First Draft with Jennifer O'Connell of Georgia Ale & Lager Sirens

GALS co-founder talks about women in the craft-beer community

The seeds for the Georgia Ale & Lager Sirens were planted on BeerAdvocate magazine's active online message board. It was there that Jennifer O'Connell started connecting with other beer-loving ladies, including Kimberly Charles, with whom she would co-found GALS. "All we really want to accomplish is to show to ourselves and others that there is a percentage of women who love craft beer," O'Connell says. "That the stereotypes of women only liking fruit and light beers is false. And we have a voice that can benefit the craft-beer community. We've also found that education is important to our members who are either new to good beer or know what to drink but not how to make it."

GALS held its first official meeting in March 2010, and via monthly meetings since, the group has grown to 100 members, and even spawned similar offshoot groups in Greenville, S.C., and Denver. Creative Loafing caught up with O'Connell about how she got into beer and the unfortunate marketing push toward women beer drinkers.

Describe your first beer experience.

There are a couple of vivid memories I have of beer from very early. I was an Army brat born in Nuremberg, Germany, and there are stories of me sucking the beer foam off my dad's finger as a baby. You know it had to be quality considering where we were living. Then, when we were stationed at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Ga., I remember my dad "sneaking in" Coors when he would go on a business trip. I knew it was so special of a thing that I named a stuffed animal pony Coors. When I was 21 years old, give or take a year or two, I had a Redhook Hefeweizen and never went back to "college beer" again.

What is your favorite beer style, and why? An ideal pairing for that style?

My favorite beer style is the IPA, which explains my Twitter moniker Hoptrollop. Some may say it's an addiction, this love I have for hops, but it's not something I have to have 100 percent of the time. IPAs are the first beer I'll try from any brewery or brewpub, and at the Great American Beer Festival the last two years, I stuck with IPAs and Ryes for the most part.

Perhaps not my favorite IPA pairing, but certainly the most shocking, was vanilla ice cream. My husband and I discovered the combo by accident when our young kids were making a mess out of a soft-serve cone. After licking the ice cream to get it to return to cone shape my husband took a sip of his IPA and made me try it right away. There is something about the hop profile that brings out the floral vanilla, even in the cheapest of ice creams. We liked it so much we've served IPA floats to dinner guests.

What's been the hardest part of GALS so far?

Giving it the time and attention it deserves. Oh, and the financials, which is always an issue for event undertaking. We don't charge a membership fee, we don't even charge for meetings or events unless the place we're partnering with needs to, like a beer dinner. We have a few ways we've tried to raise money, including T-shirts, which are currently for sale at Ale Yeah! The funds go toward offsetting the price of beer for meetings, but someday I hope to have enough to buy two tickets to every beer dinner and event in Atlanta and disperse them among the members so we can truly have a presence and support the local beer community.

Chick Beer markets itself with the following slogan: "Finally, a beer just for women." As a craft-beer drinking, independent woman who presumably has no problems finding beer "just for you," how does this "Premium Light Beer" and its particular take on womanhood strike you?

I guess saying "Ugh!" and banging my head against my desk isn't enough of an answer. But I and the other GALS are not its target audience. We don't drink wine coolers or light beer. We don't need to wear or hold pink to feel like a woman. Even the news anchor in the video on the Chick Beer Web page admits she wants something more flavorful. Then she takes off the pink koozie because it makes her uncomfortable.

Next: Atlanta's best beer events in February

Atlanta's best beer events in February

Leon's Full Service Flight Night
?When: Every Monday, 5 p.m. until they're out
?Where: Leon's Full Service
?Price: Varies
?Leon's serves up myriad beer and wine flights (five or six of each), with food pairings.

Cypress Street Beer Geek Tuesdays
?When: Every Tuesday, 7 p.m.
?Where: Cypress Street Pint & Plate
?Price: Depends how much you drink
?Each week, this Midtown establishment features anything from tap takeovers to guest speakers, special brews to the company of beer aficionados.

5 Seasons Cask Night
?When: Every Thursday, 5:55-7:55 p.m.
?Where: 5 Seasons North and Westside
?Price: Varies
?Each week, a different guest taps a different keg of "real cask ale."

Bell's Bowl
?When: Fri.-Sun., Feb. 3-5
?Where: Aromas Wine and Craft Beer Bar
?Price: $5/beer, though serving sizes vary by style
?For three days, Kalamazoo's finest, Bell's Brewing, will inhabit all 10 draught lines at Aromas.

Barley and Mash Off
?When: Sat., Feb. 11, varying times
?Where: The Marlay House
?Price: $25
?This team competition begins on this Saturday with brewing and culminates in a tasting and judging on March 24. Details are many, and can be acquired from Colin Comer (colcomer@gmail.com)

Imperial Red IPA Release Party
?When: Sat., Feb. 11, 3:30-5:30 p.m.
?Where: Red Hare Brewing Company
?Price: Contact venue
?In honor of its limited-edition Rabbit's Reserve Series Imperial Red IPA, Red Hare will have Buen Provecho food truck and live music from Soulphonics and Ruby Velle at its brewery in Marietta.

__Winter Beer Carnival
?When: Sat., Feb. 11, 2 p.m.
?Where: Atlantic Station
?Price: $40-$60
?This third-annual festival has been "expanded to offer more beers and the games you love." No word at press time if that includes Angry Birds or Words With Friends.
The Decatur (Home) Brew Taste Off
?When: Sat., Feb. 11, 6-9 p.m.
?Where: The Marlay House
?Price: Depends how much you drink
?Beers from the Marlay House's January brew-off will be tasted and given awards by judges.

Unchain My Heart: Coalition to Unchain Dogs Valentine's Fundraiser
?When: Sun., Feb. 12, 3-5 p.m.
?Where: Midway Pub
?Price: $10 donation
?Atlanta Bully Rescue will have dogs for adopting, there will be a pit bull kissing booth, and your $10 donation gets you a free beer. Basically, this is amazing on every level.

Trappist Beer Dinner
?When: Mon., Feb. 13, time: contact venue
?Where: Summits Tavern (Cumming)
?Price: $59.99/person
?Three courses paired with Trappist beers, plus one additional beer at the pre-dinner reception.

Valetine's Day Pairings
?When: Tues., Feb. 14, time: contact venue
?Where: Cypress Street Pint& Plate
?Price: Contact venue
?This Sublime Doughnuts and Terrapin Brewing night will feature a keg of Wake 'N' Bake and Moo-Hoo.

Trappist Beer Dinner
?When: Thurs., Feb. 16, time: contact venue
?Where: Summits Tavern (Snellville)
?Price: $59.99/person
?Three courses paired with Trappist beers, plus one additional beer at the pre-dinner reception.

2 Course 2 Beer Pairing
?When: Fri., Feb. 17, 6-9 p.m.
?Where: The Marlay House
?Price: $20-$25 (estimated)
?Every third Friday of the month, the Marlay's chef creates two unique dishes to go with two unique beer pairings. Call 404-270-9950 for further details and/or RSVP.

SweetWater's 15th Anniversary Party
?When: Sat., Feb. 18, 2-6 p.m.
?Where: SweetWater Brewing Company
?Price: Depends on how much SweetWater you drink
?In celebration of 15 years of business and its recent expansion, SweetWater will pour a special Barley Wine version of their original ESB, along with several other special beers.

Ommegang Brewing Company Belgian Style Beer Dinner
?When: Thurs., Feb. 23, 8 p.m.
?Where: Wild Wing Cafe
?Price: $30
?Only 60 spots are available for this three-course pairing menu.__

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