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In the Eye of the Beerholder

Men still outnumber women when it comes to beer drinking. Could craft beer be the catalyst to change that?

Laurie Delk
Laurie Delk, beverage director for Lumberyard Tavern and author of the blog 100 Beers, 30 Days

The first brewers were actually women,” says Melani Gordon, co-founder of Tap Hunter. “It’s my favorite thing to remind people. Ninkasi [Brewing Company] in Oregon gets its name from the Sumerian goddess of brewing and beer.”

A lot has changed since the time of the Sabtiem, a sect of Sumerian women solely responsible for brewing beer. Along with Gordon, there’s Stephanie Tait, beer director at Consortium Holdings, which owns Neighborhood, one of SD’s top beer bars. Lisa Hinkley is co-founder of Green Flash Brewing Company. Stone Brewing Co.’s head of sales for downtown is Lisa Govenar. Women hold strong positions in the industry. Most of them told us: When it comes to beer, there’s no gender gap.

Great to hear. But also utopian and not in line with the facts. Women still make up just 25 percent of beer drinkers in the U.S. Can craft beer close the gap, and how?    

Marketing plays a role. Not many mainstream beer commercials have well-abbed males in Speedos. When marketers do consider the female market, they often point them to frilly packaging and fruity beers shelved next to wine coolers. Maybe that’s why women prefer wine, making 57 percent of purchases. Craft beer’s M.O. is an upheaval of industry stereotypes, including lame machismo.

“Lots of breweries are male-owned,” reminds Gordon. “Brands are geared toward that. But there are breweries that have made a conscious effort to make their beer appealing to everyone.”

How to appeal to a gender that, according to a 2008 University of Cophenhagen study, has a better sense of smell and a more sensitive palate? A BBC study found women more likely to be “super-tasters.” Females are more perceptive to sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors. Accepting that logic, San Diego-style IPAs—which are extremely hoppy and bitter—may have trouble finding a growth market among women.

That’s not to stereotype. There are women who don’t care about macho branding and regularly drink robust, gut-punching brews. “I know women who drink double IPAs and men who drink golden ales,” says Port Brewing’s head brewer, Devon Randall.

Yet Laurie Delk, beverage director for Lumberyard Tavern and author of the blog 100 Beers, 30 Days, sheds light on the bar perspective. “Men like the brawny, in-your-face beers. Girls are more likely to drink the finesse beers, like saisons and Belgians. I see it firsthand.”

Jeff Silver from Rough Draft Brewing Company kept women in mind with the newly released Weekday IPA—a lighter style with 4.8 percent alcohol, but still a hoppy bite. “I want to have something for all people drinking beer,” he says. ‘That includes women.”

Teri Fahrendorf has been head brewer at various breweries over the last 25 years, winning three gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival. She created Pink Boots Society to help female beer professionals like Delk and Gordon. “All the men who want to drink beer are already doing it,” she says. “If the beer industry wants to grow, it’s going to come from women becoming beer drinkers.”

Designing alcohol for women is a sticky situation. Many women are highly insulted by marketing attempts like Beringer’s ill-fated White Lie wine and the body dysmorphia-baiting Skinnygirl cocktails.

It may be true that around every keg in America stand 75 men and 25 women.

Yet according to a recent Gallup poll, women ages 18–34 would rather have a cold one than a glass of Chardonnay. Cheers to that.

—Nate Martins

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