My gender is the least interesting thing about me – Drink beer bar debates women, race and beer

Diversity and inclusion is a current hot topic within the hospitality industry. Eatnorth caught up with Drink Bottle Shop and Bar to debate gender, race and beer. 

“The notion that the likes of Jaega Wise, Lily Waite, Georgina Young, Katie McCain, Sophie de Ronde etc. still get referred to as ‘female’ brewers and not the master brewers that they are is really reductive.”

HOSPITALITY is in Liz Paton’s blood. From the age of 16 she worked the hospitality circuit including an AA Triple Rosette restaurant. It was via a Moet and Hennessy drinks training course that led her to a lifetime love of drinks. She is a true ‘master’ having completed the highest beer Cicerone qualification.

“The sentence ‘I don’t like beer,’ can be easily disproved,” she says. “There are almost an endless number of styles and flavour profiles of beers.”

In November 2019, Paton took over the established Drink Bottle Shop and Bar in the pretty town of Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Shortly after, she was plunged into her first challenge with the Covid19 pandemic forcing her to pivot the business to retail and to delivery service whilst tackling a plethora of lockdowns and re-openings over two years.

Drink is run by an almost all female team. There are more than 215 beers and organic wines on offer, selected from independent producers.

The move to employ women (chef Jack makes the Tuesday night pies, and Jason works on a Friday in the bar), was deliberate. The mission is to create a safe space for women to relax and feel comfortable exploring the range of beers, spirits and organic wines without fear of judgement.

“Gender? Asks Paton? “I honestly do believe that my gender is one of the least interesting things about me. If I want to inspire, it would be for more women to build the courage to open their own place.”

Paton says the term ‘women in beer/brewing’ – especially around International Women’s Day (IWD) – is unfortunate. For her, it highlights the indiscrepancies between genders in the industry.

The notion that the likes of Jaega Wise, Lily Waite, Georgina Young, Katie McCain, Sophie de Ronde etc. still get referred to as ‘female’ brewers and not the master brewers that they are is “really reductive.”

“Personally, I would love for my gender to be as meaningless to others as it is to me. I would like to be recognised for the obvious work I have put in because I’m good at my job and not good at my job considering I’m a woman.”

International Women’s Day (IWD)

Paton recognises that the annual event is vastly important in recognising oppressed women across the globe.

“As a white woman, who, owns her own home and business, who lives in a country where I am not prosecuted for my sexuality, I feel, is a very privileged position.

“The day is less of a celebration of women and more a reflection of the massive mountain we still have to climb for the grotesquely oppressed women of the world.”

She points out that the hospitality industry, historically, has been majorly unrepresented by unions and HR companies. She refers to it as being run as a boy’s club since the Catholic church banned women from being brewers.

“I do get surprised kudos daily from people who don’t expect someone who is responsible for maintaining a business with 215 unique beers to know anything about beer,” she says.

Do men need educating?

Deputy manager Lettitia E’liza Grant adds that marketing too was traditionally male dominated: “There are so many women doing amazing things in the beer world, so many incredible brewers and marketers.

“I feel like men are more the challenge. Women know what they are doing. It’s kind of changing the way men look at women in the beer world, which is more my mission.

And female-focused beer marketing? “Now, don’t get me started on that!” She says.

“It’s just stop it! We are not children! When a brewery is specifically branded towards women it always looks infantile and its cringe worthy. We are grown-up women and we have taste.”

“When you see women in the industry, I don’t think that’s a female brewer. She is just a brewer. Women doing ‘roles’ doesn’t require a pre-fix in any industry,” she says.

For me being a black woman is another layer: “There are not enough of us. Especially in this country, especially in this region. People do not expect to see me in the shop/bar or hear my voice at the end of the phone.

“People have their preconceptions of my abilities and knowledge before I open my mouth, so I have to be that little bit more on it. It can be tiresome especially when you watch someone interact with you differently to your counterparts. I can tell instantly when they walk through the door that they don’t believe I have any formal knowledge.”

Grant says she finds it incredible how far women have come but IWD is also “a reminder that not every woman has privilege of feeling safe, feeling seen and heard.”

Definition of Feminism

She has recently required another hat. To promote the work of Happy Valley Pride, an inititiatve working tirelessy for the inclusion of all LGBQT.

“My two roles combined are making me re-assess my own inter-sectionality, especially looking at the definition of feminism and dare I say it, White feminism?

There has not always been a place for women of colour or women of trans within feminism itself.”

Are we inclusive yet?

She takes a swipe at some companies jumping on the diversity bandwagon too. “A lot of it is box ticking to say they are inclusive, so there is a lot of work still to be done.

“Are there jobs being made for people of colour? Is there a changing attitude to people of colour? Attitude to trans women being changed as well or is it a case of putting just a picture on a poster?

“Just acknowledging that you exist is not really enough.”

Paton actively wanted a majority female bar alongside a zero policy on what she deems unacceptable behaviour.

“We intentionally wanted it to feel like a safe space for everybody. There is zero tolerance on racism, homophobia, misogyny, harassment, or any form of volatile behaviour. We want people to have fun but also to know how to act within the space. There is an expectation.”

The concept is working as Drink have seen a substantial increase in women attracted to the bar.

“The drink is irrelevant, the culture surrounding beer is what needs to be changed,” she says. “We’re hopeful creating a much more inclusive environment within the beer culture and the passion for new things will follow suit.”

Drink will be holding a number of events including a craft beer festival in collaboration with other venues across Hebden Bridge over the Easter weekend.

Liz Paton

Two inspirational women – dead or alive – who you would want to dine with?  Björk who is the epitome of genius and Ann Walker because everyone chats on about her wife as if Anne Lister was the first lesbian to get married when OF COURSE that’s impossible.

Favourite tipple? German Helles, a brilliant imperial stout next to a roaring fire; a phenomenal sipping rum instead of a dessert; a glass of Danish cherry wine with chocolate cake etc etc…

Favourite food to pair with beer? Stouts go amazingly with blue cheese or doughnuts, lagers go great with BBQ food, sours match to oily fish or pork lardons, IPAs with Mexican food. The possibilities are endless.

Lettitia E’liza Grant:

Two inspirational women – dead or alive – you would want to dine with? Maya Angelou. Her books have empowered me.
The late US Supreme court Ruth Bada Ginsburg, a lawyer and judge. She held weight in fighting for feminism. I can imagine conversations with her would be interesting and fascinating.

Favourite Tipple? The ‘Champagne’ of the beer world – Belgium Lambic. it is what changed my mind about beer. The complexity of flavour is exciting. It’s not just hops and yeast. Flemish reds are also my thing – sour and jammy. Then there are mixed fermentation beers.

Favourite food to pair with beer? Our cheese and charcuterie nights are successful. It’s amazing what pairs with what. I have also only recently discovered Mexican corn larger Covasa teamed with spicy food.

Drink Bottle Shop and Bar
15 Market Street, Hebden Bridge
01422 844366



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