Perusing the beer shelf in a local grocery store last week, one particular name leapt out amid all the lagers, blondes, malts, ambers, stouts, porters, pilsners and IPAs: an extra pale ale called Pussy Grabs Back.
Whoa. Where on Earth did this brew, emblazoned with the image of a hissing pink cat on the can, come from?
Answer: Honolulu. Pussy Grabs Back is brewed and canned in Kakaako at Honolulu Beerworks.
“Brewed with a special hop blend for Pink Boots Society, this hop forward pale ale has bite to it,” the label explains.
That it does. It’s delicious.
It’s also empowering, intended to support women brewers in a male-dominated industry and just maybe take a cat’s swipe at a certain U.S. president and his recorded views caught by “Access Hollywood.”
A portion of the proceeds from Pussy Grabs Back sales goes to the mainland-based nonprofit Pink Boots Society, whose mission is to “assist, inspire and encourage women beer industry professionals to advance their careers through education.”
(Click here to read an article by the society’s historian chronicling women brewers from prehistoric times through Prohibition. Sample excerpt: “800 B.C.E. — Germanic women brew beer in forest clearings.”)
I asked Honolulu Beerworks co-owner Geoff Seideman whether he was worried about possible blowback from such a provocative label. He said no, stressing that the beer was created by women brewers.
“They helped with the recipe, they chose the name, they chose the artwork — all the women that work for us did all that,” said Seideman, who gave particular props to his first assistant brewer, Roxayne Spruance. “So, if they were OK with that, I was OK with that.”
Brewed for the first time less than a year ago, Pussy Grabs Back has become so popular that it is now one of the open-air craft brewpub’s five core beers served year-round.
The others are Pia Mahi’ai Honey Citrus Saison, HI-PA / Hop Island IPA, Kewalos Cream Ale and Cocoweizen. There are also limited or seasonal drafts like Makakilo Brown Ale.
Of note: The cat on the Pussy Grabs Back can is a staff cat named Beer Kitty. And yes, she’s female.
Pussy Grabs Back started as a limited release in-house beer, 15 barrels in all.
Designed with ingredients from Yakima Chief Hops in Washington state, Pussy Grabs Back was first brewed in February and positioned to be released March 8 — International Women’s Day, the annual celebration powered by a “collective action and shared ownership for driving gender parity.”
“As soon as we started releasing it, we had people like Whole Foods come right at us and going, ‘We want it,'” said Seideman.
Same goes for select Foodland, Safeway and Don Quijote stores, Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors and a few small independent stores.
“You would be surprised at who carries this beer,” said Sharon Heitzenroder, sales director for Honolulu Beerworks. “Whole Foods was first, and once everybody saw it, people really started getting behind the idea. It’s a funny name, but it benefits a good cause.”
Those benefits include scholarships from Pink Boots Society, which has chapters all across the country.
Some restaurants and bars in Waikiki buy kegs and then sell Pussy Grabs Back by another name, like Grabs Back or Kitty Grabs Back.
“Some keep the name as it is,” said Seideman. “Obviously, the can says what the can says. But it was interesting who in the corporate world was going to shy away from it or not. We’ve had nothing but positive experience. The beer is phenomenal and it’s been a great platform for us to be able to support Pink Boots Society and have a cool beer out on the shelf.”
Seideman and his wife Charmayne, originally from Philadelphia, opened Honolulu Beerworks in 2014. The company skews to hiring women, who hold five of seven leadership positions.
“That’s pretty much the opposite of much of the industry,” said Heitzenroder. “Our business model is unique.”
Pussy Grabs Back is not the only Honolulu Beerworks product giving back.
Proceeds from a recent draft, Resilience IPA, are going to victims of the the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, California, on Nov. 8. It’s being done in conjunction with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and includes four other Hawaii breweries and many more across the country.
A limited edition Rising Hope IPA benefits the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, while a Liquid Art beer series raised money for the local arts nonprofits (and Kakaako neighbors) Pu’uhonua Society and Aupuni Space.
It’s Pussy Grabs Back that has grabbed beer drinkers’ attention, though. It’s helped Honolulu Beerworks expand its distribution statewide, and now it’s looking for a second local brewing space.
Seideman says a different version of Pussy Grabs Back will be brewed in the new year, most likely a limited edition.
In spite of the name, Seideman downplays its political significance.
“We don’t sit out there and get too political about anything,” he said. “Obviously there is some underlying stuff with it, but at the same time, beer is supposed to be fun.”
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