Franciscan Well Fem-Ale Festival: “The First Measure for More Involvement”

With craft beer now firmly at the heart of pubs and venues around the country, women are staking their claim in a rapidly-changing business. Enter the Franciscan Well’s Kate Clancy, who’s spearheading the first all-women craft beer festival on August 10th and 11th. She tells Mike McGrath-Bryan about the idea and how it happened.

The rise of craft beer over the past five years or more has been inexorable: local and regional breweries have become part of the national retail landscape, while home-brewed options have made appearances on taps around the county alongside the brewery giants. Since its takeover by Molson Coors, the Cork-based Franciscan Well has been at the vanguard of this insurgency, leveraging the increased distribution at its disposal with a unique offering of specialty beers and ales, countering the craft-branded alternate offerings marketed to casual drinkers by its parent company’s rivals. It’s against this background of innovation and growth that the latest initiative undertaken by the brewery’s pub emerges: Fem-Ale festival, happening on August 10th and 11th at the quayside superpub.

Talks, musical performances, panels and even Saturday morning pilates sessions make the event’s first annual excursion, which aims to open up the conversation around gender equality in craft brewing, according to the venue’s marketing head, Kate Clancy. “I’ve been working in the Franciscan Well now for three years as their marketing manager. Over the past three years, I have been attending and running beer festivals in Cork. Most events I attend, I normally would end up being the only female attending. This was very noticeable at our last festival, the Spring Beer Festival, which is Ireland’s longest running beer festival. I felt that there has to be women in Cork that are interested in Craft beer but may not feel comfortable in attending these events. I wanted to share with people just how welcoming the beer industry is to everyone, and showcase the women that have been part of the success of the industry in Ireland. Also a female-led beer festival hasn’t yet been held in Ireland, and considering we are celebrating our twentieth year brewing, and that it is The Year of the Woman, I thought, ‘why not do something different?’.”

She might just have a point – craft alcohol has something of a boys’ club around it, but the task of finding other brewpubs and home breweries led by women wasn’t the challenge Clancy quite had in mind, either. “It’s been amazing. It’s snowballed! Once I got in touch with one woman, they were very quick to mention another woman working in some aspect or other of the beer industry, and everyone has helped me to put the list of attendees together (specifically) to ensure no-one was left out! It’s been a pleasure of a festival to organise.”

In terms of the layout of the event, how does it break down between tastings and panels/discussions, and regarding the latter, how were themes agreed upon and reached? “Like all our beer festivals, we will have a bar with over twenty taps set up in the beerhall. Of course all beers that will be pouring will be beers that have been brewed by women. At this stage, I have over thirteen Irish brewers, which is a lot more than what I thought I’d get! As the festival is focused on showcasing women in the industry, the talks will play a major role over the weekend. They’ll start on Friday evening with Melissa Cole, followed by a panel discussion with brewers like Kinnegar Brewing’s Rachel & Libby, and West Kerry’s Adrienne. The talks will resume on Saturday at 2pm, and will be a combination of panel discussions of brewers, journalists, graphic designers, marketers, Christina Wade, the founder of the Ladies’ Craft Beer Society of Ireland, and Edana Hinchy, director of the Craft Brew Labs. There is no specific theme for the speeches, as all the women are coming from different backgrounds. The idea is for them to share their experiences in the industry, and also shed some light on how to get involved.”

The guest of honour is journalist, sommelier and food expert Melissa Cole – a pioneering professional who has blazed a trail for women in specialist service industries. Her importance as a gala headliner, for lack of a better term, cannot be underestimated, especially as part of the festival’s first year. “First off, we couldn’t run a Female festival without asking Melissa, she has done amazing work and is an inspiration to any woman in the craft beer industry. Melissa has been fighting against sexism in the beer industry for twenty years now, and it is an honour to have her speak, and share her experiences at the festival. Everyone is looking forward to meeting her, especially me!” Part of the event’s remit is reaching out to women who would like to be involved with the craft beer industry. Outreach measures are being taken at the event, and followed up on after by the brewery, in addition to the given networking opportunities such an event possesses. “I would hope that the event itself is the first measure to get more women involved, especially in Cork, and again the talks might inspire! I am hoping to run a series of follow-up events after the festival, e.g. tasting nights and tap takeovers. Christina has set up the Ladies’ Craft Beer Society of Ireland, which is based in Dublin, so I’m hoping to set up a Cork based one after the event. I will also be collecting emails over the weekend (and getting in touch).”

That spirit makes its way down to the entertainment on offer across the weekend, as the stage is set for some of Cork’s busiest musicians to showcase themselves and their work. “On Friday night, we’ll have Christiana Underwood and friends taking to the stage, with soul & reggae music. Saturday from 3pm, we’ll have member of local band She Said, and Saturday at 8pm, all-woman vocal trio Koa, off their residency at the Bridge pub on Bridge Street. All females, and all Cork-based!” As the Fran Well looks set to continue a national expansion that has seen its cans land on supermarket shelves and at festivals & events all over the country, the pub where it all started on North Mall continues apace, and preparations are in place for a special anniversary later this year. “We can’t say much about it just yet, but our biggest event to date will be in November, as we’ll celebrate our twentieth birthday. Watch this space.”

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