Not every craft-beer drinker is an upper-middle-class, bearded white male in his 20s or 30s, with disposable income to blow on bottles of Westvleteren 12.
At this year’s Great American Beer Festival, the Chief Economist for the Brewers Association, Dr. Bart Watson, presented a series of surprising numbers. One of the stats: Women ages 21-34 now consume craft beer over the national average, which means that they represent one of craft beer’s strongest groups of supporters. Even more telling: Females 21-34 represent 15% of total craft-beer consumption.
Meanwhile, women account for 25% of total beer consumption by volume, and 37% of craft-beer consumption in the United States.
The data is clear: Beer isn’t just for bros with facial hair anymore. “As the demographic changes, the breweries taking female craft-beer drinkers seriously will benefit,” says Regan Stephens, Communications Director at BeerMenus.com. So why don’t beer companies do much to reach women in the marketplace?
Not all craft beer drinkers look like this—seriously. (Photo: Erin Mosbaugh)
“Women are still predominantly cast as non-beer drinkers—type-cast as uninterested in beer, or even less interesting than beer, as in this Amstel commercial,” says Jessica Miller, a beer writer and the author of Hey, Brewtiful. “Bud Light is equally out of touch, infantilizing its male target consumer. Heineken and Dos Equis, though at least more creatively entertaining, don’t do much to reach women as a market. I’d like to say craft beer is immune, but there’s room to evolve.”
Hayley Jansen, beer sommelier at New York’s Taproom No. 307, points out that any marketing that has been targeted directly towards women has largely failed. “For the most part, I don’t think beer marketing is directed to women,” she says. “I see lots of beer ads using sexy bikini-clad babes to appeal to men, which is a little offensive to us girls. There have been ridiculous attempts to market pink, or fruity, or low-calorie brews to women, but none has succeeded. We’re looking for flavor.”
Just take the cringe-worthy Chick Beer, which bills itself as the only American beer marketed specifically towards women. Did we mention it’s a light beer with a pink label? “Dumbing women drinkers down to the lowest common beer denominator does not legitimize our presence in the marketplace,” says Chicagoist beer writer Lorna Juett.
Sonya Giacobbe, co-founder of Brooklyn’s KelSo Brewery, echoes this sentiment. “If women are marketed to at all, it’s through stereotypes,” she says. “For example, [brands assume] we want something fruity or low calorie,” says Giacobbe. “It stems from the fact that there haven’t been enough women giving their input. To be clear, I’m not saying this is every company. But whenever I see a beer marketed with an obviously sexist image (I’m looking at you, Kilt Lifter), or in an obviously ‘bro’ way, I wonder if these companies don’t want women drinking their product. The market is now so wonderfully diverse that there’s simply no way I’m going to choose to spend my money with a company that clearly doesn’t care if I’ve just been offended or excluded.“
The unfortunate image on the Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp bottle.
Miller has also spotted some infuriatingly sexist labels in her time as a beer enthusiast. She says, “The coyly named PD Peach by Pig’s Mind was rightly called out for being ‘rapey’ not long ago. More recently, Mother Earth got some press for their ‘got cans’ ad, which struck me as an odd and incongruous brand decision. Neither of them seemed particularly suited to seduce women drinkers, who are a (growing) minority.”
Despite the fact that beer brands have little understanding of their female customer base, women are well integrated into almost all aspects of the beer scene—from brewers, to distributor reps, to home brewers, to bar owners. And there is an increasing—albeit small—number of women in positions of power, like head brewer or owner.
“Perhaps it’s because there’s a lack of female role models currently holding these jobs,” says Stephens. “I hope that as the demographic of craft-beer drinkers changes, there will be more women filling roles like head brewer or brewery owner.” Giacobbe adds, “It used to be rare to see women outside of marketing, but the view from inside the industry looks decidedly more egalitarian than ever before. In many, many ways beer is a great equalizer—either you know your stuff or you don’t.” Women are slowly but surely climbing the ladder; just look at co-founder of Golden Road Brewing in L.A., Meg Gill, or Sixpoint brewing manager Heather McReynolds.
Whether or not women are well integrated into the industry, they’re still either largely stereotyped or looked passed as a market. The truth is women don’t want craft beer just for them—they simply want to be able to enjoy craft beer in an environment that doesn’t overtly ignore or objectify them.
To take stock of how craft beer fails to understand its female fans, we polled some female brewery owners, writers, and beer sommeliers. They include the following:
- Meg Gill, co-founder of Golden Road Brewing
- Regan Stephens, Communications Director at BeerMenus.com
- Hayley Jansen, beer sommelier at Taproom No. 307
- Sonya Giacobbe, co-founder of KelSo Brewery
- Jessica Miller, beer writer and author of Hey, Brewtiful
Read their answers below to find out some examples of how women beer drinkers are stereotyped.
1. Women hate bitter, and love sweet and fruity.
“It has gotten better the last few years, but sometimes you hear ‘let me pour you something sweet, honey.’ Women, just like men, love hops. And women can detect bitterness better than men.”—Meg Gill
“The most pervasive stereotype that comes to mind: Only men drink beer, women prefer wine or cocktails. If women drink beer, it’s fruity or light. Just last weekend, I walked to the counter at a local Whole Foods with two six packs of beer—Founders All Day IPA and Lagunitas Little Sumpin Sumpin—and got surprised, impressed looks from two different men. I struggle to imagine my beer choices would garner the same look if I were a dude, or if I were buying a good bottle of wine.”—Regan Stephens
“When I was working in beer retail, I got, ‘Can you recommend a girly beer, or beer that a girl would like? That was always so strange and off-putting. I am a girl, and I love all sorts of beer: dark, strong, bitter, crisp, etc. I felt like they wanted me to recommend a fruity or sweet brew, but that’s rarely my taste.”—Hayley Jansen
2. All women get into craft beer through their boyfriend, husband, brother, etc.
“Among the most persistent ways I’m stereotyped is by the assumption that I only became involved in craft beer because my husband got me interested. It seems obvious to me that having a shared passion is what brought us together but many people are still surprised to find a woman can come into it on her own.”—Sonya Giacobbe
“When I was working in beer retail, people constantly asked me, ‘Why do you work here—does your dad own the store?’ Or, ‘Does your boyfriend work here?'”—Hayley Jensen
3. Women can’t be brewery owners or brewmasters.
“I’ve met women in sales—brewery and distributor reps, bartenders, bar owners—as well as female beer writers. There are very few female head brewers or brewery owners. (Two prominent exceptions are Stoudts and New Belgium.) I hope that as the demographic of craft-beer drinkers changes, there will be more women filling these roles.”—Regan Stephens
“I see a lot of women in marketing or social media. I think women are traditionally better communicators when it comes to these roles (not always, but often). As a general rule, women tend to look more for connection, and build relationships through talk. There are of course, exceptions. You’ll find women taking on the role of brewer, or barrel-house manager. Pink Boots Society does a great job of advocating for more equity and participation on this end, but in general I’d say there are mostly men in this role.”—Jessica Miller
“These days, I think women are very well integrated into all aspects of the beer scene.”—Hayley Jansen
4. Women need beer “mansplained” to them when ordering.
“I find it annoying when men assume I don’t know anything about beer, particularly when I’m on location for a shoot or have made arrangements to interview someone. It’s subtly done, but the mansplaining is ever-present. I’m all for learning—I certainly don’t know everything—but it’s done in this casually insulting and presumptive way that fails to ask questions or qualify the expertise of the listener. It’s this predetermined sense of superior expertise, that I find doesn’t really hold up. There are plenty of educated women out there who are writing about and talking about beer.”—Jessica Miller
“Out and about, I have had bartenders make me confirm that I know what I’m ordering when I choose something dark, strong, or very bitter. YES, I KNOW that my double IPA will be strong and bitter. I want it that way!”—Hayley Jansen
“I wish I could use the word ‘mansplaining’ here, but to be honest, I’ve overwhelmingly experienced considerate, thoughtful responses when I’ve asked a bartender about craft beer, or asked for a craft beer recommendation. (At craft beer-centric bars.) I think this speaks to the craft-beer community, which I’ve found to be, on a whole, pretty friendly and inclusive. There have been one or two times I’ve asked a question and quickly ascertained that I knew way more on the subject than the bartender, and maybe those times the bartender mansplained a bit, but I’m not a jerk, so I didn’t shove it in his face.”—Regan Stephens
“A lot of times people push me to the side to get to Kelly [Kelly Taylor, Sonya’s husband, co-ownes KelSo with her], and I’m like, ‘No, I actually do…’ And then I’m like no, that’s cool, I’m going to drink your beer in the meantime.”—Sonya Giacobbe on Heritage Radio