The Hop Bombshells are (clockwise from left): Emily Park, Holly Russell, Brittany Nelson, Rose Flato, Becky Nix, Jamie Burnham and Tiffany Steele. Photo: John Barkiple
The story of the Hop Bombshells begins with a talented woman looking for her kind. Jamie Burnham is the manager of Salt Lake homebrewing institution The Beer Nut, and a little over a year ago, she got the spark of an idea from her assistant, Dave Watson, that maybe the lady patrons of her store would enjoy being part of a club where the craft and creativity of beer making could thrive. She put the idea out to her female customers who came to pick up supplies, and received an overwhelmingly positive response. After collecting names and emails, and admittedly “dragging [her] feet for a few months,” she put together the Hop Bombshells, a club exclusively for the fairer sex of homebrewers.
The ladies come from a range of backgrounds when it comes to homebrewing. Several of them moved to Utah from out of state, where the local beer percentage is not as restricted, and so began homebrewing out of a kind of necessity. Others began the craft as a fun project with their husbands, and had their interest levels explode when they found the Hop Bombshells. And still, others were regulars of The Beer Nut, buying supplies for other people, until they decided it was time to take on brewing themselves. However they began, brewing has now become a staple in their lives. “The creativity piece is huge, and I love the food science behind it,” says Holly Russell, who got her start when a coworker’s talk of his own brewing got her intensely curious. Becky Nix, who began to brew after moving to Utah from Colorado, took it on to challenge the expensive beer prices. “I figured this can’t be that hard to do. So I started making beer, and now it’s this mad obsession,” she says.
The club boasts about eight core members, but monthly meetings are open to women of any skill level, and so it is bigger than it looks at a glance. Every second Wednesday, the ladies gather, bring samples of their latest beer batches and more or less enact a tasting competition environment. They try each other’s brews and present a constructive critique on how to improve recipes or techniques—they trouble-shoot and problem solve, which, all the ladies agree, is a massive help to the craft, meaning they can learn from each other’s mistakes without having to actually repeat them. This process has already seen impressive results, with two members’ recipes receiving silver medals at last year’s Queen of Beer competition held in California. “It’s so nice to learn from one another. You’ve got the different experience levels and that, for me, is the best part: learning the different tips and tricks from the different experience levels, ’cause it showed me what my husband was doing wrong, and so I get to go home and tell him ‘OK, we have to try it this way,’” says Brittany Nelson.
The atmosphere of the Hop Bombshells is one of supportive camaraderie. Even though the club meetings include critique, the ladies are only interested in helping every one of their members achieve her best brew possible. This is an atmosphere that is possible partly in thanks to the ladies-only rule, which the club agrees helps members feel more comfortable. Multiple members have expressed frustration with poor treatment by male homebrewers of their shared hobby. Even Burnham, who manages The Beer Nut and hence, is clearly competent and knowledgeable of the craft, says she is often ignored by male customers who will avoid her offered help, and instead search for a male employee to answer their questions. Women in plenty of fields can attest to similar frustration, and the club is helping not only with the craft itself, but helping build confidence as both a crafter and beer drinker. “That’s been one of the nice things, too, watching the club as it develops: Everybody tends to get more confident about what their opinion is, what they taste in a certain beer, what they like out of a certain beer, what they wish was there. Everybody’s developing a stronger opinion and has more of a sure footing. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that we get to sit around and drink beer,” says Emily Park.
Homebrewing is still largely seen as a man’s game, but the Hop Bombshells are out to change that perspective and empower more women to get involved in the craft. “Historically speaking, women were the brewers in the first place. We want to share each other’s knowledge, and not accept the fact that it’s a boy’s club,” says Burnham. Bottom line: These ladies love the craft of beer brewing, and they are incredibly good at it. Some of them have even taken to growing hops in their own backyards (Don’t worry, neighbors—it’s not illegal!), giving them even greater control over their recipes. The club is still young, but very ambitious: Plans are in the works to begin some modest dues-collecting, which will then fund things like competition entries and brewery field trips. They plan to enter even more competitions this season than last, and no doubt more medals are in their future.
Ladies with any interest in homebrewing are welcome to attend the monthly Hop Bombshell meetings, every second Wednesday at The Beer Nut. You can also find them on Facebook, and at hopbombshells.com. Their website includes listings of upcoming competitions, events and recipes.