In 2017, YCH’s Regional Sales Manager for the Pacific region, Kelly Lohrmeyer, stood in a hop field when she had an idea: to use hops—YCH and craft beer’s bread and butter—to help make an impact for women in the beer industry.
Traditionally an underserved sector of craft beer, women make up just twenty-three percent of all brewery owners, according to a demographic audit performed by the Brewers Association in 2021. And only two percent of breweries are fully women-owned.
For the past seven years, the Pink Boots Society, a nonprofit that strives to advance the careers of women and non-binary individuals in the alcoholic beverage industry through education, and Yakima Chief Hops (YCH) have used hops to raise funds for the cause through its Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day.
We chatted with integral members of the Pink Boots Society and YCH teams to learn about the history of the Pink Boots Brew Day, this year’s hop blend, and how it has impacted the industry.
(Above photography courtesy of Yakima Chief Hops)
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What Is the Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day?
The Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day typically takes place every year around March 8, International Women’s Day.
According to the Pink Boots Society website, the brew day is an “international celebration of women and non-binary individuals in the fermented/alcoholic beverage industry—a movement to recognize the impact they have on our industry.”
The Pink Boots-YCH partnership dates back to 2016 when Lohrmeyer and then-Pink Boots President Laura Ulrich developed a concept of creating a blend of hops specific to the Pink Boots Society.
“YCH has developed different blends throughout the years to support different non-profit organizations, like Ales for ALS and the Veteran’s Blend,” current Pink Boots President Blanca Quintero says. “Kelly developed the idea of the blend and got YCH to partner with [Pink Boots Society] for it.”
YCH Technical Marketing Manager Tessa Schilaty says the partnership’s primary goal was to craft a unique hop blend that would be exceptional in quality while helping contribute to supporting women in the industry.
“This initial collaboration involved only a select group of Pink Boots Society members,” says Schilaty, who previously spent four years on YCH’s research and development team. “[It] marked the beginning of what would become the annual Pink Boots Blend.”
The day is marked on the calendar each year, but YCH Copywriting Manager Cat Wiest explains its flexibility.
“The Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day on March 8 can be either the brew day itself or the beer release day, but any day of the year is a fine day to use the blend and brew support for the organization,” says Wiest, who previously served on the Pink Boots Board of Directors.
How Is the Pink Boots Blend Created?
“The blend is created by and for the members to be enjoyed by the industry at large,” Wiest says.
The process, however, is involved.
“This process includes sensory evaluation using mailed kits to chapters worldwide and culminates in an in-person voting event at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado,” Schilaty says. “This cooperative approach ensures a unique and harmonious melody of hops each year.”
The COVID-19 pandemic created hurdles in the process, which had previously exclusively taken place in person at the GABF each year.
Traditionally, YCH chooses ten to sixteen varieties to bring to GABF, and Pink Boots Society holds a sensory panel talking about the hallmarks of a good blend.
“The members [would] evaluate the varieties and submit their own blends, and those blends are evaluated and voted upon,” Wiest says. “Basically, we show up to Denver and make a big mess and choose the blend.”
During the pandemic, which forced GABF to go remote, YCH sent out the varieties for the vote. In recent years, the blend selection has shifted to a hybrid model where YCH sends out sixteen samples to Pink Boots chapters whose members rate the hops from one to sixteen. YCH compiles the votes and sends the top ten overall selections to GABF for blend selection—anywhere from three to five hops each year.
“The hybrid model allows chapters that can’t be involved in person to be part of the process if they couldn’t make it to Denver [for GABF],” Wiest says.
Adds Quintero: “It is a very fun, educational gathering that has continued to grow.”
What Is the Pink Boots Blend of Hops This Year?
The blend selected by the members at this year’s GABF for the Seventh Annual Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day includes Ahtanum, El Dorado, HBC 638, and Idaho 7.
YCH says in a news release announcing the blend that the combo has twelve to twelve-and-a-half percent alpha acids. Flavor notes from the blend should have berry and citrus punctuated with peppery earthiness and floral notes.
“It’s a dynamic blend. There are great citrus notes and big berry, but also an herbal note in the background coming from Ahtanum,” Wiest says. “We always come up with good blends, but this one is quite exceptional.”
Louisville, Kentucky-based Apocalypse Brew Works Head Brewer and Partner Leah Dienes made the winning blend.
“When building a blend, there is much consideration given to how the hops are represented and not having one overbear the others,” Quintero says. “Dienes was looking for something berry and citrus forward with a touch of cedar. She’s mentioned using the hop blend in years past to make hop water.”
Schilaty says she gets a lot of berry and stone fruit from the blend, as well as an herbaceous backbone that grounds it.
“This year’s blend is honestly stellar,” Schilaty says. “Previous blends have tended to be more IPA-focused, but I think this year’s blend will have a lot more versatility.”
How Has the Pink Boots Blend Evolved Over the Years?
As hops continue to evolve, so does the blend, Quintero notes. Many of the selections come from people’s tendency to incorporate certain flavors.
“I think you have seen the hot ticket hops always included,” Quintero says. “However, as members become more educated on hop selection and blend development, you can see the blend itself becoming more balanced and usable in a variety of styles.”
The 2022 blend included Loral, Ekuanot, and HBC 586 hops; HBC 630, Idaho Gem, Loral, Talus, and Triumph was the 2021 blend; Ahtanum, Cashmere, Citra, Loral, and Sabro comprised the 2020 blend; Azacca, El Dorado, Idaho Gem, and Loral was the 2019 blend; Glacier, Loral, Mosaic, Sabro, and Simcoe made up the second annual blend in 2018; and Palisade, Simcoe, Mosaic, Citra, and Loral was the initial blend.
“The blend has really evolved both in its hop composition and impact,” Schilaty says. “There has been a continuous effort to create unique and high-quality combinations that people will really want to brew with each year.”
She adds, “We do try to keep some metrics, like overall alpha and oil percentages, fairly consistent from year to year.”
Wiest notes that the blend depends on voting yearly, but she notices a trend.
“It does typically [lean] toward the citrus and juicy side, and I think it’s because so many of us make our bread and butter with IPAs,” Wiest says. “When it comes to the educational element of sensory, we try to emphasize not putting all the big, bold flavors together—make sure there are layers and nuance approachable for many breweries.”
Wiest adds, “We want to make sure it’s a widely adopted hop blend.”
What Are the Parameters of the Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day?
This is where a brewer’s creativity comes into play. The beer is entirely up to the creator.
“There is no guidance on how to use the hop blend so that folks have the creativity to brew whatever type of beer they want,” Quintero says. “I’ve seen the hop blend used in sour ales, saisons, IPAs, hazy IPAs, and even red ales.”
Schilaty loves seeing the variety of brews made with the blend each year.
“What’s really fun about the Pink Boots Blend is seeing how different brewers use the same hops to create such a wide array of beer styles,” Schilaty says. “We’ve also seen it used in ciders, hop waters, and hard seltzers! Every brewer adds their own twist.”
What Has Been the Impact of Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day?
Three dollars of every pound of the YCH hop blend purchased goes to the Pink Boots Society. While pre-orders of the blend ran through December 15, 2023, breweries can still spot-purchase the hops to participate. Additionally, brewers can make additional donations to have a more significant impact. Country Malt Group also serves as a partner in the annual event by selling the blend through its portal as well as providing a separate donation.
But there is more than just funds that provide an impact.
“There is a camaraderie and awareness that comes with the collaboration,” Quintero says. “It gives breweries and other fermentables an opportunity to host educational events with their local chapter, encourage their employees to participate, and gain access to scholarship opportunities.”
Quintero adds, “As the collaboration brew day continues to grow, we see a lot more opportunities arise with folks wanting to help Pink Boots Society after learning about them via a collaboration or from YCH or Country Malt, our partners in the hop sales.”
Schilaty says the collaboration “fosters a sense of community, supports educational scholarships and professional development opportunities.”
“It raises awareness about gender diversity in the industry,” Schilaty says. “I really believe that education is one of the greatest tools at our disposal for lifting women within the industry, and it’s incredible to see so many committed members working so hard to help other women around the world.”
How Many Breweries Are Participating?
Quintero says this year, the collaboration has received registrations from 605 breweries and cideries.
“Overall, since we started, we have had 2,262 total registrations,” Quintero says. “Every year, it gets higher.”
Wiest adds that participation is worldwide and spanned across seventeen countries last year. Here’s an interactive map showing which breweries are participating and where.
You can still register here.
What Is the Future of Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day?
Quintero says she hopes to keep building on the educational aspect of the collaboration brew day.
“We are forever grateful that we got this opportunity with YCH and Country Malt Group to have a larger fundraiser than we are usually capable of hosting for a small organization,” Quintero says. “We have nearly 3,000 members now and seeing the growth in Collaboration Brew Day makes us hopeful that we are able to continue to build resources and educational opportunities for all our members.”
Schilaty says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but adds that the event continues to see more interest each year, and that’s a significant change.
“I imagine we will just keep trying to make it bigger, better, more fun, and more impactful,” Schilaty says. “We learn something new every year we make this blend.”
Whichever way it changes, Wiest says it needs to be based on the needs of the Pink Boots Society.
“Any evolution should be a decision made in conjunction with Pink Boots Society, so they know we are here to support their mission,” Wiest says.