Whose Brews?   Our Brews!

A place for musings, sharing stories, trying new things, and exploring the intersections of beer, social justice, and privilege.

Kathy Rizzo, Pt I

Kathy Rizzo, Pt I


Kathy Rizzo
Executive Director, DC Brewers' Guild
Washington, DC

*These are Kathy Rizzo's personal opinions, and they do not necessarily reflect the views of the DC Brewers' Guild*

How did you get into beer?
In late 2013, I got laid off from my first job at out of law school and thought, “Oh no! I need a job.” I found out that Right Proper was going to open in Shaw. I started right when they opened in December of 2013 and ended up staying with them for about one and half years. While I got a new law job two or three months into that, I just loved their mission and that I was able to learn about craft beer and meet so many personalities in the industry who were generally great people, so I kept it up.

The great thing about working at a brewpub is they really want to educate you about what it is they are making. We got some great extracurricular opportunities to do a homebrew with the staff, to get educational updates from the brewer, to have training manuals on the styles of beer Right Proper was doing, and we had a craft beer 101 class from one of the more experienced bartenders at the time. As I started meeting others in the community and learning about the larger craft beer industry, I wanted to stay involved with them as long as I could.

How did you get involved with the DC Brewers' Guild?
The owner of Right Proper was one of the founding members of the DC Brewer’s Guild. That organization had been incorporated in 2014 and was functioning just as a Board of Directors. They decided to hire an ED, and so he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, you are a lawyer and you know about craft beer, so you should apply for this.” They hired me and must like what I’m doing, because they’ve kept me on ever since.

Do you remember the first beer you ever had?
It wasn’t memorable. I’m from Pittsburgh, so it was something a southwestern Pennsylvania guy is going to have at a cookout. It was probably a Bud or Miller of some variety.

What was the first beer that turned you on to craft beer?
The first beer I remember tasting and thinking was good was Hoegaarden. That’s when I realized that beer can be delicious and not horribly flavored water.

What has your experience been like as a woman in mostly male-dominated industry?
Working on the hospitality side of things, sexism is rampant. Sexual harassment is rampant. People don’t even understand that what they are doing can be perceived as incredibly offensive. It’s funny – even after I got the Guild position, I remember going into a craft beer bar in DC and sitting down and the bartender asking me if I knew the difference between hops and malt. When I said that I did, he said, “Oh, that’s surprising, who taught you about that, your father?” It came from a good place, but he didn’t know how off the mark he was.

I’m definitely seeing a lot more women in the craft beer industry now who are in roles that are managerial or marketing, but not as much in the brewing side. There are pretty notable women in the area who are brewers or scientists who are involved in the production side of things. 

I think it’s changing. One way that’s happening is I think it’s pretty common these days that whenever someone starts to criticize the industry, they will always say it’s a bunch of white men with beards. Even the white men with beards acknowledge it and joke about it. I guess it’s a good thing because it means they are self-aware, but it also means they aren’t fully self-aware. It’s one thing to acknowledge that you are of the majority and another to be taking action to change the status quo.

That makes me think of something you said – I listened to your amazing interview on Help the Pour -
Oh yeah?

Yeah, it was fantastic! It was a lot of you laying down some truth. I really appreciated what you said about the industry needing to not be a boys' club. It should be a space where women are already a part of it, instead of it being about men letting women have beer with them.
Oh yeah, totally. Women need to be a part of it from the beginning.

You also talked a little about how misogyny plays out in marketing, and I was wondering if you could say more about that.
The labels that folks in DC have been putting out, I’m glad to say I haven’t seen any that are necessarily sexist in an offensive way. I’ve definitely seen labels that are sophomoric or juvenile, but making childish jokes for the purpose of marketing doesn’t offend me as much.

When it crosses over to using a woman’s body to sell something that a woman had no part in, that’s where the line needs to be drawn. What’s dangerous with alcoholic beverages is many people drink alcohol to not have to think and lower their inhibitions. Any of these beers that are called like, “Panty Dropper,” that’s quite literally promoting rape culture. At least in DC I’m thankful that I haven’t had to sit down and have a talk with anyone about that. I have seen some of that with our neighbors though.

Do you think there is room for conversation or advocacy there?
You know, you can say this beer is excellent. The liquid in this bottle is great, but the way you are marketing it is beneath you.

We also have a choice about what beer we buy. Certain of us have the ability to be socially-conscious of the way we spend our money. Best believe I’m not spending my money on your beer if there is a naked woman on the bottle.

I think there is also room in the conversation to say that there are some women that will sit there and say, “That’s fine by me.” Women are not all the same. We are not a monolithic group. Just know what you are doing when you are putting any kind of women’s image on any bottle of beer. You are saying, “I’m using this woman’s body to make money.”

I have seen some women say that they think a beer with a sexist name or image is cute or okay by them. We’re not a monolithic group for sure, but I know we’re also all subject to internalized sexism, and we’re all in different places in our journey of addressing the harm it is causing us.
Totally. When you are working at a bar and you are bartending with two or three other guys and the people are mostly men, someone is going to make a sexist joke, someone is going to comment on your breasts, and you are going to roll with it. I know because I’ve done that. I’ve had that happen and I’ve just laughed it off. You have to make that cost benefit analysis of, “Do I want to take a stand about this today, or do I just want to get my tips and call my girlfriends and vent when I get home?” Part of me wants to scream, “But if you don’t speak up, no one is going to know!” and also, “Girl, I know it’s exhausting, and you deserve to chill.”

As someone who is often tapped by people like me asking all these questions, or different media outlets always asking you about your experiences as a woman in a male-dominated space, I wonder if you ever get tired of being asked that question?
I mean yeah, sure, sometimes. When you’re a woman in an industry that is perceived as all male, you are going to be asked about what it’s like to be a woman. People may not listen to the substance of what you are saying, and may be more interested what it took to get you to that position in the first place.

Wow. Can you say that again?
Yeah, people may be more interested in what it took you to get to the point where you are saying what you are saying, and not that interested in what you are actually saying. I can be talking to someone who is asking me questions about beer and the implication is, “I don’t care about your thoughts on the appropriate distribution policy in DC, but can you tell me about how you got to be ED for the Guild when all the breweries are run by men?” They don’t understand how that could have happened.

As long as there are more men than women in the industry, though, that question is going to be asked, and I’m happy to answer it.

Check out Part II of this conversation here!

Kathy Rizzo, Pt 2

Kathy Rizzo, Pt 2

Shep Jenkins and Jamaal Lemon, Pt II

Shep Jenkins and Jamaal Lemon, Pt II