Review: The Victorian Women of Beer

“It’s an interesting concept, women and beer”, said our fellow tablemates when I asked them why they chose to attend the Beer Diva’s Victorian Women of Beer show.

The Victorian women of beer (photo: Jenn Davidson)

It was the type of reaction you would still expect from many guys showing the disassociation between beer and women. It’s also the response to provide the perfect justification for Kirrily Waldhorn to perform her Beer Diva show.

Wrapped up in a sophisticated yet casual and fun night of “multi-sensory cabaret”, Kirrily is driven by a passion to break down the barriers and myths that stand between the common acceptance of women enjoying beer.

Utilising the full history of beer through multimedia presentations, fun facts and personal experience, Kirrily proves that beer is not a mans’ world alone, but in fact heavily influenced by women who are biological better suited to the sensory enjoyment of beer.

Kirrily and Sam Fuss on stage (photo: Jenn Davidson)

More importantly, the Beer Diva’s show is not all about women, but rather the enjoyment and technical appreciation of beer across the equality of humanity, communicated in a way that both beer nerds and novices will appreciate.

Last Friday night Kirrily unleashed the Beer Diva on Melbourne in a one-off special event, as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. The substantial crowd consisted of everyone from beer industry identities to the just curious, with few knowing what to expect from the Women of Beer. One British couple – lovers of flat, hand-pumped English real ales – had been gifted tickets to the event. They attended with a sense of excitement, keen to learn about the type of beer Victoria had to offer. On arrival the excitement was amplified by the unopened bottles of five craft beers that sat in the middle of each table, waiting for the nominated “Beer Captain” of each table to responsibly open and serve them at the appropriate time during the show.

The audience get into the action (photo: Jenn Davidson)

The Beer Diva show is performed in five Acts and five dresses, as the confident and articulate Waldhorn guides the audience through beer history and styles. Her introductory video presentations clearly and humorously trace beer’s journey from the accidental discovery of alcohol by the Sumerians, through to the middle ages and modern times. Each Act also focuses on a particular beer style and is complimented by a matching Beer Diva dress.

Separating this particular one-off show from the Beer Diva’s previous Sydney-based performances was the addition of five highly regarded and influential women from Victoria’s small and craft brewing industry. Seated on stage at a table draped in a Tettnanger hop vine and awash with the beers they produce, the nervous but friendly ladies of Victorian beer added personality and an extra female presence not seen in previous Beer Diva events.

A lesson in dry hopping (photo: Jenn Davidson)

The first act looked at the delicate Saison style, demonstrated by the Bridge Road Brewers Chevalier Saison and brewer Nardia McGrath. Nardia confessed her pre-show jitters and said she would normally shy away from such public speaking duties, including tours of her own brewery. Encouraged by her now former boss (Ben Kraus of Bridge Road Brewers), she joined the Women of Beer troupe in support of Bridge Road brand and the local brewing sorority, before she heads off to join the North American brewing industry in a few weeks time. Nonetheless, the energetic young brewer showed that her knowledge and expertise will be sorely missed by the Australian industry, with the Beer Diva praying for her return.

Beth Williams shows her vocal talents (photo: Jenn Davidson)

Act 2 turned the focus to wheat in beer with the Hefeweizen style as the selected beer for tasting. Beth Williams of Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company brought an elevated class to the front of stage, as the classically trained opera singer showed that the beer business is home to an extraordinary range of talents beyond making good beer.

For the third Act, Karen Golding of Red Hill Brewery took the microphone in honour of the world’s most popular beer style, the Pilsner. Kirrily set the bohemian tone of the Act with an authentic 1960s Grecian dress from her mother’s wardrobe (complete with “decency darts”). Together they helped analyse the style by showcasing Red Hill’s Bohemian Pilsner, as well as the estate grown Tettnanger hops that adorned the stage.

Feeding the show’s sensory experience, Karen cast out her hop flowers into the crowd, providing the audience with a lesson in dry hoping a glass a beer, which is a favoured regular undertaking at the Red Hill Brewery.

India Pale Ales were the focus of Act 4, for which the self proclaimed “hussy” of Australia’s small breweries, and Mountain Goat Head Brewer, Jayne Lewis, furthered the focus on hops. Using the big citrus and pine flavours of Mountain Goat’s most recent Rare Breed limited release, Jayne drew on her former wine making experience to show how the beer making process can offer a diversity and depth beyond the scope of wine.

The style explored in the show’s final Act was the Porter, which opened the most exclusive and outrageous beer and brewer of the night – True South’s Cherry Bomb. This cherry and coconut porter was brewed by the vivacious Sam Fuss for the recent Local Taphouse Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular. With True South yet to install bottling equipment, Sam personally transported a number of Cherry Bomb kegs to the Hargreaves Hill brewery on Thursday, where they packaged the beer in unlabelled 500ml bottles. As an added twist to the enjoyment of this beer, every audience member was provided with a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar to compliment the beverage.

Sam explained how the Cherry Ripe was the inspiration from her Cherry Bomb, which led to an on-the-spot auction of a half-eaten Cherry Ripe from the brewer’s pocket. After bids in the hundreds of dollars smartly rejected, the tainted sweet sold for $22 to one boozed up audience punter, who was also rewarded with a copy of The Beer Lovers Guide to Australia.

The show was also laced with further tipsy interludes, including Kirrily’s audience beer pouring challenge, myth busting demonstrations, the science of beer goggles, David Hasselhoff references and ritual chanting of “umami”. Also adding some spice was the occasional in-joke heckle emanating from the tables seating the families and colleagues of the women on show.

The show’s grand finale saw Beth Williams return to the microphone and display her operatic talents with a show-stopping song about the history of beer.

It was a night that echoed Cyndi Lauper’s lyrics of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, as Kirrily noted after the show that it was the most fun she has had performing the show. Her established show had been loosely rehearsed with her five new Stars only hours before the main event. Therefore, she credited the night’s triumph to the character and personal connection provided by Victoria’s women of beer.

Most of all, it is the reward of challenging and changing the public’s perceptions of drinking beer the drives Kirrily to connect with her audience. Her success is evident, as she notes that people often come up her after a show and complain that she “ruined their lives” by changing the way they think about and approach drinking beer.

“I haven’t ruined your life”, she says. “I have enhanced it!”.

By causing drinkers to stop and think about how and what they are consuming, instead of just throwing it down their throats, her messages are making an impact!

There was no complaining last night however, as the departing crowd thanked Kirrily profusely for the night of good beer, good entertainment and useful education.

So is the concept of women and beer interesting? Maybe the next time male readers are looking for a beer to buy, leave it to a woman, she might just change your life.

Well done, Victoria’s women of beer. We look forward to what you teach us and brew for us next!


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