Talea Beer Co. Carves Out Space for Women in Craft Beer | Wine Enthusiast
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The Women-Owned Brewery Making Waves in NYC’s Male-Dominated Craft Beer Scene

When Brooklyners and avid homebrewers LeAnn Darland and Tara Hankinson launched Talea Beer Co. in 2019, they helmed the only exclusively women-owned and -founded production brewery in New York City. Five years later, the same can be said: Progress in the craft beer world moves slowly. Hankinson and Darland, however, do not.

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At the end of last year, Talea built upon the wild success of its existing Brooklyn taprooms and burst onto the Manhattan scene, opening locations in Bryant Park in October and the West Village in December. These new spots followed quickly on the heels of its first Williamsburg outpost, which debuted in 2021, and its 2022 Cobble Hill locale. Added up, Talea has averaged one new taproom per year—an incredible feat for a small business in New York City—a city that is notoriously grueling for small businesses. What makes this growth even more exceptional is the fact that these cofounders are women: According to a 2021 audit from the Brewer’s Association, only 3% of the 9,000-plus craft breweries in America are fully women-owned.

Close up on a glass of TALEA Beer
Image Courtesy of Alice Gao / TALEA Beer Co.

“Being women-owned is so intertwined with every single part of our business,” says Hankinson, whose partner, Darland, is at home with a newborn at the time of our interview. In addition to boasting a progressive parental leave policy and partnering with women-owned businesses on everything from construction to can collaborations, Hankinson says they take inspiration from a “muse customer” when developing beers: a professional woman in her mid-20s to late-30s who lives in Williamsburg and probably owns a Peloton. But beyond just “women who eat Sweetgreen for lunch,” Talea courts demographics who may feel excluded from craft beer culture including older individuals, the LGTBQIA+ community, people of color, even folks who don’t drink alcohol.

In short, when Darland and Hankinson took the leap from their corporate jobs to professional beer-making—Darland worked in finance and Hankinson in consulting—they aimed to make beers that would please everyone from discerning beer snobs to hard seltzer-drinkers and everyone in between.

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“We are creating gateway craft beers, often sours, that a lot of the time are inspired by cocktails or desserts,” says Hankinson, of the minimally bitter and fruit-forward brews for which they’re known. “We’re using a flavor profile that is more familiar to someone who has maybe only had really hoppy IPAs or beer pong beer and who doesn’t know what craft beer can be.” She might be selling Talea short here—the brand takes big swings with flavors. Last year, they collaborated with tinned fish darling Fishwife on a Super Smokey Lager and with Fly By Jing on a spicy Weekender Sichuan Lager (both women-owned companies).

After a couple years of growing Talea’s reach in NYC-area restaurants and hundreds of regional retailers, Darland and Hankinson opened their flagship brewery and taproom in Williamsburg three years ago, drawing crowds with charming design, inventive beer flights, food-truck pop-ups and even taproom yoga. The Cobble Hill location came next. All of their spaces share an unabashedly feminine design sensibility that draws inspiration from the light and bright all-day cafés of Australia. A far cry from the dark, somewhat grungy taprooms and breweries that seem to be the standard, Talea outposts are so comfortable and pleasant that a large portion of their business is remote workers.

As Hankinson sees it, New York City is many years behind the craft beer curve, compared to cities like Denver and Portland. For one, the economics are harder, both in terms of rent and personnel costs, but also the odd logistics, like disposing of spent grain. (“We have to pay someone to take our spent grain to recycle it,” she says. “In other parts of the country, farmers buy it.”)

TALEA Beer's West Village location
Image Courtesy of Brooke Holm / TALEA Beer Co.

But she’s excited to see more New York City women, however few, forging a path in the beer industry, and she hopes to see more of them own their breweries. “One of the most exciting brands brewing in Brooklyn is Back Home Beer,” says Hankinson.

Iranian-born Zahra Tabatabai, the founder of Back Home Beer, draws inspiration from the flavors and ingredients of the Middle East, like Persian blue salt and sun-dried black limes. Her “Sumac Gose,” sold in a striking cloudy pink can, is brewed with nearly one pound of tart cherries per gallon and cured sumac sourced from a single farm in Turkey. There are also a good amount of husband-and-wife-run beer businesses, like Grimm and Fifth Hammer.

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When I ask Hankinson if she thinks the craft brewery scene in New York is still a boys club, she says yes, without hesitation. “They’re still selling to the same consumer base that they have always been, and I don’t see much effort to truly open up to a broader audience,” she says. She pauses. “That doesn’t bother me, because we don’t view craft breweries as competitors. We view our competitors as any other way someone would spend a Saturday afternoon in NYC.”

With wine, cocktails, coffee and a sophisticated menu of small bites, Talea really isn’t like any other brewery in the city—and it doesn’t want to be. ”Someone in the West Village could be going to Little Ruby’s for a drink and a snack, or Dante for a cocktail. Those are our competitors.”