On women and beer

This month’s Session question (a regular query posed by a chosen member of the beer blogging world) comes from Nichole over at TastingNitch.com. Actually, it’s less of a question and more of topic examination. The topic? Women in craft beer culture. For this round, I deferred to DRAFT’s managing editor, Jessica Daynor, who stepped away from putting together our next issue to jot down a few thoughts. Here’s what she had to say:

I feel bad for Belgian brewers. Not all of them, really, just the ones at Cantillon and Lindeman’s and 3 Fonteinen and others, whose phenomenal fruited lambics—capable of being produced only by brewers with the perfect cocktail of tank mastery, patience and a knack for yeast—are reduced to “ladybeers.” “Drink them with your salad!” says the menu. “You’ll like this one because it tastes like berries; you don’t even taste the beer!” says a server. “Dude, that’s some chick beer,” says someone asking for the stinkeye. It’s as if the moment Eve bit the apple, fruit became womanfood.

Which is silly, of course, because men eat fruit, and women drink beer. Lots of beer. Since I left a non-beer magazine to join DRAFT in 2007, I’ve seen more women in beer bars, at beer festivals, and working the tanks (more on that later) every year. But you know what? I’ve seen a lot more guys in those spaces, too. The female beer audience has grown because the beer audience has grown and, you know, math. And as craft beer has swelled, so have the number of beers in “girly” styles; at this year’s GABF alone, the fruit beer and fruit wheat beer categories garnered 73 and 48 entries, respectively.

My point is that beer has no gender. It is a beverage. But in small ways, both sexes perpetuate gender beer stereotypes. I often travel to check out beer bars in consideration for our annual Best Beer Bars list; these visits aren’t prearranged and they never know I’m coming to ensure I get the same service any average Joe or Jane gets if they walk in and ask for a beer recommendation. The best bars ask me the same stuff they’d ask anyone: “What styles do you usually drink?” “Do you like really strong bitterness?” “Have you had anything from Brewery XYZ?” But some—including one well-known beer bar you won’t see on our list anymore—have treated me like a second-class beer citizen. If I ask for a recommendation, they’ll suggest a shandy without inquiring about my tastes. (Nothing against shandies…bring ‘em on!) Or, I’ll order a bourbon-barrel barleywine and they’ll sneer, “You know what that is,right?” My favorite is the macho bartender who tries to educate me with major misinformation: “So, this IPA is really dank, ‘cause it’s made with wheat.”

Women do it too. I’m all for a good costume, even a sexy one, but when a woman dons a dirndl and pulls her boobs halfway out, she perpetuates the female role in beer as a server rather than a drinker. (I’m not slut-shaming, I’m fashion shaming, people.) And when a woman denies her own palate to let a man order for her what he thinks she’ll like, women fall further down the ladder as taste-making, trend-pushing consumers. Women have incredible beer purchasing power—women are responsible for the most in-supermarket beer sales—but I wonder if we’re not advocating for our palates enough. Fact: If you tell your bartender or your grocer that you want them to carry a certain beer, they’ll usually try to get it.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we—men and women—treat each other as unequal partners in beer-drinking? Part of the answer may lie in a study in September’s Social Psychological and Personality Science, which suggests that a sense of entitlement disposes women to affirm patriarchal systems. In other words, women can and should benefit because we are “wonderful but weak;” as the fairer sex, we depend on a male counterpart, and we deserve more because we’re coming from a lower rung on the ladder. The study identifies a “benevolent sexism” in which participants of both genders hold beliefs such as “women should be cherished and protected by men” and “women, compared to men, tend to have a superior moral sensibility.” A Jezebel commentary on the report said, “When a woman feels that she deserves special treatment, it’s through the filter of her woman-ness. … This explains why the protection of masculinity is often a conduit to female power and entitlement—be it through acting like a man, feeling the overwhelming need to gain the respect of men in order to gain legitimacy, or proclaiming oneself unlike other women.”

Obviously, it’s tough to simply say, “Stop doing this, guys and gals! Lose these beliefs!” But I think the beer world—which is a social, fun and mostly kind world to be in—can start to right this ship. We start by treating beer drinkers not as men or women, but as beer drinkers—because, again, the liquid we love isn’t paid for or ingested any differently by men or women. We are all craft beer lovers. We are all consumers. We all drink our beer one pint at a time.

There are women doing incredible, laudable things in beer right now: Annie Johnson won the 2013 National Homebrewers Competition. Nicole Erny is one of only four Master Cicerones in existence. Rebecca Reid is doing crazy-secretive stuff as the head of Anheuser-Busch’s R&D brewery. Deschutes brewer Veronica Vega has a toddler and makes Chasin’ Freshies. Mary Nowak is brewmaster at the gigantic new Chicago location of Lagunitas. And I walked around last year’s GABF seven months pregnant. (OK, fine, I don’t hold a candle to these women.) We should treat these accomplishments (not mine) as the feats they are: These are triumphs in beer and brewing that have nothing to do with what restroom they use.

So, the best way to lower the divide in craft beer? Stop treating female drinkers like female drinkers. We don’t want to be marketed to as women; sell us on flavor, tell us how your canned IPA is a perfect cycling beer, show us how your chocolate stout makes a perfect mole sauce—just as you would a man. Bartenders, guide women to the best beers the industry has to offer in the same way you would a male drinker. And women, get to know what you like, and tell your bartender what that is.

And for crying out loud, stop saying framboise is “for girls.” A quote from a beer seller in a 2008 piece by Lew Brysonsays it best: “It’s popular with women, but it wouldn’t be [a] best seller if men weren’t buying it.”

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