'Beer is not just for men in skinny jeans': the women promoting female-led booze businesses

Sip 'Er founders Bree Nicholls (right) and Jenny Cheng tasting wine made by women that's set to be sold through their ...
Sip 'Er founders Bree Nicholls (right) and Jenny Cheng tasting wine made by women that's set to be sold through their online platform. Photo: Edwina Pickles

When brewer Chrissy Flanagan pours wine at her Dulwich Hill bar and bistro The Sausage Factory, you can be sure it was made by a woman.

"I only stock wine that's made by women," Flanagan says. "I don't want to be a dick about it, but if I could only sell beer made by women I absolutely would."

Unfortunately, there just isn't enough of it out there yet. However, Flanagan is at least happy to be pouring Marrickville's Philter Brewing and Grace Fowler's Reckless Brewing Co.

"There are so many female winemakers, brewers and distillers out there but consumers didn't seem to realise that," says ...
"There are so many female winemakers, brewers and distillers out there but consumers didn't seem to realise that," says Sip'Er co-founder Jenny Cheng. Photo: Edwina Pickles

"Everything Grace makes is exquisite and very well balanced," Flanagan says. "I aggressively stock every woman who brews in Sydney because I think it's very important to support local."

Flanagan is part of a small but determined movement focussed on providing female booze producers with a platform where they can shine.

"People want to feel a connection to where their drink comes from," she says. "When they know they're supporting a female-owned business, it feels special. If they go on to seek that business out and buy direct, it's the best outcome I could possibly hope for."

Sausage Queen Brewing founder Chrissy Flanagan at her Dulwich Hill brewery and "snaggery" The Sausage Factory.
Sausage Queen Brewing founder Chrissy Flanagan at her Dulwich Hill brewery and "snaggery" The Sausage Factory.  Photo: Dylan Coker

The Sausage Factory's wine list currently includes producers such as New Zealand's Mauri brand Kono and McLaren Vale's Genders Wines. "Diana Genders does everything," says Flanagan. "She grows the grapes, harvests them, stomps them and makes the wine."

Flanagan also has an interesting back story of her own, manufacturing sausages for supermarkets before hospitality and brewing stole her heart. Her Sausage Queen beer brand started with small, experimental batches and now includes the Boss Ale "Paleish" and Pash Rash rhubarb, pineapple and hibiscus sour.

"We're making beer that appeals to a broader audience, particularly with the branding" she says. "The traditional indie beer market can be very 'bearded dudes in trucker hats' focused.

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"But beer is not just for men in skinny jeans. Everyone drinks beer and I think people want to see themselves as part of that story."

When young public relations and marketing professionals Jenny Cheng and Bree Nicholls encountered Flanagan in early 2020, they were so inspired by her enthusiasm they launched Sydney-based retail business Sip'Er in November.

The online bottle shop stocks beer, wine, spirits, seltzers, sake and pre-mixed cocktails made by female-led companies.

"Chrissy was talking about the lack of female recognition in the alcohol industry and how it's very male dominated," Nicholls says. "It sparked an idea for us. There are some really great b-to-b [business-to-business] platforms out there but not much for consumers."

Western Australia's Brave New Wine, Adelaide Hills-based Unico Zelo, and Mornington Peninsula's Allevare are among the growing list of producers Sip'Er highlights.

"There are so many female winemakers, brewers and distillers out there but consumers didn't seem to realise that," Cheng says.

"Neither of us has a background in alcohol so we are really conscious of making it a fun experience and conversation. We don't want it to feel like we're trying to shove any messaging down anyone's throat."

Regardless, Nicholls believes more conversation about gender equality is needed.

"In the lead-up to International Women's Day, there always seems to be roundups of best female winemakers but the conversation didn't really continue beyond that," she says.

"Why do women only get one day of the year and then men get to have that conversation the other 364 days?"

International wine merchant, educator and winemaker Gill Gordon-Smith agrees. Since opening her bottle shop Fall From Grace (and McLaren Vale wine label by the same name) in Aldinga, South Australia, in 2009, the Italian wine expert has fought tirelessly to raise the profile of female winemakers across the globe.

"I try very hard to support women in the shop," she says. "Some of my most successful sales are from amazing women producers like Natasha Webster from Empire of Dirt [Geelong]. I could sell her gamay 100 times over. Her wines are stunning.

"Crawford River's riesling made by Belinda Thomson and chardonnay by Bec Dugmore [Kangaroo Island's The Stoke Wines] flew out the door."

Gordon-Smith believes organisations like Women and Revolution, which represents and connects women across the Australian wine industry, are important.

"I've seen an increase in women supporting women," she says.

"Women are becoming more vocal, noisy and militant because there's simply no choice … Things are changing but it's all too slow. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it's that we need to speed things up."