by Sasha Chavez
photography by Jaren Cyrus
Witches have long been misunderstood, and Destiny Romero is a witch. A good witch, but a witch nonetheless. She, with her coven of epicures, presides over the Inland Empire Brew Witches, a not-for-profit feminist beer collective that hosts monthly meetups, fundraises for local causes and harnesses the power of magical brews to create goodwill in their communities. Destiny Romero from Rancho Cucamonga, Sage Monroe from Upland and Julia Matulionis, also from Upland, founded the Brew Witches in 2017 to create a network and community to support women in the craft beer industry.
Destiny, who is now vice-president of the Brew Witches, says the idea came to her when she and a friend visited a local brewery. She stood in line, ordered, and heard the tap line crack as her beer tender poured her the latest brew. Thanking her beer tender, she took her seat, then unpacked her notebook, which accompanies her to every brewery. On it, Destiny scrawls the pages with her tasting notes. “I just nerd out on beer super hard,” she exclaims. “Julia was beer tending that night, and she came over to me like, ‘What are you doing?’ I explained to her, and she was super excited. She said to me that night, ‘I want girlfriends to drink beer with too!’ and that’s how it started.” “We realized what a boys club breweries are, and we wanted to create a platform for other women,” echoes Sage Monroe, co-founder and current president of the Witches.
There’s more: The founders of the Inland Empire Brew Witches all know how to brew, have worked in the industry, and know that it is hard to find your voice in such a male dominated culture. As Destiny and Sage both recount, there were times when they were talked down to or thought to be less knowledgeable than their male co-workers. “It’s not fun, and it’s difficult to find a place where you can talk to other people about it without being told, ‘You’re just complaining’ or ‘You misunderstood what happened,’” says Destiny, who also beer tends at Hangar 24 Craft Brewing in Redlands. “We like to consider ourselves activists, and we just wanted to use that platform to do better in our communities,” adds Sage.
The Brew Witches do just that by planning and hosting local charitable events at their top tier sponsor breweries. “One of the benefits of being a top tier sponsor is that you get to host one of these amazing events at your spot,” says Destiny. These events have been wildly popular, popping up at local breweries from Banning to Monrovia and everywhere in between. “We get to choose the charities that we donate to so they’re usually very personal and ones that we 100 percent believe in,” Sage says. Their first event proved to be a favorite. They raised a few thousand dollars in just three hours to help cover costs for a local brewmaster’s daughter, who needed help paying for her treatments after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
Destiny and Sage also named their work with local non-profits like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Challenge as some of their most inspiring philanthropic causes, since they both hit so close to home for the witches. Destiny shares that she and some members of her family have struggled with mental health in the past, and she knows that the work that NAMI does makes a huge difference. “It’s something that’s so common, but there’s such a huge stigma surrounding it,” says Romero. That was the big idea behind their NAMI event that benefited the Pomona Valley chapter: break the stigma. “NAMI helps find housing and jobs for those struggling with their mental illness. They also help with treatments and medication and offer educational segments for family members,” says Romero. “That one really hit home for me.”
For Sage, it was the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome event they hosted at Strum Brewing that benefited the PCOS Challenge. She explains that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a hormonal dysfunction that many women suffer from, but it receives only .01 percent funding from the government as it only affects women. Sage personally suffers from PCOS and is extremely passionate about raising awareness. “We decided to have a charity event during Women’s Health Month, featuring only women artists who donated their artwork, all women bands, all female food vendors; the whole night was about celebrating women, and all the money went to the PCOS Challenge. [We helped] raise money to get more government funding to support research to find cures and treatments for PCOS,” says Sage, overflowing with honor and delight. “It was a really great event.”
No matter the cause, the IE Brew Witches have a tried and true potion for success. First, they partner with a brewery they care for and with which they have a relationship. “Then we talk about designing a beer that we’re going to brew with them. We brew the beer and choose a charity together, and then a portion of the money raised goes to our selected charity,” explains Sage.
Indeed, breweries have naturally become cornerstones of their communities as they continue sprouting up and breathing new life into desolate suburb industrial parks. They are a “third place” where conversation and camaraderie take precedence over the bar-mentality you find in night clubs and bars. “When you go to a brewery, it’s not like going to a bar or a club. It’s very communal and family-oriented; you could even go by yourself and make some friends,” says Destiny.
Sociologist Ray Oldenburg discusses the importance and scarcity of “third places” in America in his 1989 book entitled, “The Great Good Place.” Oldenburg notes that despite the differences from home, third places provide significant benefits similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that is extended to members. “They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy,” says Oldenburg. The Brew Witches agree. “Because we’ve always gone to breweries, we found our community, and I feel, like a lot of people, feel that way. It kind of just came naturally to start doing these events at breweries because it encompasses so much of what matters to us as a group,” says Monroe.
The Inland Empire Brew Witches organization shares this mentality with other female brew organizations, including the Crafty Brewsters, a home brewers society dedicated to community and female advancement, and The Pink Boots Society, an international organization that Destiny, Sage and Julia agree helped pave the way for witches like them to take the craft brew industry by storm with their own local group. “The Pink Boots Society is an enormous inspiration to the Inland Empire Brew Witches,” says Sage. “Their mission is to inspire and educate women in the beer industry.
They push to create more roles for women in the industry while offering their members educational opportunities to help advance their careers.” April 2019, the Inland Empire Brew Witches gave back to their pink booted friends by participating in a collaborative feminist “brew-sesh,” teaming up with Wingwalker Brewing in Monrovia, Flora Brewing, The Crafty Brewsters, and the Pink Boots Society. “The girls all collaborated to name the resulting brew ‘These Boots Are Made For Wingwalkin,’” says Sage. The beer is an IPA brewed with a special Pink Boots blend of Yakima Chief and Citra hops, giving it a full hoppy profile with soft nutty notes on the back end. A portion of the sales were donated to the Pink Boots Society. She rhapsodizes, “We are so grateful to everyone involved in this huge collaborative effort for extending to us an amazing opportunity to learn and grow.” True to form, it was not all work. “We had so much fun spending the day with a group of so many strong and inspiring women,” says Sage.
Mickie Ramos Garcia was one of the strong and inspiring women present that day. Mickie graduated from Mount Sierra College in Monrovia with a business degree. “I went to school to run a brewery. I know what kind of floors you need, I know the type of ventilation you need, the whole nine,” she says. She belongs to the Crafty Brewsters, and one day dreams of owning her own brewery. “Right now, I work at Hop Secret Brewing, [in Monrovia].” Mickie recalls how supportive the head brewer was of her passion and was taken aback when he invited her to start brewing with him. “He sort of took me under his wing,” she says. “It’s an exciting time in the industry because men are in a unique position to lift women up; I see it happen every day,” she says as she lifts her pint to her lips, enjoying the brew of her labor.
Destiny notes how the Pink Boots Society and the Inland Empire Brew Witches differ. “Pink Boots has definitely inspired our work, but I think what really sets us apart is how inclusive we are. We like to do educational segments, and for those events you don’t have to be a paying member to come; you don’t have to work in the industry to come, you don’t even have to be a woman to come. You just can’t be a sexist jerk,” she laughs. She also names other women who inspire her, like Brewmaster Alexandra Nowell at Three Weavers Brewing Company in Inglewood, or Megan Stone, better known by her Instagram handle @IsBeerACarb, who boasts more than 18,000 followers. “It’s women like them who remind me that this industry is not just for men, and that we as women have just as much knowledge as the men in this industry. Those things are inspiring to me, especially when it comes to Brew Witches.”
Spencer Croce, marketing advancement coordinator at Last Name Brewing in Upland, says that he understands why such a group needed to come into existence. “The beer industry is pretty much male dominated. A lot of breweries are opened by retired old men,” he laughs. “In general, the beer industry is hard space to break into, and I imagine that it’s even harder if you’re not a dude.”
Self described jack of all trades Dan Thomen at La Verne Brewing describes the Witches as an impressive group. “They came in here a little over two years ago for a meet and greet with their members, and I was very impressed. This was not a group of females who were here to drink and whoop it up. They were here to talk about beer and learn about beer and share their experiences.” He later hired on a Brew Witch to his team. She’s been with them for two years, and is one of Dan’s best employees.
La Verne Brewing is involved and supportive of the Brew Witches, hosting some of their monthly meetings, brewing collaborative beer and selling it for their fundraisers. “I like the energy and the passion they have,” says Dan. He says that a group like Brew Witches was needed and is pleased that it is successful. “Am I surprised by this? Actually, no. I knew it was coming, and it was time. What’s the difference between a male and a female brewing?” ■
How the Witches Got Their Name
Destiny Romero says that women and beer are a historic connection, which also prompted society’s view of witches.
It was the late 17th century, and back then women were the only ones who brewed beer. The way that you could spot brewers in the marketplace was with their tall pointed hats – similar to the modern version of a witch’s hat. Ale sticks, similar to a broom, hung over the doorstops of local brewers. Many brewers also had cats to keep rats away from the grain that they used to brew.
The pictures of a witch standing over a hot, bubbling cauldron with a big wooden spoon: That’s a watering spoon, and that cauldron is her mash pot.
Once it was found that one could capitalize off making beer, it became illegal for women to brew. You could only brew beer if you were a man, or if you owned property; and you could only own property if you were married.
Many of the women already brewing beer knew it that took a lot of babying, a lot of nurturing. Destiny says many of the women who brewed beer were thought of as spinsters.
That was the beginning of the turn; women were kicked to the side in the beer industry. “That’s why we chose the name,” says Destiny. “It has a lot of history behind it, and we’re trying to take that history back. This was originally our industry, and you’re going to make room for us.” ■