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Lady Liquor: Beer-Loving Ladies - Rare, or Just Overlooked?

My first alcoholic beverage ever – that is, the first one of which I had more than a sip – was a can of Coors, shared with one of my closest college girlfriends over Christmas break. (I've never supported Coors with my own money, but we'd snagged it from a case her parents had bought, with their informed consent.) My first legal drink was a glass (not a pint, but a glass) of Rogue Dead Guy Ale, with which I washed down dinner on my 21st birthday. Mike's Hard Lemonade was the "girly drink" du jour when I was an undergrad, and I can't say I ever refused it; I was also a fan, in the first part of my drinking career, of the cheap, sweet plum wine my roommate got at the Asian market. But I was a beer drinker from the beginning, and while my palate has expanded considerably over the years, a beer drinker I remain.

I've always been perplexed by the stereotype that women just don't like beer very much. The stat I hear most often – which I quoted in my post about Teri Fahrendorf – is that only about 30 percent of American women prefer beer to either spirits or wine. Of course, if I were asked the question that way, I'm not sure which of the three I would choose myself. Wine has always intimidated me a little bit, because while good wines can be had at any price point, the quality and flavor varies year to year, and getting really, really into wine seems to require more disposable income than I have. Liquor is, well, quick, and a well-balanced cocktail is a beautiful thing, but can also come with a hefty price tag. With beer, there's enormous variety; while lots of breweries do special seasonals that vary year to year, or super small-batch brews that are both tasty and a little expensive, there's a remarkable consistency and affordability to beer, and it's likely I spend the bulk of my booze allowance on it.

I see plenty of other ladies at brewpubs, beer-forward bars and beer tastings I go to, but the conventional wisdom is that I'm a rarity. I wondered what, if any, actual research had been done on women's purchasing and tasting habits where suds are concerned. So I chatted with Ginger Johnson, the founder of Women Enjoying Beer, a southern Oregon-based business that does qualitative research and marketing for beer companies, as well as educational events for women interested in beer. Johnson told me she started the company because she ran across the same problem I did: "There's not a lot of stats. There's stereotypes," she said.

Both industries and consumers often make decisions based on old information, Johnson told me. Consumers can get set in their ways, becoming reluctant to try new things, and beer industry players have long made the assumption that certain segments of the public – particularly women – just won't be interested in their product, so they don't bother to market to them. Hence, beer advertising has historically been more interested in the male gaze than the female palate.

Johnson said her research hasn't turned up any marked differences between male and female beer preferences. While that's totally unsurprising, consider that the beer press – talking about the discrepancy in the market – sometimes deteriorates into weird, ev-psychish discussions of the difference between male and female palates. (As in, women have a more developed sense of smell – which may be true, at least on the whole – because it helps us cook. Never mind that domestic division of labor is a relatively new invention.)

Johnson encourages her clients to educate the public on different types of beers and flavors. That tends to have better long-term results in terms of getting women more interested and involved in beer. "Everybody likes flavor, and if you can break down the stereotypes and assumptions that most people have, you find there's no such thing as a women's beer, there's no such thing as a man's beer."

Apart from helping businesses grow their female market share, Women Enjoying Beer is about encouraging beer enthusiasm among lady drinkers, and hosts events as well as creating affinity groups for women who want to get together to drink more beer and learn about it together in a lady-friendly environment. (Whoa, no mansplaining? No eyerolling as I explain I prefer malty beers to hoppy ones? Heck yes!)

Whether my love of beer places me in a minority of ladies or not, it's telling that the beer industry has only begun to think about women as potential customers in the last few years. Of course, the possibility of beer marketed just to women raises its own set of problems and concerns. Maybe I have an overly active and nauseous imagination, but when I think of beer marketed to women, I imagine nasty little purple labels! With little pictures of stiletto heels and handbags! Maybe non-alcoholic beers for pregnant ladies, with little strollers on the label! (These, of course, would be available in both pink and blue.) All of these are reasons I should probably not work in marketing, basically. Johnson has the right advice for beer companies, I think: don't treat women like a special segment of the market; talk up to your customers, not down. And of course, notice that women beer drinkers are here in the first place.

Previously: Race, marketing and uneasy relationships

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Comments

13 comments have been made. Post a comment.

pints aren't for ladies

I love beer! I really enjoy a good pint of light ale, although, like the stereotype I'm more of an IPA/lager/blonde girl than a stout vixen. My Mum always said I should only drink half pints, as pints aren't ladylike. I therefore went through a phase of only drinking pints, because I like being difficult.

Hoorah for lady beer

Hoorah for lady beer drinkers! I've been a member of two knitting groups, both majority or 100% women--that meet regularly in beer bars. It's the best: A great place to socialize and enjoy a leisurely drink, while you're less likely to stain your knitting than with wine, and less likely to get so intoxicated that you start dropping stitches (as long as you avoid the 10% ABV ones...)

Does Women Enjoying Beer have any data on marketplace response to the "Chick Beer"?

Your fears are valid

Totally not an over-active imagination! I've seen a beer here called 'Uptown Girl' with exactly the kind of insulting labeling you're thinking of. To top it off, it comes in ~250ml bottles, and I think only a 4 pack... Cause you know, ladies have dainty appetites and I've *never* witnessed a XX chromosome down a pitcher of draft before.

Bah!

I know the frustrating

I know the frustrating feeling! Add the layer of being a black woman who loves beer. I went to a beer festival with abround 7500 people and my sister and I were two out of maybe 10 black women there. Oh, the stares!

The rocky relationship between women and beer

I've thought about this a lot, too, as my drink of choice is beer. Let me dissect it a little:

Beer isn't the kind of drink that most people get hooked on after their first glass. It takes a while to appreciate its taste and notice the differences between brands and brews. Beer also has a lot of calories, especially the good ones. In theory, you'd have to consume a lot more calories to gain an appreciation for beer than you would with wine or hard liquor. In general, women are discouraged (both through marketing strategies and sociologically) from enjoying higher-calorie items. I think that a lot of women feel a sort of stigma around beer; drinking a beer at a bar is like broadcasting to everyone there that you don't count calories. I don't see it like that, but I do feel that stigma. My male friends can have chugging contests and throw back pint after pint of beer, but once I start ordering my third or fourth, one of my female friends is bound to comment on all the calories I'vet been consuming. We're taught to police our own eating habits and those of other women, so beer gets a bad rep in a lot of female circles. And its not like beer companies are trying to dissolve this stigma; no beer is marketed specifically to women unless it's of the low-carb, low-calorie variety.

That's how I look at. Any thoughts?

There are other reasons women don't drink beer

I have celiac disease and therefore can't drink beer in the majority of places (gluten free beer is hard to come by, either on tap or bottled); because of this I get eye rolls from bartenders and clientele alike. "Oh, another girl who 'doesn't like beer.'" It is really infuriating. There are only two types of women after all, "girls" who don't like beer and "cool girls" who do.
IDK - mini rant. Sorry. Your post brought it up.

Women and Beer

Already a lot of misinformation out there - let's set a few things straight:
1. Calories and beer are low on the list in our research for why women do/don't when/how much/etc. consume beer. Get the incorrect information out of your head that beer has a lot of calories; educate yourself on this subject if it's important to you. Alcohol is where calories come from - so wine and spirits, ounce for ounce, have more. Do some quick looking online and you'll find this to be true.
2. Stigma are only yours when you let them perpetuate without speaking up. Change happens when voices are heard over and over and over. Miranda - you need to tell your 'friends' to stuff it to find new friends who aren't judgmental on what you choose to drink; and I hope you don't judge them either. Plus - 4 - 5 pints is beer is irresponsible; cut back, savor the flavors. If you're drinking 3+ you're overconsuming in one sitting and it's not only bad for anyone's health, it's not what any brewer I know what's to happen. Quality over quantity everyday.
3. Shazz (and Dave) Lewis, founder of Chick Beer - Shazz called me before the product launched. Smart woman and we had a good conversation: I understand where she's coming from although I totally disagree (based on research) with the execution, design, and lack of market research they put into the product previous to national roll out. Market place response: we don't invest precious time in looking at how others are necessarily 'responding' to anything; we've got much work to do in pushing the progress we started 4 years+ ago. If you surf on articles that came out when the beer was launched you'll find a (fire) storm of feedback. Dig in if you wish. WEB is around to shift culture and focus on the positive while educating to reduce and eliminate the negative.
4. ecdahl - rant away (and use your real name - is there something to hide?), simply do it in a diplomatic fashion with those who you feel are being disrespectful; doing it here doesn't push change. Do it on the spot.
4. Don't let yourself be addressed as a girl. Change it on the spot. If someone rolls their eyes or other wise says "you know what I mean" insist that, No I Don't, and they don't either. Full respect is due and can be done diplomatically and consistently. Any woman who calls herself a girl, chick, babe, broad, or descriptor that can be interpreted as negative/infantile, needs to stand up for the female population and demand a better vocab. Women and Females are always acceptable. Clever isn't what makes the world go round nort is it your own (only) perspective that matters.
Think big, make change. Onward. Ginger

Who are you exactly, Ginger?

Well, this was a great article - thanks for that.
I just finised reading your comment, Ginger, and I must say - chill out.
People do not need to use their real names on here, or anywhere else for that matter. Also, not everyone has what it takes to stand up to people when it comes to the women race - they need to learn first, educate and then speak.
And people are putting comments - you should be happy that people get involved in your magazine and read your artilces in the first place! Not everyone is that lucky. If their comments are - When I drink 3 beers .. what right do you have to lecture them on how they are being irresponsible? If you do not want to hear some things - post guidelines on the comment section.
Your articles are great. I like this magazine a lot.
I just do not think that you are who you think you are. Slow down. I hope some of those people do not come back to read your articles. They have their families to lecture them.

Ginger Johnson is the founder

Ginger Johnson is the founder of Women Enjoying Beer, not the author of this article.

Hooray for beer!

I'll take beer any day over wine or liquor. That's not to say I dislike wines and liquors, but I find beer easier to drink and tend to prefer more beers than I do wines or liquors. I've been sampling beers from many a brewery (I'm lucky to live in an area where there are several), and, at least at the breweries and pubs I frequent, I am happy to say that I have not encountered hostility or incredulity about my knowledge or appreciation of beer. I've even partaken in making beer myself (helping out a friend who homebrews) which was pretty fun--and rewarding.

I feel somewhat removed from mainstream beer marketing, but I've seen my share of tasteless, bro-heavy Budweiser commercials that I know the stereotype of beer as a dude drink is alive and well. I always assumed that it stemmed from the idea of beer being a less "refined" drink than a wine or a spirit, and therefore being associated with males. I have nothing to back that up, but it always seemed to be how it was presented. That, and beer, like coffee or straight liquor, is an acquired taste that appeals to the adult palate, which perhaps echoes ideas of women being more childish and therefore unable to enjoy a beverage that wasn't sweet. Or something. Just kinda throwing ideas out.

(Oh, I'm sorry. Is it okay with Ginger that I expressed these off-the-cuff ideas? While not using my actual name? Gosh, I hope I'm not perpetuating the patriarchy's death grip on beer by doing so. Also, Ginger, as far as I'm concerned, being referred to as "a female" is never okay in a social setting. I'm not a goddamn specimen.)

I've always wondered if the

I've always wondered if the other side of it isn't that men feel obligated to drink beer and a lot of them don't like it that much either and would prefer something more fruity.

Personally, I am a beer-loving woman, but sometimes it can be a lot for my stomach and I tend to drink slowly and then it gets warm sometimes. The other problem that I could see for women (though I doubt many are considering this) is that beer makes you have to pee a lot and there tends to be a longer wait/it can be more of a pain to use a gross bar bathroom for women. I definitely think about that when I start downing beers, unless I'm at someone's house.

The use of the term "lady?"

Is there a reason the word "lady" is used in this article quite a few times? I do not relate to that term as I find it old fashioned and trying to put women in a narrow definition. That in order to be a "lady", one has to be proper, well mannered, dress a certain way and behave herself. Thoughts?

Drinking women are a disguise

Drinking women are a disguise to the women race!! this is something that is really very weird. and this is to be corrected all in a general