10. Ash Eliot is Tirelessly Pushing for a Better Beer Industry
A conversation with the founder of Women of the Bevolution; plus it's time to discover new-to-you beers.
No Rest for the Dedicated: Founder of Women of the Bevolution Ash Eliot is Hard at Work for Change and Safety in Beer
Hey, lucky us, another Q&A!
This issue is meant to serve as a companion piece to the interview I did for this month’s issue of Decibel. I write the metal mag’s beer column for the print version, and most recently, I discussed the flood of stories of sexism and abuse in beer that Brienne Allan had begun sharing as well as the aftermath and work ahead—if this feels late, keep in mind that print works on a slower schedule and greater lead time. For the column, I talked to Ash Eliot.
Ash Eliot was and is always an extremely valuable resource, plugged into the very heart of these issues in beer. She is the founder of Women of the Bevolution, an initiative that provides a safe space, resources, connection, and more for women, those who identify as female, and nonbinary people in beer and beyond. Check out the website here for tons of information and resources, as well as Ash’s own powerful writing on different factors that fall under the umbrella of being a woman in beer, discrimination, and the need for safety, equity, inclusion, representation, diversity, and accountability.
Ash is an extremely dedicated person, and also incredibly generous with her time and knowledge—I consider myself lucky to know her even if only through our phone and computer screens. I mean it when I say she is tireless when it comes to reaching out a hand in this industry.
Another thing with print is that you’re bound to your limited word counts, and it pained me to have to cut down lots of Ash’s thoughtful answers. So here, we get to really settle into a conversation. We get to know Ash, who started out in the music world before coming over to the beer side, as well as her mission, all about Women of the Bevolution, and the details on the Brave Noise collaboration brew initiated by Brienne Allan that WOTB is partnering on.
I’d love to hear a little about your pre-beer journey—from your work in music to how you decided to make the move into beer.
Hospitality and entertainment have always been part of my career journey. During college I actually started planning concerts, writing about music, and I had a radio show, then I started working with food trucks helping to launch the first food truck festivals in Southern California—Orange County and Inland Empire.
Events, music, food, and beer were integrated at the start of my career, but I eventually decided to pursue music full-time in 2010 and moved to Los Angeles. At the time, I was still working to launch three food truck festivals while also doing PR for bands and managing artists. In the midst of all that, I had applied for a publicist position at a marketing agency called Cornerstone (owned by Fader Magazine). A year after that I started my way into the record label business working in digital marketing at Universal Music Group’s Interscope Records, developing digital campaigns and content partnerships for a wide range of artists including Lady Gaga, Ellie Goulding, Aloe Blacc, Imagine Dragons, Robin Thicke, Lana Del Rey, Kendrick Lamar, Rise Against, Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani, MIA, French Montana, Schoolboy Q, Nelly Furtado, All American Rejects, Madonna, MGK, Phillip Phillips, Zedd, Mathew Koma, X Ambassadors, and so many more.
I ended up working for Universal Music for five-ish years trying out the catalog side as well—including being Ringo Starr’s project manager which I honestly do miss—then I ended up going back to working on new releases when I took a position leading the digital department at BMG Recorded Music.
After all that time, as much as I loved music, something kept pulling me back to hospitality and specifically craft beer and working with small businesses similarly to when I worked with indie artists. I love the idea of building something from the start. And bars and breweries had always been a place for me to disconnect and process my thoughts after insane days while working in music. It was a place I associated with seeing friends whether planned or not...just like when I lived in Orange County and any given night if you went to Detroit Bar for a show, you’d see a friend or a musician. It felt like home. A lot of the time I’d go alone to bars and talk to the staff or random strangers. What made breweries and beer bars feel different was this, I guess, calming social atmosphere where you could still have a real conversation whether it’s with friends or colleagues or family. I felt an energy and connection, and I wanted to explore it.
I took the risk and left my job at the label for quite a few reasons but ultimately I knew this was meant to be and an opportunity for a new journey. I wanted to use what I had learned from my experience in music to help amplify these creators and entrepreneurs in the beverage industry, especially female professionals.
How and why did Women of the Bevolution come about?
About six months into my beer journey, I was still working on some music projects and some beer festivals but wasn’t working in beer full-time yet. I wanted to attend the bi-annual Pink Boots conference in Austin, Texas, [but 25%] of your salary had to come from a beer-related job [to become a Pink Boots member]. I decided to attend the conference despite not being able to join as a member. I knew it was an important investment so I took a chance and went.
At that exact time I had just started working with homebrewers who wanted to open up their own brewery so I brought their homebrew to the conference. And I was also hired as a freelancer to do PR and plan events for two breweries that were planning to open in Los Angeles. Right when I attended the conference, I guess technically I could have applied for membership by then, funny enough.
Meeting so many women there, it really motivated me to keep at it. And I wanted to do more. A few months later in the summer of 2019, I launched Women of the Bevolution. I knew how hard it can be to switch careers and try to break into a new industry, especially one that is heavily male dominated, so I wanted to create an outlet that was open to women and those who identify as female whether they work in the alcohol industry or not. My goal was to help them feel empowered, connect them with other female professionals or those who may not work in the industry but want to enjoy a beverage and learn more about it, and provide resources—job listings, grants to start their own businesses, and networking opportunities.
Over the past few months in light of all the stories that have been shared by Brienne Allan (@RatMagnet on Instagram) and @EmboldenActAdvance, I felt in my gut this was a moment in beer history for women in the industry and I wanted to do all that I could. Women of the Bevolution transformed into what I would hope it would one day become, a safe space and platform to advocate for women and those who identify as female in the beverage industry.
How did you feel reading those stories of discrimination and abuse pouring in, in terms of...was this surprising, even?
It is such a long time coming. Personally, I felt a flood of emotions. I was empowered from women sharing their stories and having the courage to do so. But reading them was also triggering and bringing up similar experiences. It has been mentally exhausting at times yet seeing these women speak up has only motivated me to keep on fighting for the greater good, a better beer world. I know that the more women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ speak up, the closer we are to change.
What do you see as the most urgent changes that need to be made, like, yesterday in beer?
The problem is most of these breweries are started by white men who are targeting other white men. It’s a boys club for sure. Breweries need to bring in diverse voices and have women in leadership roles. These businesses need to create zero-tolerance policies, safety procedures, and policies that can best support women, those who identify as female, BIPOC, non-binary individuals and LGBTQ+. They should also invest in third party HR services and ensure staff regularly do sexual harassment and diversity training. Invest in doing better business and creating inclusive environments.
What are your feelings right now in the wake of all of this—are you hopeful? Optimistic at all? Frustrated—I mean, do you think we’re seeing enough work from breweries and those who have the power to really change this culture?
Honestly, I’m disappointed that those who are in leadership roles aren’t speaking up and helping to drive the change that is much-needed in the industry. The entire beer industry, not just craft beer, should be addressing these issues and coming together to develop plans with goals in order to create real change. If anything, I’m optimistic that women will leave these toxic workplaces and launch their own business and/or collaborate with other women and male allies. When they do, I hope they reach out to me because I will amplify them and connect them with whatever resources they may need.
What are some especially vital resources that have become available to women, queer people and nonbinary people, and BIPOC?
The types of resources include sexual assault and harassment reporting, mental health support, and legal aide. A few that I have been in direct contact with and have offered their resources to Women of the Bevolution followers include the free misconduct reporting app for employees #NotMe, free legal consulting by Taylor Tieman and Empower Law, and a variety of resources and non-profits which you can also see that are part of the Brave Noise collab brew here.
Women of the Bevolution has been an important leader in terms of helping spur on some of these resources and share them so people know how and where to find them. Can you talk a bit about some of the work you’ve been doing?
Women of the Bevolution’s ultimate goal is to help women feel empowered. The platform is meant for asking the tough questions or saying the things we are all thinking but may not feel safe enough to say at the time. WOTB is also a connector. I just want it to serve as a way to support women and provide them with resources whether it’s the above I mentioned in the previous question or resources to help women launch their own business, apply for grants, find investors, and so on. Over the past year, I’ve been working on an incubator project for female creators in the beverage industry in hopes of eventually launching a VC firm or collaborating with one to bring this idea to life, called Bevolution Creators Network.
The Brave Noise collab is super exciting. Can you talk a bit about the formation of that initiative and how it’s going to work?
The Brave Noise collab and initiative was created by Brienne Allan who reached out to me at the time because she knew I was gathering all these resources and having a ton of conversations with women in the industry. I am grateful to be part of this collab and able to bring in resources and additional partners.
Brave Noise is a global effort to have breweries commit to the long-term work that is needed in the beer industry to create safe and inclusive environments. In order to participate in the collab, breweries will need to provide their code of conduct that reflects the Brave Noise mission, and we have provided a guide for those who need help with updating or creating a code of conduct. Next, breweries must pick a non-profit from a verified list of resources that focus on advocating for safe spaces or providing resources for industry staff whether it’s mental health support, diversity or sexual harassment training, sexual assault reporting or legal aide. Once a brewery submits all this, they will receive the recipe and assets, and will have a time frame to brew the beer in order to ensure we make the most noise as possible now to keep the conversation going. This collab is also open to homebrewers. They can submit via the form and receive the homebrew recipe as well.
How can consumers, who may feel like they have no power here not working in the industry, actually make an impact?
Consumers have so much power. When it comes down to it, consumers can hold businesses accountable. Call them out for not having a code of conduct. Consumers can also look at their local brewery and see how they’ve addressed the #MeToo moment happening in beer and the stories that have been shared by women in the industry. Did they address it? Did they take action if their brewery was mentioned in one of these stories? Does the brewery look and feel inclusive when you’re at the taproom or combing through their Instagram account? Who actually makes the beer? Ask if you don’t know. Are there safety measures in place if a customer is harassed or discriminated against? Say something if you don’t see any resources or a code of conduct publicly at a taproom or bar.
For those of you who feel beer is about community, then you know community looks out for each other and right now we need all of you, beer drinkers, to spread the word and help us create real action for an inclusive and safe industry.
This week I pulled the Six of Swords.
As a reminder, Swords are the suit of air and speak to intellect and decisions. This card, in particular, is about moving on. And it’s pretty simply that: you’re about to experience some kind of transition, no matter how big or small. This is most likely positive. You’re leaving a job that’s long been dissatisfying, or a relationship that’s been unfulfilling or even toxic. You’re giving up a habit or even a dumb hobby you actually hate (you don’t have to cross-stitch just because everyone else is). You’re literally moving, heading off to a new city, or maybe it’s just to finally travel for a bit after not being able to do so for so long.
You could be at any stage in this process, from actually packing a box today to just starting to think, “Hey, I don’t think this is making me happy anymore. What’s next?” The point is that you’re sailing off to new waters, and while the future’s uncertain, there’s plenty of reason for hope and promise that it will be positive and rewarding. Which, cool, right? Can’t complain about that. Change is often scary, but you can take comfort in knowing the work will pay off.
What a great time for a new beer journey then, huh? This card is just begging you to chart new territory and start exploring styles you’ve never gotten into before. Well, okay, no one making tarot cards probably ever had specific hopes about people trying different beers, but we’re going to interpret liberally here. If you’ve yet to really dig into grisettes, why not the Grisette from Sly Fox in PA? Or, try something really fresh like this Sabro dry-hopped kolsch, Pith, from Middle Brow in Chicago? Go nuts, take adventures, blame it on the Six of Swords. And tell me about what you’re trying in the comments!
This Week’s Boozy Reading Rec
Beth Demmon is without a doubt one of the most prolific, insightful, talented voices in beer today; you’ve surely read her important work covering diversity as well as the need for safety and equity in beer all over different beer and food + drink publications. In case you did not know, however, she has a fantastic newsletter called, delightfully, Prohibitchin.’ I love every issue, but this week, I’m recommending “Creating Space in South Dakota,” a compelling profile of Nicki Werner and Anthony Roark of Jefferson Beer Supply. We don’t always get to hear from beer folx doing cool things in very small towns or out-there places that aren’t, like, Austin or Portland, so don’t miss this one.
Until next week, here is Darby with me where we’re both really excited about my new t-shirt. It is part of a partnership between the NYC Brewers Guild and Beer Nights San Diego, and all proceeds go toward anti-harassment and DEI training for guild members. You can buy yours or other designs here.