Paving the way: Rachel Auty
Siobhan Hewison talks to the Women on Tap founder
Photo © Mark Newton
Saturday 28 November 2020
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“I see beer as so much more than just a drink, and pubs as such a hub of a community,” says Rachel Auty, marketing consultant and founder of Women on Tap. Women on Tap is a social enterprise focused on celebrating women in and around the beer industry, based in the lovely little town of Harrogate, in Yorkshire. Founded by Rachel in 2017, the past three years has seen Women on Tap organise more than 70 events, including four festivals, attracting people from all kinds of industries and with all kinds of interests.
We talk about her most recent endeavour, the Beer Glass Project, which she explains is a campaign to challenge and reframe the way we perceive beer as a society. She says: “Sometimes people, especially women, don’t want a full pint of beer. We believe that beer is for any glass and it can come in any measure; we want you to feel empowered to enjoy it the way that you like, in your favourite glass, and not feel any pressure to order pints or even halves.”
The Beer Glass Project, which ran throughout October, consisted of a series of specially-commissioned photographs, key facts, articles, and crowdsourced content, all released on social media. Rachel was inspired (or, perhaps more accurately, disappointed) by the recent research from women and beer interest group Dea Latis, which found the UK has one of the lowest percentages of women beer drinkers in the world. Making up just 17% of beer drinkers, women in the UK reportedly feel uninterested, disenfranchised and put off by beer. So, Rachel wanted to, as she says, “flip the concepts of beer on their head, challenging people’s thoughts about what beer is and who it’s for, how we talk about it, and the way we act and refer to it. The hope was that it might reach beyond the ‘beer bubble’. We drink beer and know how great it is, but the people who are put off, how can we get them to take note, and be interested in maybe giving it another shot?”
The feedback for the project has been really positive (as has the surprising lack of pushback from beer glassware purists), with people really appreciating the photos by local photographer Claire McClean – shot in Rachel’s kitchen, with hops that were grown in her garden – and the drip-fed nuggets of the history of beer glasses from historian Isobel Cameron.
As we chat, Rachel tells me about the idea for Women on Tap, which started as a one-off festival, and came from discussions with her friends about women who drink beer. She has always drunk beer and, as well as enjoying the taste and the drink itself, she says: “it made me feel like I was making a bold statement about who I was, and I always felt really comfortable drinking beer.”
They discussed years of brushing off such comments as “ooh you drink pints, well done, top bird!” and the fact that over the last several years beer has been through a massive evolution. She says: “I wondered, ‘who is out there drinking beer, and how many women are actually out there making it?’ I didn’t know at the time, but I thought, how can we connect the dots a little and showcase this a bit more?”
Rachel, alongside the Little Ale House micropub in Harrogate, curated a tap list primarily from women-led breweries across Yorkshire, to be showcased across one weekend, alongside a programme of tasting events. The weekend, as it turns out, was a huge success. “People started engaging with the idea, and Women on Tap kind of started to take on a life of its own after that.”
The main festival runs each May, and lockdown didn’t stop Rachel from bringing her enthusiasm and passion about beer to the masses: “We had to completely change our thinking – suddenly there were no bars, and people couldn’t leave their house, but I was so reluctant to cancel everything. I took some time to get my head down, to see if I could organise some online events with the people who would have been involved anyway,” she says.
She succeeded, putting on a programme of beer tastings, panel events, gigs, and light-hearted events. It came at the right time, too; when everyone was feeling fed up and isolated, Women on Tap brought everyone back together. Rachel says: “it felt like something really significant, and it was more emotional than we were expecting.” Additionally, all the events, which are usually ticketed, were free of charge, with the option to make a donation to domestic violence charity Refuge, for which is raised more than £1,200.
It is always heartwarming and admirable to see Rachel put so much effort into celebrating the intersecting worlds of beer, feminism, arts and culture. Especially this year, when our sense of community felt threatened, she gave us something to look forward to.. That’s what Rachel does - build community.
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