46.5436° N, 87.3954° W
Marquette-area craft beer aficionado Kylie Bunting is a Superior Woman. A U.P. native, Bunting is head of the Upper Peninsula Chapter of Barley’s Angels, a Portland, Oregon-based craft beer organization for women.
By Dale Hemmila
This is a story about women and beer; craft beer to be exact. It’s a perfect assignment for me because I like women (my wife already knows this), and I like craft beer (my wife really knows this). Any assignment I have that allows me to drink a quality beer while interviewing an interesting woman is a good fit.
So how do women and craft beer fit into the Superior lifestyle? Well, in some cases, they already do, but in many cases they really don’t. Superior Woman Kylie Bunting has made it her goal to change the latter situation.
Bunting is a Marquette native. She is a graduate of both Marquette Senior High School and Northern Michigan University. She is also fresh from living a big city life in Chicago, where she learned that “there was more to beer drinking than Bud Light Lime,” and she also refined her skills in both beer and public relations, making for a good mix to promote craft beers to women in a unique way.
I recently met with Bunting, currently employed as the marketing manager for the Innovate Marquette SmartZone, to discuss the status of craft beer appreciation by women, primarily in the Marquette area, and her status as the founder of Barley’s Angels Upper Peninsula chapter, the vehicle she is using to promote beer to women.
We met over craft beers: an oak-aged ale featuring Michigan apples for her, and a classic witbier for me, at Barrel & Beam, the newest of the Marquette area breweries, housed in a re-purposed supper club, just west of downtown.
Superior Woman: How did you come to develop your interest in craft beer?
Kylie Bunting: I moved to Chicago after I graduated from NMU and got my first job in a small public relations agency that represented craft beer bars and breweries and restaurants. And my beer palette was not that sophisticated. I remember my boss telling me: “…if you’re going to work for me you’re going to need to learn to like good craft beer…” and I didn’t even know what craft beer was. So, she said she was going to take me out every now and then and we would taste different beers, so that’s kind of where my love of craft beers started.
SW: But was there more than just a love of an occasional craft beer that moved you?
KB: I actually started to work for Goose Island Brewery. I worked part-time at the PR agency, and the rest of my time at Goose Island and that just gave me another opportunity to expand my craft beer knowledge. In order to work there, you had to become a Cicerone Certified Server. (Editor’s note: According to Cicerone, that means learning about beer-serving fundamentals, such as handling and pouring beers, and being able to maintain a dialog with customers about beer styles and flavors and, oh yeah, there is a test you need to pass to become certified.) You have to pass a test at the end that says you know what you’re talking about, so I became a Certified Beer Server.
SW: What were you doing then for Goose Island?
KB: I was working as a server and worked private events at their brew pub. All the beer that was served at the facility was brewed onsite. It was a great learning opportunity for me and brought my beer knowledge to the next level.
SW: So how does this relate to Barley’s Angels?
KB: A friend of ours (Kylie and her boss, Shannan) had started the Chicago chapter. We went to some of the events and had such a great time and loved it and went to quite a few (other) events, but then they just kind of dropped off. So we reached out to our friend and she had just started a new job and didn’t have time any more. So Shannan and I took over and became the organizers of Barley’s Angels Chicago. We did an event every month. We would do craft beer dinners, we would go to brewery tours, we would get on a bus and go to breweries in the suburbs and do brewery hopping. It was a great hobby for us; we didn’t make any money off of it. We just had fun doing it. And it just helped to break down barriers and misconceptions about women drinking beer.
SW: So let’s back up and explain—what is Barley’s Angels?
KB: Barley’s Angels is an international organization started by a woman in Portland, Oregon. It is an opportunity for women to get together to network and learn about craft beer in a fun, non-judgmental environment. It’s a craft beer educational and appreciation group. We are the only chapter in Michigan and we are very new. Our first event was in March and we are doing quarterly events.
SW: So what makes craft beer so special for you and the people who participate?
KB: Especially in this area, craft beer is booming, actually, in Marquette and across the Upper Peninsula. So I think it’s really important to support these local businesses. It’s really an opportunity for us to support the craft beer scene across the Upper Peninsula. I think it’s really great way to learn about craft beer and meet some amazing people, both the women that are part of the group, and also the brewers and brewery owners who put their heart and soul into making their dreams come to reality.
SW: How does someone (presumably women) become a member of Barley’s Angels?
KB: There’s no official membership process. If you come to one of our events, you’re a member. Each event is ticketed, and each event costs a certain amount of money, which covers my cost for food and the brewery costs, and I just bundle that into the ticket price. For our event in March, we got a tour and a full guided tasting of beer and sandwiches for $22. I don’t make any money off the event; it just goes back into what was provided. I try to keep it as affordable as possible.
SW: So what happens at an event?
KB: Because a big part of it is the educational part, I like to do tours and I want to keep doing that for the first few events, and then having the brewers talk about what makes their beer unique, what’s behind the name of the beer, fun things like that, and then some time for networking both before and after so it’s pretty laid back. It’s just meant to be fun.
SW: So what has been the response so far?
KB: People were super excited. People just loved being able to learn about craft beer. There were people who weren’t really into craft beer who said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know about all that went into it,’ so that was fun, too. But I think what people like the most was being able to chat with other women and just have that outlet, too. It’s just a nice little night out to drink some beer and meet some new people.
SW: Craft beer has been around for a while and it has blossomed here. Was that just a guy thing?
KB: I think the misconception is that it is. I think it’s evolved as craft beer has become a bigger thing. But I think a lot of people think only guys like beer, and that’s just not true. I think having this type of an outlet for women to be able to ask questions about the brewing process and get to know what goes into it and get to know the brewers and the beers along with it, is very beneficial. Women like craft beer, too.
SW: So with events like this, women can learn to enjoy craft beer. Is that the goal?
KB: Yeah, to help grow the woman- craft beer community in the Upper Peninsula. And it gives us the opportunity to help grow their palette. I mean, you think the first time I sat down and tasted a craft beer after drinking Bud Light Lime for years I liked it? No! But once we can grow our palette and learn to appreciate it, the more you know, the more you become accustomed to it, and instead of grabbing a Bud Light from the fridge, they’ll be grabbing a Barrel & Beam Sour some day.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Barley’s Angels meet-ups can be followed on their Facebook page and, while Bunting said she wouldn’t turn a man away from an event, guys pay attention: These events are designed for women.
Kylie and I met for our conversation at Barrel & Beam, which is located in the former Northwood’s Supper Club in Marquette Township. The beer was as good as the conversation. https://barrelandbeam.com/
Barley’s Angels on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/barleysangelsup/
Michigan has nearly 300 craft beer breweries and there are more than 20 craft beer operations currently across the Upper Peninsula. A good listing of many, but not all U.P. breweries, can be found here: https://www.michigan.org/article/trip-idea/ultimate-list-upper-peninsula-breweries