There are, of course, certain topics that it’s difficult to touch on if you’re a white male upper-middle class beer blogger between the ages of 18-35. That’s a demographic that has historically dictated taste (Nuts and Gum; Together at last), but which is almost unilateral in its consumption of fizzy lagers. The advertising campaign did not call it the Carlsberg years for nothing.
One of the issues which I’ve wanted to address for a while is women and beer. It seems like dangerous territory if only for the reason that there are actual female bloggers out there whose entire mission statement is to talk about the issue and they seem a good deal more qualified than I am to do so. Please understand, I’m not attempting to be overtly misogynistic; if anything, I’m slightly misanthropic by nature. I have a healthy distrust of people of any gender amassed in large groups. In a large enough group, people will eventually start dancing.
That said, I’m going to talk about the TORONTO BEER WEEK LADIES NIGHT PUB CRAWL.
Now it has to be said that such an event has a lot of potential for humour, but it would be untoward to cheapen the occasion by belittling it with crass comedic nonsense. For that reason, I will not be using the following jokes:
– I like my women like I like my Imperial Stout: Russian, and ordered off the internet
– I like my women like I like my Double IPAs: Bitter, floral and full of alcohol
I will also suggest that the following modified traditional pick-up line will never work, even on an all female pub crawl:
– Damn, girl. Your feet must be tired because you’ve been standing around drinking for several hours.
Let’s talk seriously about this issue. A caveat, first. Much of the information I’m basing this on is anecdotal.
Women make up more than half of the population, but for the most part they’re not beer drinkers. All you have to do is look at the culture that exists around beer to see why that might be the case. Just look at the Coors Mansion and Bikini Teams as advertising platforms. It’s exclusionary marketing. Large brewers have traditionally attempted to appeal to some very stereotypical male urges in order to sell mass produced lagers. It’s not just in the states, either. Look at any large beer festival. There will be women promoting beers dressed in 18th century Bavarian beer wench costumes: sort of low cut, pushed up numbers with flowing skirts. Keith’s is guilty of using this marketing concept, as was Unibroue at Mondial this year.
It’s not even a question of advertising. The entire culture is skewed towards men. Even at beerbistro, which is a pretty high end beer bar, the waitstaff is almost exclusively made up of attractive young women. At least it was during the Brew Dog dinner. There’s a significant portion of my thought process that can’t legitimately complain about the fact, either. I’m not made of stone.
But, it has to be said that there are traditional gender roles within pub culture: Men drinking beer, women serving it. Even a cursory look at Orwell’s essay The Moon Under Water spells out that the servers in an ideal pub will be female. That may have been 1946, but even at that point Orwell seems to have recognized the divide in clientele:
“And though, strictly speaking, they are only allowed in the garden, the children tend to seep into the pub and even to fetch drinks for their parents. This, I believe, is against the law, but it is a law that deserves to be broken, for it is the puritanical nonsense of excluding children —and therefore, to some extent, women—from pubs that has turned these places into mere boozing-shops instead of the family gathering-places that they ought to be.”
It seems to me to be the case that if the children are only allowed in the garden, then it follows that women would also be likely to have to remain in the garden especially given the contemporary mores. Initially, it looks like Orwell is being inclusionary, but there is a distinct physical barrier between men and women in this scenario: The exterior wall of the building.
I do see a number of women at Bar Volo, but I would say that a large percentage of them are sort of along on a night out that someone else has planned. Sometimes I’ll observe a particularly long suffering person order a Fruli on the recommendation of the server, and I suspect that more than half the time it’s because the word STRAWBERRY is prominently figured in the sales pitch. I always find it a little embarrassing that there’s an unspoken understanding between server and customer there that since the customer is female, they should probably want something light and fruity.
I’ve also noticed a not insubstantial amount of condescension on the part of male beer nerds when proffering samples to women at the bar. The idea that someone’s opinion should be less valuable because of their sex is ridiculous.
The thing is this: any attempt to market a beer exclusively to women is going to come off as either condescending or completely misjudged. The question “How can we increase the number of women drinking beer?” is the kind of question that I can see causing advertising executives to call in sick.
Go ahead and try to think of a way to do it. I’ll wait.
There isn’t one; at least not one that doesn’t have the potential to backfire. This is one of the reasons that I suspect craft beer marketing in Ontario of being especially clever in this regard: They don’t attempt to exploit traditional gender roles specifically. Take a look at the Ontario Craft Brewers video, or at any of their marketing. They are pushing the idea that craft beer is flavourful and local. 100 mile diet. Drink Local. Artisanal beer. It’s about the product and not about a presumed audience. They have a mission statement rather than a flashy sales pitch. I think that’s doing a lot of good for increasing interest in beer amongst women, and although I have no data to back the assertion up I think you’ll agree with me that it’s an elegant solution to a long term marketing problem and indeed a method that’s a great deal more respectful to the intelligence of everyone involved.
LADIES NIGHT was kind of an interesting thing to observe, if only because it took the traditional concept and subverted it nicely. A traditional ladies night is really for the benefit of men. Pubs throw them in order to attract a female client base which in turn ensures that men will turn up and drink. The Toronto Beer Week Ladies Night Pub Crawl was mostly attended by women in the beer industry and their friends. If anything, it seemed to be more about networking amongst these industry professionals than anything else.
I talked with a couple of the ladies to see what they thought about the event and the impression was overwhelmingly positive. It succeeded in helping to establish a sense of the presence of women involved in the beer community, surely a good thing in a male dominated industry. And everyone looked like they were having fun, which is a truly important part of the equation.
Getting women to drink more beer is a thing that you can’t rush. You can’t force it. There are people working on it. Melissa Cole is doing some interesting work in the UK. Mirella Amato is working towards the same thing right here in Ontario. I’m sure it’s a phenomenon that is going to expand in coming years. With the Niagara College program, we may even end up with female brewers, which is no bad thing.
I’m all for beer drinking women. Everyone should be able to derive an equal amount of pleasure from a nice pint without feeling pressured to fulfill some kind of stereotype. Also, I’m honest enough to admit that there is some purely selfish motivation: Toronto Beer Week contains not only literal sausagefests, but also figurative ones. It’s always nice to meet intelligent women with good taste with whom you share an interest.