By James Bentley
Although recent data undercuts the stereotype of women not drinking craft beer, connotations persist. Female craft beer drinkers are often still treated as novices rather than enthusiasts.
Alyssa Ellis was at the Night Shift Brewery in Everett, Mass. enjoying an India Pale Ale (IPA). IPAs are known for their bitter profile created by using hops as the primary focus of the flavor. For Ellis, IPAs were an acquired taste.
“I did not like them at all. I hated them. I thought it was disgusting,” she said. “I drank more Bud Lite, Budweiser type stuff. Slowly over time, I started to like them and now all I drink are super hoppy IPAs.”
Ellis said as she acquired the taste and as more breweries opened, she’s noticed more women are also enjoying craft beer. She said she has spotted the change since she first started going to craft breweries in 2011-2012 with her husband Jon.
Knowledge of beer styles and hops is something Ellis now has after learning about what she likes in her six to seven years drinking craft beer.
“Men always try to mansplain beer to me and I’m like, I know so much more about this than you,” Ellis said. That happens all the time.”
Ellis’s husband Jon said she’s “been around the block” when it comes to craft beer. When Jon Ellis was asked why he thinks more women are getting into craft beer, he guessed the number of couples going to breweries and touring them was a significant factor in the growth. Ellis and her husband said this was how she started getting into craft beer.
“I think the other thing is because now all the new breweries that pop up around the established breweries, you can tour a bunch of them in the area at once. So, it’s kind of like a day out on the town,” said Jon Ellis.
Jon Ellis reiterated that the environment is key. He said often these breweries are within walking distance and have outdoor patios. But he also hinted at another common stereotype about women and beer. “So it’s kind of the stuff around the beer itself as well as the development of fruity, kind of easier to drink beers.”
Beer enthusiasts like Grace Deacon find this stereotype to be problematic. IPAs and other hop-heavy beers are among Deacon’s favorites. Deacon said bartenders are often surprised by her taste in beer. “If I’m taking a while to decide (what beer to drink), I’m usually recommended something light and not overly flavorful, or yes something fruity, even shandys (beer mixed with carbonated lemon/lime beverage), which are gross. That’s an offensive recommendation.” Deacon said.
Deacon however did agree with Jon Ellis that dating has brought some women into craft beer. When Deacon and her girlfriend, who works at a brewery, used to live in New Zealand, her girlfriend’s boss used to say that couples drove a lot of business there. “So a lot of the women who came in actually did just want wine, while their husbands drank the most bland of the beers,” said Deacon.
However, Deacon said her girlfriend’s boss did notice a large array of taste for the women who were drinking beer at the brewery.
Beth Vita, the assistant Brewer at the Baltimore County Brewery in Hunt Valley, Maryland ironically sees more men ordering fruit-flavored beers than women at the brewery she works at. Her theory is that men feel more comfortable ordering something fruity as long as it’s still beer.
“Men feel more comfortable, more cushioned getting a fruit beer than a Long Island iced tea,” Vita said.
Vita accounted one particular situation where she saw this stereotype from the lens of masculinity. Two male friends were at the brewery and one of them asked the other if he’d like to get a pineapple-flavored beer. The friend gave the other man a weird look and hesitated to answer. Vita recounted that the other male only tried the beer because his friend said, “Don’t worry, it’s an IPA.”
Beer enthusiast Tessa Pollock also gets frustrated when men at breweries and bars assume her beer knowledge isn’t on par with theirs. She doesn’t like IPAs, preferring other styles such as small-batch sour ales or dark chocolate or coffee stouts.
But when Pollock said this to a man trying to order her a beer, she said the conversation becomes tiresome quickly. “Whenever I am ordering and a guy hears this, he is suddenly trying to fix my affinity or lack thereof for IPAs,” Pollock said. They try to explain the flavor and how it’s made and how it’s what I should like drinking.”
Pollock finds these conversations bothersome because she’s been around craft beer a long time. Her brother is a brewer.
“I know more about beer than the average man at a bar 99.99 percent of the time,” said Pollock.
Retail and Marketing
Kate Baker, who co-owns the retail chain Craft Beer Cellar, takes pride in seeing women break the stereotype every day when they come into her stores and look for something new to drink. She said customers, including women, are interested in what makes a beer unique. An example of this type of enthusiast culture is when Craft Beer Cellar hosts sales representatives from breweries for in-store tastings.
“How many times have you been out somewhere and are like, ‘Hey, want to try this?’” Baker said. “Come on, I want you to tell me about your beer. I want to know why you’re doing this. I want to know how long you’ve been doing this. I want you to tell me a story.”
Deacon is also inspired by a brewery’s story and what their brewers bring to the table.
“I appreciate the creativity and experimentation going on, and the range of flavors and styles available. I like seeing breweries collaborate and come out with seasonal or special brews. There’s always something new to try,” Deacon said.
Despite seeing more women coming out to Craft Beer Cellar and exploring the variety of beer styles, Baker said the female presence has yet to reach its peak. “I think there’s more women in general in the whole industry and the industry includes female consumers going to brew pubs, going to breweries… I think there has been an increase. I think there’s room for more though.”
Pollock said one way that could help make more room is with the way beer is marketed. Pollock said femininity isn’t prevalent in a lot of craft beer marketing.
“I feel a lot of the marketing towards women make us feel like ‘one of the boys’, and I am not here for that stereotype either,” Pollock said. “I can be femme and be knowledgeable and passionate about beer too.”
Pollock doesn’t believe there is much effort with craft beer marketing and that only leaves how large corporations market towards women as visible. She finds those portrayals damaging and frustrating. “The beer I want to be drinking, local and microbreweries, don’t really take the time to market to me, so I am stuck looking at Bud Light and Miller commercials with girls in daisy dukes and flannels till the cows come home,” Pollock said.