In a way, Karen Nord-Schaar’s bright pink T-shirt says it all. The front reads “Powder Keggers,” the name of the all-female group of wine and beer enthusiasts that she spearheads. On the back, you’ll see the logo borrowed from Rosie the Riveter that the group champions: “We can brew it.”
But there’s also something to the way Nord-Schaar, 51, wears this T-shirt.
It’s not just that her biceps bulge out of the T-shirt as she declares: “I’m not afraid to show off my muscles.” It’s also the way she proudly wears her femininity and her strength on her sleeve.
“At my core, I believe women can do anything the boys are doing, and I don't think we should be quiet about that,” she said. “And I think they can still wear pink while they’re doing it. When I wear this shirt, I think about just rolling up my sleeves and doing it.”
The Powder Keggers group — a loose conglomeration of women who make their own beer and wine and appreciate craft beer — is proof of that. They also call themselves the BFF, which stands for the Brigade of Female Fermenters.
“I like making my own beer, but I’m not going to wait for my husband to come around and do it,” she said. "There's a lot of women like that and maybe we don't talk about it."
While she has attended events with the Powder Keggers around Iowa for over two years, Nord-Schaar, who works at Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire, recently got the ball rolling in the Quad-Cities.
“I’ve noticed with home-brewing that it tends to be like 90 percent men and guys are usually loud and talking over the women,” she said. “We wanted to change that in the Q-C.”
Nord-Schaar held the first official Powder Keggers class last weekend, where she taught about 20 women how to make wine at home. She plans to host classes on the first Sunday of the month in the future.
“These classes are by women and for women,” she said. “We want to know they can do it and have a space to ask questions and learn.”
That’s exactly how it was going for Fawn Moncrief on Sunday in the basement of Front Street Brewery’s restaurant.
Halfway into Sunday’s class, Moncrief wrapped one hand around a pencil and another hand around a small tasting glass. She scribbled down her 17th step and tastes who-knows-what-number sample of wine.
Moncrief, 38, has been to wineries in Napa Valley and can easily tell the difference between most of the red wines at the grocery store. But she has never tackled — and never tried — making her own brand of wine.
“It’s kind of intimidating to think about, because it takes a lot of steps,” she said. “I’m here, because I don’t feel like I’m doing it the man’s way.”
As a starting point, Nord-Schaar suggests that you buy a wine-making kit, which can cost anywhere from $50 to $200. It takes about 30 days to complete one bottle and then you should wait about three months to taste.
“That is, if you can wait,” Mary Smith, who owns Something’s Brewing, a home-brew shop, and is another leader of the Powder Keggers. “Wine takes a lot about patience.”
Smith says there’s always something new to learn about home-brewing and wine-making, from how much sugar to add to how to cork the bottles.
“It feels like it’s always been more of a guy thing to drink a beer and girls order the girly drinks and bake the cookies,” she said.
But not the Powder Keggers. They’re changing that perception one class, and one pink T-shirt at a time.
“I like when I look around I see women who were afraid to do this a year ago and now they feel like they can,” Smith, who has made wine out of a variety of things from her garden, including carrots and tomatoes and raspberries, said. “I love that we can be a part of the home-brewing culture just as much as our husbands.”
That’s how Kendra Kennedy, 62, feels too. For more than 20 years, she stayed on the sidelines while her husband made his own beer and attended classes and conventions.
“There was a time that I was intimidated to ask questions or I didn’t know what kind of beer I liked and it was like that typical gender role thing,” she said. “But now I’m an equal part of the conversation and the process.”
Kennedy proudly shares the “We can brew it” slogan at craft beer festivals, farmer’s markets and contests where the Powder Keggers make appearances. She has been involved for over a year.
"It's definitely an outdated idea that women don't drink or enjoy going out for a beer the same way a man does," she said. "We're proud to bring our own thing to the table."
After a good turnout on Sunday, Kennedy and Nord-Schaar are eager to keep the classes going. They're also happy to have some more drinking buddies.
“It’s just another lesson that girls can do anything, which is something we know deep down but can still doubt sometimes,” Kennedy, who lives in Moline, said. “This group gives us all the confidence to say we can do it. And we can do it our own way."