Early in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, a mother asks the doctor if her just-delivered baby is a boy or a girl. The obstetrician replies, “Now, I think it’s a little too early to be imposing roles on it, don’t you?”
And yet somewhere along the way, we seem to do just that with beer. Beer — like Monty Python, the Three Stooges, and sports with a high degree of career-ending injuries — is deemed something men must like and women, at best, tolerate.
The craft-beer movement is changing all that. More women are declaring that a well-made beer is in fact just as satisfying as a glass of wine or a chocolate martini. They want a pint. Sure, the beer-enthusiast ranks are still mostly men and the industry itself contains only a handful of female brewers, such as longtime Austin brewer Julie Thompson of Live Oak Brewing Co. and Kim Jordan, who has built Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Co. into a national powerhouse. But the membership of the Pink Boots Society for women brewers, brewery owners, and others who make their living in the beer world is now at 400 and other signs that women appreciate a fine malt beverage are emerging.
“We’re creating consumers, but in the best possible way,” says Jennifer Litz, a San Antonio native who co-founded Girls Pint Out in Indianapolis and is bringing the event-based group to her new home city of Houston.
Litz, who writes about beer for magazines and on her blog at tx.girlspintout.com, wants to build an army of women across the state to tour breweries, tip back a few top-notch Belgian ales or a stand-up stout at finer beer bars, and generally demonstrate that women will support craft-brewing. Upcoming fall events in San Antonio include visits to the new Ranger Creek Brewery and Distillery and a special beer-release day at Freetail Brewing Co.
Litz has thought a lot about women’s attitudes toward beer, musings generally accompanied by a snifter of one of her favorite brews, such as Belgian-style sour ales. In general, she says, men grew up learning that beer was their drink and those that yearned for more taste drifted toward fine imports and American craft brews. Women, on the other hand, were never “socialized” into the beer culture, and if they didn’t like the light American lager presented to them at a party, they tended to drift toward mixed drinks or wine. Marketing hasn’t helped. Beer ads tend to feature men yukking it up at a bar or doing something “manly” like rugged mountain-biking, wrestling a bear, or ogling the scantily clad woman bringing them the beer. Wine ads sometimes feature mixed groups enjoying themselves, but just as often show women chatting and sometimes making fun of men.
This is the low-hanging fruit. Craft beer aimed higher. For one, most of them didn’t have the budget for big advertising and marketing campaigns when they launched. Sure, some “craft” brewers did try a little bar-to-bar guerilla marketing using what the industry calls “beer girls” to get male patrons to take a little taste. But for the most part, marketing for craft brewers and classic imports like Samuel Smith’s or Ayinger didn’t employ gender-specific tactics.
Once men and women alike discover that there are many styles of beer, a little adventuring usually turns up one or more that they like. For that reason, about the 35 percent of all craft beer drinkers are women, which skews higher than the percent of women who drink beer in general.
The phenomenon of supertasters also shows up in more women than men, which means women have a greater chance of enjoying the subtlety of some complex ales and lagers. Some women are hopheads, but those with supertaster traits also can be affronted by something like a double India pale ale or an American-style barleywine ale.
So a bit of advice to both men and women: Drink what you like, but spend some time figuring out what that is and educating the palate. Buy flights of several 4- to 5-ounce samples at better beer bars, restaurants, and brewpubs. Sit at the bar (preferably smoke-free for a clean taste) ask for a sample and they’ll usually pull you an ounce or two to see if you like it. Most of all, be sociable about the process. Getting together with groups of people like Texas Girls Pint Out, a local homebrew club, or at parties where there are at least a few knowledgeable beer people gives the whole beer adventure significance.
Travis E. Poling writes about beer weekly for the Current and is author of the book Beer Across Texas: A Guide to the Brews and Brewmasters of the Lone Star State. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.