THIS weekend (August 9 and 10) sees the return of The Fem-Ale Festival at the Franciscan Well Brewpub. After its inaugural success in 2018, organiser and Franciscan Well Marketing Manager Kate Clancy, has reimagined the festival for 2019 and now includes a spotlight on female distillers.
Last year was the Year of the Woman, and also the Franciscan Well’s 20th birthday. It was, says Kate Clancy, the perfect opportunity to do something different. The previous three years, she had been at the helm of many a Beer Festival at the “FranWell” and was, frankly, frustrated at how it always seemed to be about the men.
An avid craft beer fan herself, she was adamant she wasn’t the only woman interested in the industry, but where were they and why weren’t they coming along to beer festivals?
“I’m in the scene surrounded by men all the time so I’m totally used to it, and I have an excuse to go to beer festivals and events — people see me and say, ‘Oh there’s Kate from the Fran Well’.
“Whereas if you were a female punter wanting to go to these events, you’d probably be really conscious of being the only woman in the room. It can be pretty intimidating for women who aren’t in the craft beer scene.
“I remember thinking this could be a really difficult thing to pull off because I hadn’t ever really looked into other females in the brewing industry. But I started with the people I knew first: Maud Black of Black’s of Kinsale and I knew Judy Wilkins in The Rising Sons Brewery; they told me about other females working in the industry. The more people I got onto, the more it snowballed and all of a sudden there was this cool network of people coming together.”
Of course, when it comes to craft beer, the product has to be spot on — no matter who is brewing it.
The feedback was decisive: punters loved the beers on tap. All were brewed by women, and the contrasts of differing flavours and styles was evident. The overwhelming feedback was just how good the standard and flavours of these beer were, says Kate.
The sheer number of women in the industry was something that took everyone by surprise too.
“The beers were incredible, and the talks were really interesting too. Christina Wade, who set up Craft Beer Society of Ireland, a ladies craft beer society based in Dublin, has written a lot about women brewers in history. Her talk highlighted that brewing all started with females — women brewed the beer and distilled the wine!”
The talks didn’t just focus on the brewers, instead casting their net over the entire brewing industry.
“It can be daunting: if someone wants to work in the craft brewing industry, immediately people think that you have to be a brewer. But that might not be where their interest is. There are so many different avenues that you can get involved in. Even for me, I’m in marketing but equally you could be in sales, or design. A lot of the designs on craft beer cans you see in off-licences now are designed by women.
“There are so many different avenue to get involved that you wouldn’t think of usually. I wanted to throw a light over the whole industry and how women could get involved — not just brewing.”
Despite the festival’s strong female focus, Kate is at pains to extend a big Fran Well welcome to everyone to come along to the festival — not just women.
“The Fem-Ale Festival isn’t a female only event. This festival is open to everyone, but we are shedding a light on the success of the women in the beer industry. A couple of our male supporters showed up with wigs on and had a ball! I didn’t want it to be too serious, but a light-hearted take on something that deserves recognition.”
This year’s Fem-Ale Festival takes place on Friday and Saturday, August 9 and 10. Building on the success of last year, Kate has decided to extend the prevue of the festival to cover distilling as well as brewing.
“This year there will be few less beers, but we are introducing distillers into the programme. We opened a new cocktail bar above the main bar, called MONK, so I really wanted to find a way to incorporate it into the festival. The big plus for me is that there are so many incredible women involved in distilling in Ireland — it’s brilliant!
“I have four distilleries, all lead by female distillers, showcasing their products through a series of talks and tastings on Friday and Saturday evenings. Plus we will also have a Pop-Up Cocktail Bar in our award-winning Beer Garden.
“Our Head Mixologist, Stephen Demster, is teaming up with the newest member of our mixology team, Aisling Barrett, to create a special cocktail menu for the pop- up cocktail bar using the spirits from the female distillers we’ll be showcasing.”
Tipperary Distillery, Kinsale Mead Co, JJ Corry Whiskey and Jameson are lined up for what will no doubt be a great addition to the conversation at Fem-Ale Festival this year.
Fem-Ale to Female
After last year’s festival, Kate realised she should have created a special edition brew herself.
“I spoke to Pete Lyall, our Master Brewer, and he said that he’d take some time out and do a brew with me. My own preference in beers would be Saison’s and Sours — something that’s tarty. I figured if I was going to brew a beer it would be something that I would like! So we’ve made a very small batch “homebrew” beer; a Raspberry Saison made with fresh raspberries, really fresh, summery and tart! It’s completely different to anything else that we have brewed before, and only a small batch — about 30 litres, so there’s a fair chance if people like it and it’s busy on the Friday it could be gone. You’ll just have to get in early for a chance to taste it!”
The double-whammy idea behind brewing this beer for Kate was to be able to incorporate a charitable element to the festival.
“I was keen to do something with Mary Crilly to support the work of Cork Sexual Violence Centre. They are based just a short distance from the Franciscan Well on Pope’s Quay, so to me they seemed like the perfect charity partner for this festival.
“Mary was absolutely delighted at the idea. All the services offered through the centre are dependent on fundraising. For the past two months we have had their collection boxes up on the counter, and it’s been incredible the amount of donations coming in through those alone. Our staff have really gotten behind it too, putting any tips they receive into the collection boxes.”
Since Kate’s idea of brewing a small batch beer to raise funds for Cork Sexual Violence Centre, some of the other brewers have also expressed an interest in brewing a small batch beer donating the proceeds of sale, tapped alongside their established brews.
“There is a chance this thing could snowball, but it would be very cool if it did,” says Kate!
Beer & A Chat
The structure of this year’s programme has also had a revamp! Individual talks have been replaced with a panel discussion packed with brilliant and successful female brewers and distillers. There is an emphasis this year on mingling, chatting and making connections, as well as those all-important tastings!
“The festival starts on Friday evening with a whiskey tasting and talk, and pouring from all our guest taps. Our main programme kicks off then on Saturday from 1pm with two free brewery tours at 2pm and 4pm, and two distiller’s talks, tastings and cocktail demonstrations,” says Kate.
“Our panel discussion takes place at 3pm on Saturday with Christina Wade (Craft Beer Society of Ireland), Claire Dalton (Dungarvan Brewing Co), Kate Dempsey (Kinsale Mead Co), Kate Clancy (Franciscan Well) and Caoimhe O’Brien (the first female beer expert in Diageo).
“Our MC for the panel is Francesca Slattery, who was recently appointed to Carrig Brewing Company and has a wealth of experience in the industry in the UK and Ireland. I really want the programme to be impactful and to inspire women to get interested in the industry. All our beers and spirits are 100% Irish too, I feel it’s important to show the variety and diversity of what we have within Ireland.”
Carrying through with the all-female ethos of the festival, there will be music from Cork female bands, DJ’s and artists too.
“Koa, a three-piece female band, will be performing on Friday at 9pm, and on Saturday we have teamed up with The Angry Mom Collective who will be taking creative control of the music all day and night!”
The Angry Mom Collective’s aim is to create awareness and put an end to gender divide in music and arts in Cork.
“Expect anything from DJs during the day to live music bands in the evening. Anything goes!”