As far back as our generation can remember, beer has been considered a ‘man’s drink.’ Brewed by men, marketed towards men, consumed by men. Of course some women enjoy beer, but there are definitely more men involved in the beer industry. Was this always the case? Have women never cared for the creation or consumption of beer? More importantly, can women break the barriers and get (back) into the market? Are there outlets available specifically for women? Let’s find some answers by starting at the beginning.
It may surprise most, but historians believe women were the first to create and brew beer. It is commonly believed beer was created mistakenly by a woman who was making bread in open air, when fermentation occurred. Women then remained the sole brewers or “brewsters” of beer, for many years. Four-thousand year old Mesopotamian tablets describe the brewing process in a hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer. But this may not have been limited to Babylon and Sumeria. It was recently discovered that women have been brewing “Chicha” – a grain-based fermented beverage, in the Amazon basin for years.
Later in Europe, women continued to be the primary brewers until the Industrial Revolution. Taverns were run by women at first, until men took the reins when they realized there were profits to be made. In Colonial America, the craft of brewing was brought over from Europe. Women were again tavern keepers, as well as house wives brewing beer within the home. However, as in Europe, beer became a male-dominated business by the eighteenth century.
So other than being kicked out of their own industry many years ago, what has prevented the women of today from consuming, purchasing and producing beer?
First, there is no doubt the marketing and advertising of beer has targeted men. Women have featured in commercials, magazine ads and billboards as a means of selling beer to men, rather than women being viewed as a viable market. In these ads, women are always beautiful, often bikini clad (or at least dressed in something revealing) and always very interested in the men drinking beer. For obvious reasons, many women see this as sexist – not exactly inspiration for women to run out and grab a six pack.
The beer industry has, however, begun to recognize the large untapped female market. Over the past decade, large breweries have targeted women, although not always successfully. In 2011 Molson Coors created a beer specifically for women in the UK, called Animée. It came in three citrusy flavours and one bottle’s liquid even appeared pink in colour. This did not go over well with the female beer aficionados – they considered it insulting as the product neither tasted nor looked like beer. The masses agreed.
Another problem is the stigma attached to beer and weight, aka the dreaded ‘beer belly’. This idea would (and has!) deterred many women from consuming the beverage. While beer definitely contains calories (approximately 200 per pint), like any other food or beverage, it will only cause weight gain when not consumed in moderation. Beer enthusiast and author Jane Peyton says “along with (beer’s) natural vitamins and minerals, beer’s fermentation process increases a beer’s nutritional value, making it more nutritional, in moderation, than a package of peanuts”. Whether this will encourage women to drink beer I’m not sure, but the word needs to spread: you will NOT get fat from drinking the occasional pint!
As for women working in the beer industry, there are, or perhaps we can already change that to ‘were’, a few barriers they face, keeping them from being hired by breweries. Teri Fahrendorf, founder of the Pink Boots Society (we’ll get to that shortly), says many of the barriers challenging would-be female brewmasters are similar to those in other male-dominated professions: outdated attitudes and the belief that women will focus more on family than career. Also, brewing is very physical and requires the management of large equipment and heavy sacks of barley and hops, and this adds to the prejudice. One woman recounts being asked in an interview if she could lift multiple fifty pound sacks to prove she was fit for the job! Perhaps this was a fair enough question, but certainly not grounds to overlook someone, and definitely very intimidating.
Things are beginning to change though. Despite all of this, women in beer are making a comeback. This is largely in part to a few women who have broken through the boundaries and made it known to the world that beer is not just for men! Through the internet, meetings and education, more women are showing interest.
Teri Fahrendorf plays a particularly strong role in supporting women in brewing. She is an award-winning craft brewer (Steelhead Brewing Company) in Portland, Oregon who believes in mentoring and educating young women to get them into the field. In 2008, she founded the Pink Boots Society, an organization created to “empower women beer professionals, advance women brewing careers and make damn good beer along the way”. There were sixty members at the time, mainly brewers and beer writers. Today there are more than eight hundred – ranging from brewery owners and distributors to servers and beer journalists. In their meetings, Fahrendorf says “we talk about a lot of non-brewing info too – like sensory analysis, beer line cleaning, building a small incubator and lab culturing and how to become a beer judge”. They educate in all aspects of beer and hope to continue with this path in the future, and have recently started to offer scholarship programs.
Another important female figure is Carol Stoudt, who founded the family-owned Stoudt’s Brewing Company in 1987 in Pennsylvania. She is regarded as a ‘pioneering’ female brewer. When she started, most retailers assumed she was doing sales for her husband. In fact, Stoudt was the one brewing, filling the kegs and taking care of the paperwork. She claims it was mostly female restaurant operators who decided to support her and carry her beer. Her beers began to win awards and gain recognition, and aspiring female brewers have looked to Stoudt as inspiration ever since.
Besides the Pink Boots Society, there are other groups tailored to women. Barley’s Angels is dedicated to beer-loving women, with chapters worldwide. “Barley’s Angels fills an environ to explore and learn about Craft beer while allowing publicans, brewers and restaurateurs a platform demonstrating their commitment to provide safe, friendly experiences for their female customers. Barley’s Angels effectively grows the female demographics for craft beer – globally”. They believe encouragement and exploration can lead to good things. Again, education is the key.
Having worked in the restaurant/pub industry for over fifteen years, I am seeing more and more women drinking beer. The modern woman seems open to the idea of trying new things (craft brews help in this aspect) and for many women, beer is their primary drink of choice. Also helping is the education of servers and bartenders. Businesses are ensuring their employees are informed and can discuss beer with their patrons in a friendly, but also educated, manner. Men and women appreciate this and can make informed decisions. And when the server is female talking to another female, it sends a positive message.
It appears then that education and breaking old stereotypes are the keys to women having a larger impact on the beer industry. Hopefully these trends will continue moving forward. It seems we are well on our way!