smoked porter, but their long-term dream includes opening a brewery.

"We came very close to buying a church and turning it into a Queer Beer N.L. brewery. We want to own a brewery one day, but we envision it having a social enterprise element," said Barrett.

Andie Bulman/CBC
Andie Bulman/CBC

Pike said the group also plans to invite new potential members to join, and are having an "open brew day" on May 29. So who would make a good member?

"Anyone who supports the mission! If Queer Beer N.L. were a song, we'd be Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush. I'm trying to say that we're really weird, really gay and really ourselves," says Pike.

"Our slogan is 'We're Here, We're Queer, and We Brew Beer,' but our second slogan and our most used hashtag is 'Beer is for Everyone.'"

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