It’s no secret that ladies are picking up pints like never before. From the 2012 Gallup Poll that showed women ages 18-34 dropping wine for beer to industry reports from Beverage Media Group and Alcoholic Beverage DemandTracker reporting that 28% of women now consider beer — not fancy wine, dainty cocktails or fruity alcopops — their tipple of choice, statistics are overwhelmingly on the up and up.
I’ve been a beer drinker for years, and female for even longer, so this isn’t really news to me. Beer is great, and the sudsy shift mirrors a larger cultural turn towards craft – creative, inventive beers brewed by actual people in small, often local breweries, giving the average drinker more options, better flavors and an alternative to all things Budweiser bullfrog. Despite this apparent sea change, though, beer’s public image remains blatantly male — busty blondes and NFL sponsorship deals continue to make up big beer’s primary sales weapons and women are still widely ignored as a target consumer base.
And it’s not just the big boys. Reactionary murmurs on Beer Advocate’s many forums echo the same sense of disregard when faced with the statistical rise in female craft aficionados: “So they must be calling Blue Moon a craft beer?” mocks one user. “Tryin’ to impress the dudes!” asserts a like minded fellow.
These misguided bros aren’t alone. Nine times out of ten, when I walk into a bar or bottle shop, the guy behind the counter scrambles to explain what makes an IPA an IPA. And as soon as I start spewing knowledge, his brow furrows. My fellow lady beer geeks say they’re often met with that same rake-handle-to-forehead expression when stepping into a craft beer den and attempting to talk hops.
So what gives? In this era of widespread brewed awakenings, when craft beer is exploding faster than a shotgunned PBR and new breweries are popping up from coast to shining coast, why is mainstream resistant to the idea of lady beer lovers? Are cultural opinions simply lagging behind numerical evidence or are women doomed to remain second-class beer citizens? To clear the air, three local female-bodied bartenders on the front lines — each with years of pint pulling experience in some of Brooklyn’s best beer bars — lay out the top five misconceptions about women and beer.
5. Girls don’t drink beer because it’s too fattening.
Megan tends bar at Strong Place, a friendly 24-tap Brooklyn outpost. Upon hearing the statistics, she’s quick to reply. “That news doesn’t surprise me,” she says. “There are all these old perceptions based on stereotypes that women don’t enjoy beer because they’re preoccupied with calories – that beer is too heavy and masculine. But it’s just not true. Good beer is about pleasure.”
While many folks, both men and women, opt for something less caloric to protect their waistlines, Megan reports that just as many indulge. Besides, with the extreme variety craft offers, health-consciousness is no longer an excuse to snub an entire beverage genre. The brewing gods are constantly coming up with innovative alternatives to college-era harbingers of bloat. Gluten-free beer, like Alchemist’s Celia Saison, sessionable (lower alcohol) ales like Founder’s All Day IPA and dry stouts like OysterHouse’s Moonstone allow drinkers to have their pint and drink it, too. Or two.
4. Beerspeak is tip-grubbing BS, especially from the lips of female bartenders.
“I never bullshit my customers,” says Khara, who tends bar at Double Windsor, a dimly lit craft haven known for its selective 16 tap rotation. “If I haven’t tried a certain beer and someone’s asking about it, I’m always like ‘Let’s try it together!’” Simply put, all the bartenders I interviewed insisted that honesty is the best policy when it comes to describing beer. These girls aren’t pulling the wool over your eyes with fancy talk about piney hops or wild yeast – they know their product and they admit it when they don’t. What’s more, they’re sensitive to their clientele: “I try to gauge what kind of answer someone wants first,” Khara continues. “I can usually tell if someone’s looking for detail or if they just want to know if a beer is light or dark. People can feel alienated if craft beer seems too snobby and I don’t want that to happen.”
“If you want to sit on your iPhone and look everything up instead of asking me, that’s fine. But that’s no fun for me,” says Megan. RateBeer.com can tell you everything about a certain brew, but that conversation is a one-way street. Put a little faith in the person behind the counter and anyone, regardless of gender, is bound to have a much more fulfilling experience.
3. Beer bars are dude zones.
Erika splits her time between Franklin Park, a neighborhood dive in Brooklyn with a solid draft lineup, and The Rusty Knot, a Manhattan dive bar servicing a demanding after-work crowd. “Craft beer bars are more tame,” she explains, pouring my Dales Pale Ale. Our interview took place in a dark corner of Franklin Park’s candlelit back bar. Soothing R&B music set the mood and ESPN played on mute while couples sipped, engaged in quiet conversation. “No one’s screaming for picklebacks.”
While haters might see a beer bar as no place for a nice girl, these bartenders are working against that. “I’m nicer to girls,” Khara admits. “I’m kind of a tough guy with the dudes, but I like having a rapport with girls. When their dates go to the bathroom, I’ll tell them if the guy is a bad tipper or not.” If a thirsty girl stumbles upon a beer bar with a lady bartender, odds are it’s a safer space than most.
2. Girls are only interested in craft beer to impress their boyfriends.
If anyone’s trying to impress, Khara says, it’s the guys, not the girls. “Dudes are much more into to bragging about what they know, telling me about some crazy, rare beer they tried and then being all, ‘Oh, man, you don’t carry that?’ Girls are usually pretty humble about their beer knowledge.”
According to Megan, bartending in New York is particularly empowering. “Here, bartending can be such a confidence booster. I see so many intelligent women in total control of their environments.” In a town where girls have a hand in every part of beer culture – from brewing at Sixpoint to marketing at Brooklyn Brewery to regular gigs on beer-focused media outlets – sisters are, in fact, doing it for themselves.
1. Girls can’t handle any drink that isn’t simple, light, sweet and boring.
This, hands down, is the absolute, number one misconception about women and beer. Everyone interviewed told me the same thing: women are more experimental, more adventurous and more willing to try new things. “I love pouring tastes and answering questions,” says Megan. “With men, I find they’re more likely to just point to something they’ve had before. Women are much more open to talking about what we have and getting something totally outside of their comfort zone.”
Maybe the willingness to experiment comes from a prejudice that girls shouldn’t like beer – in other words, ladies have nothing to lose. “Girls are usually more honest in describing what they like and don’t like when it comes to beer. Guys will just swallow the sample and order a pint because they don’t want to admit that they don’t like something,” explains Erika, backing up Megan’s observation.
That kind of honesty creates conversation, and conversation leads to learning. And learning, it seems, leads to women taking up more and more space within craft beer circle.