On beer, women, and the continuing need for advocacy
Beer is in the midst of a cultural shift – the craft beer industry is booming and beer tastes are changing for men and women. Despite some growth in the female beer market, it remains that only 25 – 29 percent of American ladies like beer.
Historically, brewing was considered the responsibility of women. Back then, brewing was mainly done in the home. Starting in the 18th century, beer became a major business, and quickly became dominated by men. Despite gains, beer continues to be seen as a man’s drink and business. This fact is perhaps most evident by the way beer is marketed, aka the sexy pin-up or Bud Girl. Most often when beer is marketed to women it is low-calorie, “lite” beer. Even the craft beer industry is guilty of this kind of beer sexism. Take, “Tramp Stamp,” a Belgian IPA brewed by the venerable Clown Shoes out of Massachusetts. If the name and label isn’t telling, the description is even worse: “Like a stamp on a tramp, this beer is about not so subtle seduction. Soft but complex malts, Chambly yeast, sweet orange peel, Columbus, Amarillo, and Centennial hops have merged to create a bodacious Belgian IPA.” Not only is the beer clearly intended for men, this wreaks of “not so subtle” female objectification. This is only one of many examples.
There has been a lot of press lately about women in beer, including this article/audio from NPR and this article from the Atlantic. All of this press is great, but I think we still have a long way to go. You may have heard of a group called Girls’ Pint Out, a national advocacy group for women in beer. Well, I was recently given the opportunity to take over as President of the Ohio Chapter – I am thrilled and can’t wait to help make Ohio a place that welcomes all into the beer family. I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing this article for a while, and now it feels like the right time to share my own personal beer journey.
Let me start off by saying, emphatically, that I am of the opinion that beer is universal. With the vast variety of beer flavors out there, there really is a beer style out there for everyone. Anyone (of legal drinking age, that is) who is interested in beer should be welcomed to the beer community with open arms: men, women, LGBT or Q.
Once upon a time, I hated beer. Having tried extremely crappy beer in high school I was immediately turned off and avoided it at all costs. That being said, I didn’t like your traditional “girly” drinks either, preferring dirty martinis and dry red wine. My college friends can attest to me bringing liter bottles of Yellow Tail to parties where literally everyone else, even the girls, guzzled fizzy yellow stuff because that was the only option.
I didn’t even know what good beer was until about the time I reached legal drinking age. At this point I had tried a few more craft beers, especially Sam Adams Boston Lager and Cherry Wheat and I didn’t hate them at all. It was on a second date with my now husband, Mike, that the beer boycott truly ended. He ordered a Bass ale, so I did too. That night we talked a little about beer. At the time, he was no expert but loved it, and encouraged me to try new things. I did, and for the first time I started to really like beer.
A couple years later he received a gift that would change both of our lives: a homebrew kit. We started brewing together and with friends. At first I was mostly a bystander, I enjoyed hanging out while we brewed and helped out, but it still felt like the boys’ hobby. Not because of the boys, but because of that inner voice of cultural norms that said, “boys like blue, and girls like pink.” Nevertheless, little by little I became more involved, suggesting styles we should brew and eventually putting together and brewing my own recipes, but it took a lot of time and encouragement to get there.
Almost three years ago we moved to Cincinnati, Ohio so my husband could get top notch training for his medical career. While Mike worked upwards of 80 hours a week as a resident, I soon realized that I needed a creative outlet to fill my spare time. I also wanted to share my love of beer and food with the world, alas lovebeerlovefood.com was born. I unknowingly embarked on a path untraveled by most women in Cincinnati, Ohio. I love this little city, but progressive it is not. The only prominent woman in the area that I know of who writes about beer is my friend Carla of the Hoperatives, a husband and wife pair who are at the epi-center of the local craft beer blog scene.
In this journey I have encountered endless questioning about my beer passion and knowledge from men and women too, sometimes simple curiosity, and at times abject skepticism. At first, many of my peers assumed I was clueless, in fact someone recently asked me at a beer event, “what questions do you have about beer?” I raised my eyebrows, mouth agape thinking: what makes you think you know more about beer than me? Luckily my husband came to my rescue, amazing advocate that he is. At that moment it became clear to me that in order to be respected and even noticed as a beer writer, like it or not, as a woman I needed to prove myself. It wasn’t enough to simply love beer. This was my main motivation for taking the Certified Cicerone exam and I am so glad I did. Last I checked I am the only female Certified Cicerone® in the Greater Cincinnati area, and only the third in Ohio.
I could not have even tried for this accomplishment without support. My husband was my main advocate, but I have to thank my friend Sean, assistant brewer at Celler Dweller, and Scott from Blank Slate Brewing too for all of their support. Despite butting up against some sexist ideas, I at least was lucky to have that support where other women might not.
Having more women get involved as leaders in beer is a major step to cultural change. I really love Ginger Johnson’s article on this issue, she is the president of the
group company Women Enjoying Beer, yet another group whose sole purpose is to study and make progress on this gap of women in beer. We need more women advocates and trailblazers, like Annie Johnson, the first woman in thirty years to win Homebrewer of the Year award, Teri Fahrendorf, leader of the Pink Boots Society an organization advocating for women brewers, Kim Jordan, CEO of New Belgium Brewery, the third largest craft brewery in the country, and Nicole Erny, the first and youngest female Master Cicerone. Visibility and advocacy is key. However, it’s a tricky business and we all need to remember that advocating for women doesn’t mean alienating men.
My goal in taking over for Ohio Girls Pint Out is not just to advocate for Ohio women in beer, but to make all things beer related, brewing, drinking, education, accessible to all people. This is not an issue of us against them. I want to encourage every beer lover, male and female, to advocate for the people in their lives and most importantly to put their pre-conceived notions behind them. I know plenty of men who like fruit beers and plenty of women who like über hopped IPAs. Let’s all work together to make Ohio, the United States, and the world a more inclusive place for beer drinkers, brewers, and the like.
Cheers to that!