Arwen Lehman took her first swig of beer in tenth grade. It was love at first sip. After a little fling with Rolling Rock, she eventually hooked up with the Craft Brewjas, a Miami-based clan of suds-lovin' ladies.
By then, she had grown into a pretty 32-year-old brunette from West Kendall who looked like an understated Sofia Vergara. One Sunday afternoon last summer at Lou's Beer Garden in Miami Beach, she began chatting with her buddies Yislin Castellanos, Natasha Albornoz, and Lena Chambless. They wanted to have a real conversation about beer. Arwen was sipping a Panil Barriquée, an Italian sour beer.
They discussed other gatherings of female beer drinkers and thinkers: the Ladies of Craft Beer, a national group with more than 7,800 Twitter followers, and the Beer Chicks from Los Angeles were just a couple. Why didn't Miami have one? "After talking about how great it was to discuss beer with other women," Lehman says, "Yislin and I decided to start an organization to continue what we stumbled on that Sunday."
First order of business: a name. They quickly settled on "the Craft Brewjas," a pun on the Spanish word bruja, meaning witch. That was a natural. They were in Miami. Spanish was Arwen and Yislin's first language. The spell was cast. Soon, Twitter and Facebook accounts were created. "It was perfect, because what do witches do? They get crafty. And what do Brewjas do? They get crafty with their beer!" Lehman says.
In June 2011, they held their first event as a group at the Local Craft Food & Drink in Coral Gables, a place Esquire honored for having among the best beer menus in America. Lehman nicknamed it "Fermented Friday." Ten women met after work and quaffed a few. They talked about wort, malt, apparent attenuation, and international bittering units. Though beer is still very much a boy's game, these ladies knew more about manufacturing and drinking than most of their male friends.
Then came an informal shindig at Blue Piano, a short-lived place in Buena Vista with gourmet food and some interesting brews. They closed the place down. Since the group's inception, the Craft Brewjas have had four formal events. They taste beer, talk the fine points of history and production, and have recently ventured into beer and food pairings.
"We really went grassroots and asked friends and family to help us spread the word that we wanted to bring people who enjoy craft beer together," Lehman says. "At a tasting we held at Sports Grill [in South Miami] in November, I decided to ask people I didn't recognize how they heard about the event. One woman told me it was on Twitter. These were people who had no personal connection to me; they were here for the love of beer." Sixty people, mostly women, attended.
Kristy Quiros, a 24-year-old Brewja from Palmetto Bay, limits her beer intake to about once per week. But when she's down for some brews, she pops open a few 22-ounce bombers to share. Her beer palate prefers farmhouse saisons, porters, IPAs, and stouts. "Say the words bourbon barrel-aged and I melt," she says.
"I like that the Brewjas drown the stereotypical beer culture in terms of gender and even more so because we are not making cupcakes with beer recipes," she says. "It's really cool when people who typically order beer at the bar come to the events and get to expand their horizons and discover real beer. It's just a good time with cool chicks. An early tasting session at Abraxas [a local bar in South Beach] with the girls is hard to beat."
One of their biggest events, Brews and Bellies, was recently held at the Federal Food & Drink Provisions on Biscayne Boulevard for a sold-out crowd of 75 people. The event was in such high demand that the Federal agreed to extend the gathering to the patio. The name was inspired by Federal co-owner Aniece Meinhold, a beer lover and former New Times blogger who wanted to pair beer with pork-belly-inspired hors d'oeuvres. "The image that I had was of a big round pig holding a stein of beer," Meinhold says. "I never anticipated that kind of attention."
So who are the Brewjas now? "We are a diverse group of people who do not discriminate and embrace all people of the craft," Lehman says. "We are professionals, we are college students, we are athletes, we are vegetarians, we are strong, we are witty, we are stunning, we are intelligent and just about everything else in between, but most important, we are women who love beer."
What does the future hold for the Craft Brewjas? Their next gathering will be the second Brews and Bellies at the Federal this Thursday. Lehman hopes to follow in the footsteps of Ginger Johnson of Women Enjoying Beer, in Ashland, Oregon. She also wants to get a website up and running, grow membership, formalize the Brewjas clan, and make more beer.