Overcoming Gender Inequality In the Craft Beer World

Angelica RossWelcome to the premiere installment of a new monthly feature researched and prepared by Angelica Ross. Angelica will be tackling various topics in the drinking world and sitting down with various personalities to get their perspectives. To kick things off, Angelica sat down for a couple beverages with Full Pint Brewing’s Tom Marshall and dove into how women are wrongly perceived in the craft beer world. Enjoy!

Open Mind For A Different View…

Back in the early days of the Network when I was deciding how best to approach writing a monthly series dedicated to learning about beer in its various forms, I knew for certain I didn’t want to take the, “I’m a girl and I like beer!” angle. It seemed cheesy and unoriginal and, frankly, just too easy. Unfortunately, being a woman, or any minority for that matter, in the beer world is not easy. And who best to talk about that than Tom Marshall of Full Pint Brewing Company.

Queue record scratch.

Let me explain. At the spring session of Beers of the Burgh, he and I got to talking about how objectifying women is ingrained in beer. It goes further than just the promo girls whose job it is to pass out swag and shots at the bar. Perfect example: Bud Light’s Up For Whatever campaign and horrible misstep when they chose to label their beer, “The perfect beer for removing the word ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” Personally, “No” would be the only word out of my mouth if someone handed me a Bud Light.

“It’s this backwards thinking that people have about women in alcohol. In this industry, people really use gender to describe what style of beer they associate with it,” Tom says. “I think it’s really unfair that women only get fruit beer, wheat beer, ‘lite’ beer. I guess all the rest are for guys. Sorry, ladies.”

Apparently, women can’t like certain flavors. Anything that swings too far to the extreme sides of the beer-type pendulum is off limits. It’s like the beverage version of having someone say, “Hey now, little lady, this a job for a man,” and ripping a power tool out of your hand.

How dare I, as a woman, like a double IPA. That’s a man’s beer.

“Everyone from my wife to Ali [Wyrostek of Rhinegeist Brewery] to you like IPAs,” says Tom.

“It just happened to me yesterday again. I was talking with Ali and she’s such a huge IPA person and I’m such a big wheat beer person and we were laughing at how someone will say, “All the chicks will love (Full Pint) White Lightning!’” I love that beer. It’s my favorite beer we make. I drink it all the time.”

It’s nice to see that stereotype flipped on its ear, especially by someone in the brewery. But it’s also a sad realization in the beer community that the first thing someone says is, “Girls will love this!” instead of, “Wow, this is so much better than Blue Moon!” or “This is a great summer beer!” Commenting on the type of person who likes the beer instead of the flavors would be an insult to me if I made it.

Granted, this stereotype doesn’t perpetuate violence or fear, but it’s unfair and excludes a large portion of customers who aren’t in the “key demographic” of “craft beer drinkers.” As Tom says, if you flipped over a piece of paper and drew what a craft beer drinker looked like, it would probably be a man in his 30s with glasses and a beard.

We’re discounting an entire gender of drinkers. And isn’t part of the craft beer community about welcoming people who are discovering this type of beverage for the first time, regardless of how they look?

“We give different people different opportunities that in this town, quite frankly, don’t get a fair shake.” So true, Tom.

Along with assuming your beer order based on your gender, Tom sees a lack of opportunity in the beer world in general for women. Only a handful of the brewery reps are women and you’d be hard pressed to name more than one place with a woman as the head brewer in this town.

Instead, women are supposed to be pretty and enticing (see shot girl example above) instead of doing any of the heavy lifting.

This objectification even filters down to beer names and labels that are just painted with sexual undertones. (Flying Dog is an easy fall-back example, and part of this is just the brewery’s flavor, but it’s a problem that’s been widely examined. Google “Beer with derogatory names” and see what comes up.)

“One of the first things I did was eliminate Perc E Bust because it really had no place. I eliminated a lot of stuff that I felt didn’t have a place in our portfolio that had nothing to do with beer,” Tom says.

“We got a bunch of crap for Perc E Bust. It’s the whole joke that it’s a robust porter, it’s like percolated coffee… People like the beer and I don’t care. We’re still waiting for the opportunity to get the beer back under a new name.”

It’s nice that craft beer doesn’t take itself too seriously, but I feel like everyone in this world, from the brewers to restaurants to consumers, should want to hold ourselves to a classier standard. With all the progress we’ve made with women’s rights, it’s very surprising that this industry hasn’t evolved more. It’s very heavily male-dominated and not afraid to show it.

As Tom notes, “I don’t think a lot of people do things out of maliciousness, but intent is irrelevant at times. Just because you didn’t mean to do it doesn’t mean that someone isn’t going to feel bad about it.”

Just like many breweries don’t want to be seen as promoting binge drinking, rather enjoying what’s in your glass and the company around you, why can’t we extend that kind of integrity to the names we give our beers and not making assumptions about the people drinking it?

So what can we do?

At the brewery and service level: change your hiring policies. Take social responsibility and not be demeaning with your names and labels. Make it comfortable for new drinkers to try beer, ask questions, and experiment. Realize that not all craft beer drinkers fit into a box.

At the customer level: demand better of your breweries and support those who are trying to improve the social construct of the beer world. Speak up and get a conversation going.

Ultimately, flavor is the most important thing when selecting a beer. It isn’t about what style a particular gender should like. Flavor preference isn’t a gender distinction. Don’t assume that woman at the end of the bar a) only likes fruity beer and b) can’t carry on a conversation about what’s (most likely the Double IPA) in her glass. We can do better, and should demand better, than painting everyone with the same sexist brush.

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Angelica Ross

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