Ladies of Lager members have been getting together since January 2013 to enjoy and learn about craft beer. Starting out with a handful of women, the Richmond-based group has grown beyond expectations, its founder says.
With at least two other similar groups who also meet up in the area — the River City Beer Betties and the Coastal Virginia chapter of Barley’s Angels — it is clear these Virginia women have carved out a niche for themselves.
Paula Upton, a “50ish Church Hill resident” who is a workers’ compensation case manager for the U.S. Postal Service, said her goal in founding Ladies of Lager “was simply to create a circle of friends for myself, a new Richmond resident.”
In July 2013, the circle stepped things up, giving the group an official name and listing it on Meetup, a site that helps people organize events, groups and gatherings.
“Soon after, we became a bona fide, recognized clan, a hundred women strong. We grew from happy hours a couple times per month to weekly gatherings, educational programs, and various special events and offerings,” she said.
Hilary Langford, “39 going on 22,” founded River City Beer Betties in 2010 with friend Melissa Koch.
“At the time, I had a group of girlfriends that met up regularly for potlucks where we’d all bring records and usually some new beer we were into or wanted to try,” Langford said. “It was an excellent sampling situation because we all had different tastes.”
A group that could gather in a living room to spin discs and share beers now “has 787 followers on Twitter, and 500 or so on Facebook,” Langford said.
The group was founded “to connect craft beer-loving ladies who wanted to hang with like-minded folks, get some solid recommendations, and feel like they always have a group of friends waiting for them at a bar or brewery,” Langford said. “I mean, let’s face it — breweries are still dude magnets, so it’s nice to have some ladies representing who know their brew.”
Over time, she has seen attitudes change toward beer-loving gals: “We still swap stories about having beer styles ‘mansplained’ to us or being offered the lightest beer on a list. It’s entertaining at this point.”
Langford came up with the name for the group that begins its bio with: “This isn’t a Tupperware party, folks! We’re serious about beer.” She wanted to “make sure our brand wasn’t cutesy, but feminine and strong, like the women in our group and those I hoped would join. I’m a big Bettie Page fan, so that’s what inspired the name.”
Lesley Summers of Chesapeake is president of Barley’s Angels Coastal Virginia chapter, part of an organization with dozens of chapters in several countries. Formed in August 2012 with seven women at the first meeting, the Coastal Virginia chapter now has 100 members, and often travels to the Richmond area for brewery tours and events.
Summers has seen big changes since the chapter formed.
“When we started, if you went to one of the local pubs or restaurants known for craft beer, there would maybe be one lady in the bar with a beer,” she said. “Now, there are ladies everywhere!”
Like Upton, who favors “the darker, heavier styles, such as stouts and porters,” and singles out Isley’s Brewing Co.’s Choosy Mother Peanut Butter Oatmeal Porter as a favorite.
“It’s a dark, rich, malty, full-bodied brew,” she said. “I love the strong aroma and flavor of peanut butter.”
But it’s not just brews that get high marks. Parkway Brewing Co. of Salem offers a product prized by the Ladies of Lager.
“A few ladies have been lucky enough to snag the shirt of all shirts, the one we all covet,” Upton said. “It’s for their Factory Girl IPA. On the back it says, ‘I drink like a girl ... try to keep up.’ That’s probably our favorite saying!”
Langford, a lifelong Richmonder who writes for a living, is a big IPA fan. “Falcon Smash from Triple Crossing remains close to my heart,” she said. “It’s hop-forward without being obnoxious, and it’s pretty dang juicy for an American IPA.”
Summers, who has broad tastes, loves stouts and sours, she said. Two of her local favorites are Coffee and Coconut Virginia Black Bear from Lickinghole Creek and Hardywood’s Bourbon Sidamo Coffee Stout. Another local beer that holds a special place in her heart is the one named after her at Mekong in February 2016.
“An (Bui), the owner of Mekong, from time to time will create a beer and name it after people that frequent the restaurant,” Summers said. “I was pleasantly surprised to walk in to meet friends and have someone tell me they were drinking the ‘Lesley Summers’! I knew exactly what that meant and immediately went to the beer board to see for myself. Sure enough, there was my name, with the description: Barleywine with coconut, coffee and chocolate (all my favs). I was thrilled and found him and gave him a hug and thanked him. It was an incredible honor.”
Thanks to Bui, who owns Mekong and The Answer Brewpub, for spelling R-E-S-P-E-C-T in such an appropriate way for one of the many beer-loving and craft beer industry-supporting women of Virginia.