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The Buzz

A Beerfly's view. If you see anything here that seems crazy, click here.

Vintage Buzz

2006 Buzz

Jan. '06: Best of 2005

2005 Buzz

Dec. '05: Look at Me Drink!

Nov. '05: Malt Monsters

Oct. '05: Sweetness

Sep. '05: When to Fold

Aug. '05: Little Nightmares

July '05: American Spirit

June '05: Miller Time 

May. '05: Breathing Beer 

April '05: Now It's Personal

Mar. '05: 7% Ain't Enough

Feb. '05: Down to 18 

Jan. '05: Best of 2004 

2004 Buzz

Dec. '04: Joys of the Dark 

Nov. '04: The Next Store 

Oct. '04: Beer's Image 

Sept. '04: Clearly Insane 

August '04: Love of Lager

July '04: Speak Up!

June '04: Get Drafted

May '04: Shedding Tiers

April '04: Keg Party

March '04: Ultra Madness

February '04: Case Law

January '04: Best of 2003

2003 Buzz

Dec. '03: Wine good!

Nov. '03: Say Anything

Oct. '03: Shots at Saveur

Sept. '03: Pay For It!

August '03: Subtlety

July '03: RIP, Corner Bar

June '03: Screw 'Em!

May '03: Extreme Beer?

April '03: Liquor Taxes

March '03: St. Patrick's

February '03: Coffee

January '03: Taxes


February, 2006

The Thirst of the Fairer Sex

It's February, and lots of craft brewers are getting choked up about Valentine's Day. "Serve your sweetie our chocolate-mango IPA," croons one brewpub; "Our big bottle of Belgian-basted beer will work wonders wine won't," alliterates another.1 Brewers are hustling to put romance into beer, or beer into romance. I've done it myself, writing a piece for Ale Street News a few years back about Valentine's Day beers (a natural for me: it's my birthday). These articles and ad copy always lean heavily on chocolate, fruit, and big (wine-like) bottles, preferably ones with corks and cages.

When I was in my courting days there were few options in gussied-up beer. I wound up buying expensive bottles of champagne that I didn't really like to drink, wine that always -- always -- gave me a crinkly headache the next day, of a particular type I get from no other drink or situation; I still think of it as a champagne headache. Cathy and I did that once, then I realized that she liked beer as much as I did -- lucky me! -- so after that it was beer for Valentine's Day. Now it's almost amusing to see the array of choices offered for the romantic beer drinker.

But the subtext here is plain. This is not about beer for romance. It's about beer for women. The assumption is that a beer-loving guy is buying beer for a woman who thinks she doesn't like beer, so the solution is to fool her with a beer that either tastes like candy or dessert, or looks so impressively like wine that it will overwhelm the woman into liking it -- or at least shutting up so the guy can enjoy it. Great.

Women are under-represented at most craft beer festivals and events. Women are under-represented on beer websites, on beer e-mail lists, in homebrew clubs, at beer bars, in e-letter subscription lists for beer writer's websites... You get the picture. There are wonderful exceptions -- my wife, for one, and my friend Cornelia Corey -- but they stick out in most beer crowds. There are fewer women than men involved in the goings-on of craft beer, and even then, a small but consistent percentage of them are there for reasons other than the beer, like making sure their guy gets home alive. (This is all anecdotal evidence, of course, but I do spend a lot of my time in these situations, and I keep my eyes open.) 

With the way they're treated, it's no surprise. A lot of dogma-ridden geeks blame light beer on women, and when the idea of getting women to drink better beer comes up, they assume the worst, and pawn off candy and trinkets on them. It makes geeks look like they're bartering with savages. Would they try to tempt another guy into The Good Beer Camp with fruit and chocolate? I doubt it.

It's a man's world out there. Craft beers are often named with the kind of sophomoric humor that appeals more to frat boys than women -- don't make me name them, you know who you are. We point the finger at crude and sexist ads from the big brewers -- Miller's Catfight, Coors's Twins, A-B's infamous farting horse -- but what do we have to respond with: Doggie Style, Old Howling Bastard, Old Thunderpussy? Women aren't all Precious Moments and lavender sachet, but they aren't all scratching, picking, and belching, either.

That's not the whole picture, of course. There are plenty of perfectly acceptable names, label art that doesn't offend, and female-friendly brewpubs. But there hasn't been a lot of outreach. And I think that's too bad, because women could be a great market for craft-brewed beer. 

If I were a woman...I'd be insulted by the way mainstream beer is marketed. It's just another reflection of the "perfect woman" magazine image that's been sold to women for years. We get Cooking Light here at home. Despite the name, it's a woman's mag that happens to talk a lot about food. There are never any beer ads in there except for light beers. There are all kinds of wine ads. The magazine has a wine columnist; there's been one serious page about beer in the magazine's history that I've seen. I almost got in, after grabbing their attention by sending a pitch letter wrapped around a bottle of Dojlidy Porter, but I muffed it somehow. 

Why don't women drink beer? More to the point, why do brewers think women don't drink beer? They do, I've seen them. Smart, chic women, too, I might add. I think it's the constant reinforcement of beer belly this, beer bloats you that. Lies and misconceptions. The beer belly? Nonsense. Beer does not cause a fat belly more than any other food. Bloating? A lot of foods cause bloating; beer causes it because of carbonation; if you'd like to avoid it, drink a beer with less fizz, and pour your beer into a glass, it releases more gas than drinking it from the bottle. Tastes better, too. 

I've never gotten the whole bloating thing myself, even when I've had plenty of beer. A woman asked me at a beer dinner one time, "But I don't like the bloated way beer makes me feel, how do you deal with the bloat?" And I just looked at her. Hey, I don't get car-sick, either, I don't even know what people are talking about.

I don't know what to do about that. I can tell women that beer doesn't cause bloat or beer belly. I can tell women that beer's bitterness will make their food taste even better -- why should wine have a monopoly on that? I can tell women that for the tiny difference between "regular" beer and light beer -- there are 153 calories in an Anchor Steam, 110 calories in Bud Light, the calorie difference is half a freakin' pretzel! -- they're crazy to give up on the flavor. I can tell women that there are a whole spectrum of flavors in beer, from sweet to bitter to tart to smoky. But I don't know how to break years of conditioning.

Actually, I do. I can give a woman a beer, and be bold about it. One of the first successes I ever had with changing someone's drinking habits was with a buddy's girlfriend. We were at an early beer bar that has since gone the way of all flesh, and she was drinking crap Chablis while we were clipping away at one of those "Hall of Foam" cards; drink all 100 beers and get a t-shirt (I still have mine). Why not try something better, I asked her. I don't like beer, she replied. Try this, I said, and handed her the Mackeson's Triple Stout I was drinking. She rolled her eyes at the blackness of it, but gamely tried a sip. Hey, she liked it! No, she loved it! And it wasn't fruity or chocolatey. 

Since then I've turned women on to Guinness, Prima Pils, and Kostritzer Schwarzbier, among others. I happen to believe that women are just like men when it comes to their tastes. That women, like men, have different tastes as individuals, and that they are not gender-selective for sweets and glop any more than men are. That women deserve to be treated with the same respect when selecting a beer that men do, not a patronizing assumption that they want something light, fruity, candyish, or wine-like. They, like men, may not even know what they like. But I believe that the best way to find that out -- for both of us -- is to offer them the same kind of choices that I would a man.

Which means that sometimes I do offer them -- and men! -- a Chocolate-Covered Strawberry. Because I find this mix of Lancaster Brewing's Milk Stout and Strawberry Wheat to be pretty damned good myself...even if it is made from a fruit beer and a chocolatey beer. Sometimes you just can't fight success. 


1No, not really, I made it up...thank God


Copyright 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: February 02, 2006