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'Las Hermanas' beer taps skills of cross-border sisterhood of brewers

'Las Hermanas' beer taps skills of cross-border sisterhood of brewers

  • Female brewers work together to pour grains into the mill.
    Bianca Morales/TucsonSentinel.comFemale brewers work together to pour grains into the mill.
  • Gabriela Calderon from Corazon de Malta and Luz Aguilar from Queretaro Homebrew Club measure malt grains over a scale.
    Bianca Morales/TucsonSentinel.comGabriela Calderon from Corazon de Malta and Luz Aguilar from Queretaro Homebrew Club measure malt grains over a scale.

The doors of Voltron Brewing Co. opened early last Friday morning for the Las Hermanas Collaborative Brewing Event. Women brewers from places as varied as Tucson and Guadalajara hugged and beamed at each other as they greeted. The smell of malt and the sound of cheerful conversations filled the air.

Back in 2020, the first edition of Las Hermanas beer was created. Those women from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border made history with the first collaboration between all-female brewers. The first beer was a hazy IPA brew.

Two years later, Ayla Kapahi, the head brewer and director of productions at Tucson's Borderlands Brewing Company, teamed up with Marianna Dominguez, from Cerveceria Macaria in Mexico City, along with five other brewers from all over Mexico to create a second edition.

That version of Las Hermanas — Spanish for "the sisters" — is a West Coast IPA. Kapahi described the recipe as having notes of pine and citrus with a light, "refreshing effervescence."

"This is so exciting," Kapahi told the Tucson Sentinel. "These projects are passion projects for me when I'm able to represent — not only represent — but empower other women and minorites in the craft beer community, which is something that has been really important to me."

Kapahi said that when she started her career in craft beer seven years ago, there was only one other woman working in production at Dragoon Brewing.

However, she's seen a change as the time went by. There has been an increase in women going into the brewing industry, she said. Where she once saw one female brewer, there may be four or more, even in positions such as hers as head brewer.

Laura Peña, the head brewer of Cerveceria Cielito Lindo in Guadalajara, has had a similar experience. Like Kapahi, Peña has a small frame and the men who work in the brewery would make comments about her ability to do the manual work and heavy lifting involved with brewing. Kapahi said she had also been underestimated for her stature in the past. But Peña expressed a sense of mission to go against the grain.

"Usually the stereotype for a brewer is a big hairy man," Peña said in an interview in Spanish. "But now we're here to break stereotypes and this type of project makes me feel supported and not alone."

She said she has also seen a growth of female presence in the industry, and she hopes that projects like Las Hermanas inspire more women. She also views the binational collaboration as a way of sharing her culture with more people. Las Hermanas will be brewed in Mexico as well as in Tucson. And Peña and her community of female brewers are looking forward to using money made from sales of the beer to create educational opportunities for other women who are interested in the brewing industry.

"I just think it's so cool we get to do this," Peña said. "It's also a great opportunity for us to learn from each other."

Other breweries such as Barrio Brewing Co. and Dillinger Brewing Company were at Voltron supporting the Las Hermanas project.

Jaime Dickman, the chief operating officer for Barrio Brewing, said there are more opportunities for women to break into the field, and she hopes the project expands and opens paths for more women.

While the malt grains were being milled and transferred to the tanks on the other side of the facility, women mingled over coffees and shared their stories with each other. Luz Aguilar from Queretaro Homebrew Club was talking with Cheuyenne Weishaar and Brittany Drennan from the Country Malt Group.

"It wasn't until I was in another collaborative project where I was told 'Luz, you are in the industry', and that was just so special to me," Aguilar said. "Being here, it's like you are all my big sisters and I can learn from all of you."

At 5 p.m., they hosted a women brewers roundtable at the taproom, allowing opportunities for the public to ask questions and hear experiences about women being brought together across the Borderlands by the same passion.

As Peña said, "La pasión es lo que importa." Passion is what matters.

Las Hermanas — the second edition —  will be released on September 16 at a party at the Borderlands Brewing Co. taproom.  

Bianca Morales is’s Cultural Expression and Community Values reporter, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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