Tips on Dealing with Women in the Craft Beer World

As I see more news of women carving out spaces for themselves within the beer world (cases in point: the Society of Beer Drinking LadiesBarley’s Angels, International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day, and the soon-to-start Iron Beer Maidens), I can’t help thinking about why this is necessary. As a woman involved in the beer industry, my view is that despite forward strides, beer – and yes, even craft beer – still has a lot of the “boys club” mentality. Here are some of my personal tips to help challenge assumptions about women and beer.

#1: Don’t Assume That Women Don’t Drink Beer

Some women drink beer.  Some drink wine. Some don’t drink at all. And it’s all good, because: people are different! Overly simplistic, maybe, but not everyone seems to get that first part in particular.

Real Life Example: I’m buying a special beer package that I’m excited about and then I’m asked – by another woman, in fact –  who would be the lucky recipient: could it be my husband, my boyfriend, or perhaps my father? My response: tight smile, vague guilt, as I admit that actually, it’s for me.

Oops; I forgot that women drink wine and men are the ones that drink beer! I always get that one confused. It must be my personal failing that I can’t seem to properly enjoy a rosé. You know, despite the fact that for thousands of years, women not only drank the beer but, as brewing was a household task, they brewed it. I’m not even going to get into the fact that men also definitely enjoy wine too.

The marketing noise from the macro breweries with the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer hints that “their beer will get you all the sexy ladies” seems to have died off a bit, but that doesn’t mean that breweries are getting it all right.  It may not be disrespect, but it’s not quite understanding the full consumer base.  Maybe a boob joke isn’t really that funny to a large portion of potential customers? (Kudos to Ben Johnson for calling out a bunch of brands for sexist marketing – some of whom have since changed their names and labels).

International Women Collaboration Brew Day at Folly Brewpub, March 2017

#2 Don’t Assume Women Only Like Certain Types of Beer

Real Life Example: I’m at a beer festival when a fellow imbiber – male, this time – tells me that “Women like darker beer while men like hoppier beer.” My reaction: gentle puzzlement and a poor attempt to refute it as I enjoy my delightfully malty, dark beverage. 

The dominant message in mainstream marketing may be that women like light and fruity (or need a specific beer for women, which thankfully got destroyed on social media). But apparently some otherwise open-minded folks seem to enforce gendered drinking differences.

What differences may actually exist? Well apparently, scientifically speaking, there may actually be some tasting differences between men and women. Given the same training, a woman might be able to detect a taste or smell earlier. It won’t necessarily pan out to a stout vs. IPA preference.

My lesson here: women all have different tastes! In fact, you might even see them as a diverse pool of unique individuals.

Dark or light or anything in between – all appropriate for women

#3 Don’t Assume Women Don’t Know Details About Beer

Real Life Example: I’m at a brewery, and I ask about a certain beer they have on tap. They tell me it’s “bitter” and “hoppy”. A couple minutes later I hear Josh ask about the same beer . But he doesn’t get vague generalities, he gets the details. Something like “It’s 45 IBUs and made with Citra and Mosaic hops*. . . ” 

This gets me feeling frustrated and powerless. It’s one thing when a bartender starts from scratch because they don’t know what level of understanding you have about beer. It’s another thing when a bartender treats a woman and a man differently when they’re asking the exact same question.

Again, it’s the same as the last two points. Don’t treat a customer or fellow beer drinker differently just because they happen to be female. You never know how much of a beer buff they are.

Working as a Beer Coordinator at an I Heart Beer Festival, with Heather from Hamilton Small Fries as Food Coordinator

#4 Don’t Assume Women are Comfortable in that “Boys Club” Environment

When something ends up dominated by one gender for so long, sometimes even the most well-meaning people can forget about how little things like the use of language can be exclusionary to others.

Real Life Example: A common acronym for wife/girlfriend/female partner in homebrewing forums and mailing lists (and apparently other male-dominated internet domains, like yachting forums) is SWMBO. She Who Must Be Obeyed. I get it, it’s a joke. But it feels very much 50’s sitcom gender roles style, like “I’ve got to deal with this controlling nag of a wife and if I don’t do what she says, it’s the dog house for me”.  For a female trying to participate, it makes you feel excluded. 

Then of course there’s the very important point that beyond discomfort, there can sometimes even be a fear for safety. Sometimes, in groups where there are too many tipsy dudes, women just might not feel safe. That is almost definitely a part of the allure of the all-ladies events springing up lately.

Though this article includes some stories of frustrating scenarios, it by no means includes my whole experience in craft beer. I’ve met so many amazing people – men and women – and for the most part everyone tries their best to be inclusive, kind, and open.

~Jessica Gaber