When heartbreak hits, most might lean on close friends and family. Abby Gaskell instead turned to a group of internet strangers who share a love of craft beer.
In the months leading up to her 30th birthday, Gaskell’s boyfriend of four years hinted at a surprise celebratory trip. When the week before her birthday arrived, though, he broke up with her.
Instead of completely calling off her plans, Gaskell, a physician’s assistant and homebrewer who lives in Melbourne, Fla., decided to go on a solo trip. She just wasn’t sure where to go.
Early last week, she joined a Facebook group made up of South Carolina “craft beer girls” and posted a question: “I know it’s a long shot, but any ladies want to road trip and hit some breweries?”
The comments and messages poured in.
“If you’re in Greenville, I’ll buy you a birthday beer,” wrote one woman. Another said, “I’m so sorry this happened.” Others offered brewery recommendations around South Carolina and North Carolina. One shared a link to the country song called, “Power of Positive Drinkin’.”
After making plans to meet up with women in Asheville and Charlotte, Gaskell started driving. Her final stop was in Charleston.
“It’s overwhelming how many people responded to that and were up for it,” Gaskell said over IPAs at Revelry Brewing on Sunday. “I had it in my heart that no one would be able to meet up with me, because it was so last minute.”
The response doesn’t surprise Kate Christensen, who founded the Craft Beer Girls Beer & Body group in 2017. At the time, she had started working at a brewery in Houston and wanted to talk to women with an interest in beer.
“It was basically me wanting a safe space where I felt comfortable sharing what I was learning and where I could ask questions,” she said. “Craft beer was and is very male-dominated. I felt like I needed some girls to talk about beer with.”
The group grew to a national network that now boasts more than 20,000 members. In sub-groups separated by each state, members regularly post photos of what they’re drinking, plan meet-ups and, as Christensen said, “just share what’s going on in life.”
Members also share events and messages related to health and wellness, as the “body” part of the name suggests.
“I had a trainer who told me I couldn’t work out and drink craft beer. She said I had to choose one or the other,” Christensen said. "I obviously don't think that's true. So I made that part of the group."
As internet groups go, it’s remarkably positive, thanks to volunteers who monitor posts and follow a code of kindness.
“We all know how social media is,” Christensen said. “It could easily have turned into people complaining about beer or being mean to each other. I worked hard to make sure it wasn’t that.”
Over online and in-person interactions, members have formed strong friendships.
“It’s a place where women are aggressively supporting other women,” she said. “Everyone sort of feels like, ‘These are my people.’”
Gaskell felt that support after sharing brews and stories with members of the Craft Beer Girls group over the weekend.
In addition to going to Revelry on Conroy Street, she stopped at Lewis Barbecue downtown and Low Tide Brewing on Johns Island. She also went to Sierra Nevada in Fletcher, N.C., and Wicked Weed in Asheville.
“I feel like I made some new best friends,” she said. “When you know you like craft beer, you immediately have something to talk about."
On her drive from Florida, Gaskell said she listened to an audio book and laughed as much as she cried.
"It sucks," she said of her breakup. "But, what are you going to do?"
If Gaskell didn't travel that weekend, she said she probably would've "stayed home and cried a lot."
Instead, she returned home with new memories, beers and friends.
"I don't know what all is next," she said. "But I know I'm happy I did that."