Women in Beer | Pam Catoe of Craft Beer Austin & PorchDrinking
When we think about women in beer, it’s important to remember that beer is an industry like any other, made up a wide range of roles and responsibilities. Increasing representation of women in beer and creating an equal working environment means encouraging and supporting women in all areas of the industry, including fields that aren’t specific to beer itself, because the very nature of genuine diversity involves ensuring it exists across the board. One area women are making huge strides, both in numbers and in prominence, is the arena of beer writing. Once just as male-dominated as the brewhouse, the field of beer journalism has opened up significantly in recent years, with women putting themselves forward, and supporting and enabling their peers through a network of mentorship, collaboration and education. One of the women leading this particular charge has been PorchDrinking’s own Southwest editor, Pam Catoe.
Pam and I meet for a chat over a beer at one of the city’s best-loved taprooms — Austin Beerworks, where Pam is a regular and greets staff and owners like old friends — because they are. Pam has been writing about beer since 2015, when she joined the team at Craft Beer Austin, then lead by Richard and Irina Plakas. Her passion for beer began with visits to Austin’s earliest taprooms, including Celis, Live Oak and Independence, and she was part of the growing beer scene in the city, which intensified following the 2013 change in Texas law, allowing breweries to sell beer for on-site consumption. “Prior to 2013, breweries weren’t allowed to sell beer on their premises so they had a whole complex system where you bought tokens, then exchanged them for beer, and you were just drinking in the warehouses at the back of the taprooms,” she said. “The scene was so small back then that the old Texas Brewer’s Guild Festival took place downtown on 4th Street!” Being part of this small, tight-knit beer-community meant that when the scene exploded, Pam was the first to document many of the major changes. “I used to go to Independence regularly, especially to their First Saturday events, and got to know the staff and owners, as well as other people in the Austin beer scene who were there”, she tells me. From the outset, Pam was all about supporting and promoting the women in the Austin beer scene. “When Richard and Irina asked me to start writing for the blog, they were completely on board when I suggested a series of features about local women in beer” she recollects, “My first profile was on Independence Brewing’s Amy Cartwright, followed by features on the Texas Craft Brewer’s Guild’s Caroline Wallace and Adelberts’ Sarah Haney.”
As Richard and Irina stepped back from Craft Beer Austin, Pam and her husband David took over the blog, and became its official owners in January 2020. As the primary source for beer and brewery news, events and features in the city, running Craft Beer Austin involves a lot of work, yet Pam manages the site on top of a full-time role for High-Tech Semiconductors as their diversity and inclusion programme manager. “I’ve always had more than one project on the go, so I’m used to managing my time around multiple responsibilities,” Pam told me. “When my daughter was young, I was really involved with lots of organisations for girls on top of my full-time job, but as she got older I was able to enjoy and explore my interest in beer and it took over as my outside-work project.” Championing equality across two different industries is incredibly ambitious, especially as Pam’s commitment to supporting women in beer extends beyond Craft Beer Austin. As an active member of Austin’s Pink Boots Society, Pam organises collaboration brew days with local breweries to raise the profile of the organisation. “When I first got involved with Pink Boots, their Austin chapter was really young. Caroline Wallace was chapter leader at that time, followed by Laura Christie. The chapter has grown so much in that time, and now has approximately 45 members, headed up by Sheila and Rebecca Garcia” she said. Pam is a strong advocate for the work that Pink Boots accomplishes, and recognises the importance of having an organisation specifically dedicated to advancing women within the beer industry. “Pink Boots really helps women in beer to feel more empowered. They offer access to education, assistance and support, which is vital in securing equality in the workplace.” With approximately 21 events planned for 2021, Pam hopes to make up for last year’s obvious disappointment with some really exciting and high-profile releases. “Our next brew day is a really special event at Hold Out Brewing, where we’re brewing four different beers with the styles chosen by four women in the company.”
As if Pam didn’t have enough commitments, she’s also dedicated to raising the profile of Texas beer on a national scale through her work at PorchDrinking. Pam began writing for PorchDrinking in 2016, and has been South West Regional Editor since 2019, with a firm goal of supporting and promoting our beer outside the state. “I really feel that Texas beers do not get out of Texas enough — there is very little awareness about what’s going on here outside the state, particularly due to our restrictive distribution laws and limited brewing capacity of most of our breweries,” she said. “I felt that PorchDrinking would be a great platform to remedy this and get Texas beers out there, as I really wanted to show other beer lovers what Texas has to offer.” As the beer industry across the state continues to grow apace, Pam has established herself as a key spokesperson for Texas beer, and has been featured in the Austin Statesman and Liquid Lunch. Throughout the pandemic, Pam used her platforms at both Craft Beer Austin and PorchDrinking to help the Texas Craft Brewer’s Guild in advocating for relief for our breweries and in galvanizing consumers to support their local breweries by buying beer-to-go. “We were so lucky that the beer-to-go law had already passed the previous September or we would have lost so many more breweries,” she said. “I have a great relationship with Caroline Wallace and so much respect for the important work that she does for our breweries, and I believe it’s really important to support the Texas Craft Brewer’s Guild’s campaigns.”
As a diversity professional, Pam believes that there is still a lot of work to be done in the beer industry to achieve true equality and inclusion, and this work, she believes begins with breweries taking responsibility for their employees’ welfare. “It is essential that the beer industry accepts the hard stuff — that equality in the workplace includes pay equity, and providing a safe place to work for all their employees, as stated by the law,” she explained. “Breweries are businesses and need to follow the practices and procedures expected of all business owners, even if the working atmosphere is more relaxed and friendly than an office, they still have a responsibility to protect their workers equally and pay them equally — nobody wants to be the next Founders or Boulevard.” Pam pinpoints the need for a shift in working culture in the beer industry towards a more professionalized and formalized structure as essential for diversity in the industry to become a reality instead of a buzzword. “Employees need to be correctly supported with adequate policies to combat discrimination and a safe space for open dialogue to voice any concerns safely,” she told me. “As with all other businesses, protecting employees has to be the bottom line. Breweries must understand their responsibilities as businesses, including equal pay for equal work.”
Having an outside perspective and business knowledge to effectively implement diversity practices in the workplace means that Pam brings a much-needed skill set to the conversations the industry is currently having around how to be more genuinely inclusive, and as a beer writer with prominent local and national platforms, her contribution to this debate is essential. “We need to make our constant experience of facing hurdles and obstacles real to those creating them, even though it can be tiring and repetitive,” she said. Wise words, truly spoken.