Karen Miller, 38, is a full-time mother of two from Somerville and works in retail at 10,000 Villages while her kids are in school. Jennifer Shell, 40, is a sewing instructor at the Stitch House in Dorchester. Klara Junker, 29, came to Boston from Sweden to study microbiology. And Nicole Labrecque, 36, is an oncology nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Once a month, this diverse group of women meets up with others for an activity that’s traditionally associated with men: beer drinking. They are members of the Boston Area Beer Enthusiasts Society, known as BABES. Founded in late 2011, the little-known society is emerging as one of Boston’s newest niche social groups.
“We wanted to bring together women who are interested and knowledgeable about beer,” said Kristen Sykes, a home-brewing veteran and founder of BABES. She said that the social group aims to enforce the idea that women not only like beer, but can be as knowledgeable about it as men. Sykes is the former executive director of the Massachusetts Brewer’s Guild, and is a certified beer judge.
“I have female friends who like beer, but it’s definitely a male-dominated, totally stereotyped thing,” Miller said. “It’s always been ‘women with wine, men with beer.’ It’s neat to meet other women who really like beer.”
Although BABES doesn’t have an official website, the group has several hundred Facebook followers, and usually 15 to 25 members meet monthly for beer-related activities and excursions, such as brewery tours, beer tastings and food pairings, and crafting parties. Sykes said the variety of BABES meetings makes the group different than other beer groups.
Past BABES events have included a bike ride and beer tasting at Watch City Brewing in Waltham, a Firestone Walker beer tasting at the Meadhall in Cambridge, an overnight trip to Vermont, and a crafting party at the Stitch House in Dorchester.
Occasionally, they are joined by a member’s husband or boyfriend who wants to tag along on a BABES outing.
“There are a lot of men who are BABES, too,” said Sykes, who explained that men who are supportive of women in the beer industry are welcome at meetings.
At a BABES meeting at Doyle’s Cafe in Jamaica Plain, author Lauren Clark, former assistant brewer at the Cambridge Brewing Company, discussed her upcoming book, “Crafty Bastards — Beer in New England From the Mayflower to the Modern Day.”
The attendees learned some historical facts, such as how the six pack came to be. (Answer: In 1938, it was believed that six cans of beer was about what the average woman could carry home from the supermarket.)
The idea for BABES came when Sykes moved to Boston from Philadelphia in early 2011. While living in Philadelphia, Sykes was a member of a women’s beer club there, called IPA (In Pursuit of Ales). Once in Boston, she wanted to create something similar, so she started the group in November 2011.
The first BABES meeting was a beer-and-chocolate pairing on Valentine’s Day 2012.
“I printed flyers and put them up in coffee shops and bars along the Red Line. There was an ad on Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, and we advertised in the Improper Bostonian,” she said. These days, the group relies mainly on word-of-mouth.
The BABES members have varying levels of beer knowledge, ranging from hobby drinkers to seasoned home-brewers.
Junker is interested in beer on a molecular level. She interned with Mystic Brewery in Chelsea, where she helped to develop the yeast strain in its award-winning “Vinland 2” brew. She’s enrolling in the PhD program in yeast science at the Carlsberg Research Lab in Copenhagen.
Miller and Shell are occasional home-brewers. Miller says she enjoys the experimentation and socialization that comes from home brewing with her friends, which she does three or four times a year. Shell’s husband, a home-brewer for four or so years, inspired her to give it a try, and she’s been brewing for the last two. Some members, including Labrecque, have never home-brewed, but enjoy learning about it.
“We all share that we maybe don’t know everything. There’s no competition, and everyone is really supportive,” said Sykes.
While the meetings vary, they are designed to be casual meet-ups. At Doyle’s, the BABES sat in an alcove, ordered beers, and talked with members they recognized from previous meetings. Clark began her book presentation by introducing herself, then asking, “Well, what do you want to know?”
In addition to their own meetings, BABES also collaborates with other groups, such as Mystery Meet — a social dining club — for some events.
“We’re open to doing things with different organizations. A lot of people are interested in beer and weaving that into what their groups are doing,” Sykes said.
The BABES are just one of many women’s beer groups emerging nationwide as the craft beer movement popularizes. At the end of March, the BABES will be going to Portsmouth, N.H., for a pub crawl with the Maine Beer Mavens, a Portland-based women’s beer group. It’s the first collaboration between the two groups.
“I think women’s beer groups like ours are catching on because we feel safe experimenting with beer with other women,” said Carolyn Tesini, Maine Beer Mavens cofounder. “I don’t think there are enough of these groups, and I hope that other women get inspired to start their own.”