- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2015

Julie Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, will not hear that craft brewing is an old boys’ club.

Now based in Boulder, Colorado, Ms. Herz grew up in the Maryland suburbs, where her love of beer was stoked at the District’s iconic — but now closed — Brickskeller Salloon.

“My parents used to take us down there, so I learned about different styles, different packaging, different marketing, and then I wanted to make it,” Ms. Herz told The Washington Times. “I started to homebrew in my twenties, and it really kind of flourished from there.”

Ms. Herz has risen through the ranks of professional beer aficionados to her current position. She will be one of the judges at Denver’s annual Great American Beer Festival, happening through Saturday.

Ms. Herz said that following Prohibition, beer was typically marketed solely to men in their twenties and thirties, essentially ignoring the entire female population. When Americans started brewing at home, it was, at least initially, also considered a masculine activity.

But times have changed. Ms. Herz proudly proclaims that beer consumption has become a gender-neutral pastime and is “bringing many more women back into the fold.”

“Thirty-two percent of craft beer is consumed by women,” she said. “The [Brewers Association], we’re almost half women. So it’s just pretty neat that we’ve evolved past certain types of advertising that maybe kept women at bay.

“Now beer has no gender,” she said of the shifting market. “If you’re interested in beer, there’s a beer for you.”

There are now close to 4,000 craft breweries in the U.S., and not just in such suds-friendly states as Idaho and Colorado, home to GABF. Brewers now craft their wares in every state and the District of Columbia. (In fact, prior to Prohibition, the nation’s capital pumped out 1 million barrels per year. One of the District’s largest breweries was even moved to make room on the land where the Kennedy Center now sits.)

Over 700 breweries will bring 3,800 different beers to the Colorado Convention Center this weekend. Ms. Herz, who has judged the friendly competition since 2013, will join over 200 others from 11 countries to determine the best brewed beverages across such major categories as IPAs, stouts, pale ales and many more.

Judging the best of beer, Ms. Herz said, is “a great honor and certainly took me many years professionally to [get] advanced enough of a palate to be able to sit with this judge pool.”

Ms. Herz, whose tastes tend toward American IPAs, will also walk the halls of the convention hall as an aficionado, enjoying beers from all regions of the country, trying both the typical categories while also sampling the many unique batches brewers are bringing to Denver.

“The majority of the 3,800 breweries in the United States, they don’t distribute outside of their own state of origin,” Ms Herz said, while also heaping praise on the rising beer culture of her District hometown. “So to get some of these gems, you’re going to go to GABF and try them all in one room, one at a time, 1 oz. at a time.

“I try to get outside the box to expand my horizons, and that’s been a very healthy activity. You have to be open-minded, and if somebody suggests something, I’ll try it and then make my own judgments.”

The awards ceremony will be streamed live Saturday at thebrewingnetwork.com/gabf15.

Sixty-thousand revelers are expected to indulge in unlimited 1 oz. samplings — an even trickier gambit given the Mile High City’s altitude. As soon as the taps run dry on Saturday evening, Ms. Herz and her colleagues will begin thinking about GABF 2016 — and even bigger crowds.

“It’s just the granddady of them all if you look in terms of beer events,” Ms. Herz said.

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