Craft beer is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear Women’s Institute. I certainly wouldn’t have put the two together until little over a year ago when I finally took the leap and joined the Manchester group. My introduction to the WI came through a couple of friends who were already members and I tagged along to the annual dinner and beauty evening at Harvey Nichols of all places. I was genuinely really surprised to see dozens of women who were about my age with similar interests, and not a rendition of Jerusalem in earshot (to be fair we are traditional in that we eat a lot of cake). Since joining, the committee and wider membership continues to challenge stereotypes of what us WI types are like: in the last year we’ve practiced burlesque, marched in Manchester Pride, learnt about women prisoners and toured a brewery (and that’s just a starting point…)
It was the last activity which got us working with the brilliant Runaway Brewery based in Manchester City Centre. I’d really enjoyed their beers out and about so having the opportunity to tour the brewery and have a tasting session was a great evening with my fellow WI-ers. We must have been on our best behaviour because Mark from Runaway and our committee came up with a perhaps unusual (but fun) way to celebrate a very special occasion in 2018. Here in the UK, this year represents the centenary of the first women getting the vote under the Representation of the People Act. Whilst this right only applied to property owning women over 30 (criteria I wouldn’t currently meet!), it was hard fought for and represented a turning point for female involvement in democracy, eventually leading to all women gaining the vote 10 years later. And what better way to toast smashing the patriarchy a vote at the time than with our very own beer?! In true democratic fashion, us members got to vote on our final beer selection. It was a closely fought contest between a rhubarb wheat beer and a Lady Grey tea infused IPA, but good old Lady Grey just edged it.
I was fortunate enough to be able to go along to the brewery for the day with a fabulous team of fellow women from our WI to kick off the brewing process. Personally I really enjoyed learning more about all the work that goes into those hard earned weekend pints and we got stuck in with mashing in, digging out the mash and selecting and measuring the hops. After the hard work was done we undertook the important task of – ahem – “quality assuring” some of Runaway’s other beers in their taproom. You’re welcome guys (and as an aside, their dry Irish stout is absolutely top notch).
Behind the scenes, Shelly and the committee team worked their socks off to plan a huge launch party at Runaway to coincide with the week of International Women’s Day and promote the beer. Ultimately we were going to look pretty daft if we couldn’t shift the stuff! Thankfully we’re pretty decent at organising a piss up in a brewery and Runaway was absolutely heaving all afternoon with WI-ers, friends, family and members of the public queuing up to try pints of Lady Grey on tap and going home with boxes of bottles (which are emblazoned with our pretty awesome tattooed Emmeline Pankhurst inspired logo). The party vibe was really complemented by incredible South American street food from Yakumama and a pop up gin and soda bar from Steep Soda. Perhaps the biggest sign of success was that we’d drunk Runaway dry of Lady Grey IPA before the party was even over…
Now there’s been some erm…interesting…press coverage over the last few weeks about gender-based marketing and companies jumping on the International Women’s Day bandwagon for profit. What made our beer project so exciting is that the concept, design and product itself was developed with and by local women and we mucked in with the brewing itself. Not to mention that 20% of the profits come back into the WI to support our learning and development bursaries for members. I also really strongly feel it’s not necessary a beer “for women” – it’s a beer for all and the amount of men folk downing pints of it at our launch party is testament to that. Most importantly, it wasn’t a gimmick and the final product itself was simply a very good beer (even if I say so myself). I would encourage you to make your own mind up, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any at this rate as the kegs are running dry in bars across Manchester – and even the brewery itself at our launch party!
If you move quick, you can get your mitts on some of the remaining Lady Grey IPA bottles online here. Or keep your eyes peeled around Manchester and beyond for it on tap.
Has this whetted your appetite for joining the WI? Find out more here about our meeting programme, sub-groups and other activities.