A tasting to engage women in brewvana
Is it any wonder that there are few female beer enthusiasts? With the macro-breweries focusing on babes in bikinis rather than flavor and education in their advertising campaigns, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that women are a little turned off by the whole beer scene.
The Bud Girls. The Swedish Bikini Team. Drink our beer and you’ll be cool. Drink our beer and good looking women dig you. From a brewvanic perspective, that’s a fat lot of crap. And very unfortunate for the craft brewer, who doesn’t have the resources to compete with the deep-pocketed macros’ advertising budgets. Doubly unfortunate, because the microbrewers are crafting styles to which women might be attracted. If only the little guys had the exposure.
I asked renowned female brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf her thoughts on women’s aversion to beer. “What I have found, with people who say they don’t like beer, is that generally they don’t like yellow lager beer. They don’t like the sulfur or corn or rice flavors.” Fahrendorf suggests targeting flavors to hone in on the perfect pint for the drinker at hand. Coffee lovers tend to groove on porters and stouts, for instance. Women often prefer the fruity nuances of ales over lagers.
From Fahrendorf’s perspective, women are less likely to enjoy spilled beer-and-puke environments. If it’s a brew pub that caters to lighter styles, women may not be won over. Me neither, as these joints seem populated by those there to be seen, rather than those there for a tasty pint. Like many women, Fahrendorf is put off by what she calls “the cheesecake factor,” the “sex sells” mentality of advertising.
With my Save The World Through Beer mentality in my pocket, I set out to do a little research that will surely benefit all of Beerdom. I’ve already learned that women can’t resist flowers or Stan Getz playing softly in the background, but what could possibly be the right beer(s), and what could possibly get them to imbibe?
I decided a tasting was in order, but not just any tasting. I needed to have women, but not just a smattering in my age group. I needed lots of age groups: could I really track down six different women from six different decades? With the help of my new comrade Donna, mover and shaker in this small Iowa town, yes I could.
Donna was concerned that they wouldn’t all like beer. “Perfect,” said I. As long as they’re willing to a) drink, and b) sample the free beer I planned to provide, all the better. I knew that it was likely that many of them would only have experienced a light American lager. No wonder they (thought they) didn’t like beer. And with all that advertising turning them off? This was just the audience I wanted.
Once we gathered our crew, a twentysomething on through a seventysomething, I set out to walk them through a wide range of beers, from light to dark, with offshoots into several different flavor profiles. Miller Lite served as a baseline to everyone’s reference point for “beer.” New Belgium‘s Mothership Wit kept things light, while bringing in new dimensions and ideas for flavors that a beer can possess. Then came my homebrewed Bon Scottish Ale, a Scottish 80 shilling that would give us a flavor reference leaning toward malt character. Next, I wanted something dark and roasty, so I chose Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, simply because I’ve witnessed several women enjoy it. To represent hops, I brought along the easy-to-find Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Finally, we would tempt Fate with a Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale.
My goals for the evening where basically twofold: educate and expose these women to a different side of “beer,” and obtain feedback for how women might be drawn into the world of craft beer.
First off, it was a whole lot of fun. I provided a little background on the brewing process, as well as the ingredients involved. We talked about aromas, flavors, mouthfeels. We talked about their drinking experiences and preferences (which ranged from beer to mixed drinks to wine to margaritas to straight up tequila). And we talked about macro-advertising’s failure to engage them. Of the group, the Twentysomething walked in the door as the most adventurous beer drinker, and the Seventysomething told me beforehand that it was pointless for her to come, because she didn’t like beer (sounded like my Granny before trying my saison–”That’s better than just plain old beer.”).
“Perfect,” said I. I had one that she would find engaging.
I actually had two Fiftysomethings, which gave me a seven-pack of noisy, rambunctious, thoughtful and sweet participants. Lots of lively banter. They even filled out notes and answered questions on my little handout.
Of the six beers on the menu, the Belgian wit, New Belgium’s Mothership Wit came out on top, followed by my 80 Shilling, the Flanders red, Miller Lite, Young’s Double Chocolate and Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale.
What did they have to say?
Mothership Wit: the 20 (Yes, I’m objectifying them by calling them numbers. There’s no offense intended. I’m bad with names, and many of you wouldn’t know them anyway, and I don’t want to type out seventysomething over and over again) noted that it was “fruity, tangy, floral” while the 50 and 70 both said it was “lemony.”
Scottish 80 Shilling: there were five uses of the word smooth (from 20, 30, 40, one of the 50s and the 60) while the other 50 and the 70 wrote some version of “don’t care for it.”
Flanders Red: 30 said, “good after dinner beer,” 60 said, “too much vinegar,” while 70 (my beloved near-grandmother, Norma Jean Mosman) admitted “I liked this beer.” However, on a scale of one to ten, she only gave it a six.
Miller Lite: 40 said,”I like its ‘lightness’,” while a 50 called it “too bitey” and 20, 60 and 70 used variations of the word mild.
Young’s Double Chocolate: This one didn’t perform as well as I’d hoped. 20 said, “Love it!” While most everyone noticed coffee and chocolate aromas and flavors, no one else loved anything but the aroma.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: 30 piped up, “This tastes like real beer,” while her mother, one of the 50s said, “really don’t like this one.” A house divided, I guess.
The Numbers Game
I had all the participants rate each beer on a scale of 1 to 10, just noting their own personal, subjective enjoyment of the beer. In looking at their “scores,” I found it interesting that it was almost a perfect flow of youngest with the highest scores to the oldest with the lowest scores:
20: averaged 5.8 (favorite beer was Young’s Double Chocolate)
30: averaged 5.5 (favorite beer was a tie: my 80 shilling and the Monk’s Cafe)
40: averaged 4.3 (favorite beer was Mothership Wit)
50: averaged 4.2 (favorite beer was my 80 shilling)
50: averaged 3.5 (favorite beer was a tie: Mothership Wit and Monk’s Cafe)
60: averaged 4 (favorite beer was my 80 shilling)
70: averaged 3.3 (favorite beer was Monk’s Cafe)
I’d hoped to turn more folks onto the Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, but the wit won out. As I suspected, the Flanders red intrigued everyone. Two tasters rated this one as their favorite of the lineup. This jives with Teri Fahrendorf’s thoughts when dealing with a wine drinker who may not care for hops. Interestingly, the hop profile of the Sierra Nevada was a loser to everyone but 30, who had the most diverse taste. 30 was also a fan of the 80 shilling and the Monk’s Cafe.
The average for the highest-scored beer was a meager 5.7.
What about the advertising?
I asked my panel of women how brewers might better engage them, and had several good responses:
20 said: “Point blank, breweries could do a better job explaining their different beers in their commercials.”
Wilson says: Yep, but the small brewers can’t afford to advertise during the Super Bowl, so consumers have to find the info out themselves. Once you’ve discovered craft beer, it’s easy to turn to the Internet for information on beers.
30 said: “Women (buy based on) labels, cool names. Education (would help)”
40 said: “They could start by not focusing on men.”
Wilson says: But how?
50 said: “Show women enjoying beer.”
The other 50 said: “The breweries need to let you taste one ounce of maybe three or four to learn what you might want.”
Wilson says: If you show up to a brewery for a tour, there’s almost always free samples involved. Another great place for tasting is at a beer festival, something mighty scarce in small town Iowa. A small dose of exposure like this might be the catalyst for getting them out on the festival circuit, the taproom, the brewery tour and the beer aisle.
They challenged me to put on a festival. I’ll start with having good beers in my restaurant. Doing tastings there. Somewhere down the road, in conjunction with a community event, sure, I’ll put something extra together. A full-blown festival? Maybe. It’d start way small, but I’d agree that it’s a good idea, as there are men in these parts that also need to be enlightened on Good Beer.
Fahrendorf also suggests advertising that takes a biographical form. There are many good female brewers, including ones at Budweiser. Showcase their skills. Further, breweries could focus on women-oriented brewery tours, and special tastings, as well as encouraging women to homebrew and learn about beer and beer production.
Throwing Down the Gauntlet
It’s a process. No matter how it’s done, that initial exposure is what needs to happen. While they’re flirting with the craft beer crowd, Bud, Miller and Coors may not take the lead on engaging women in a meaningful way. And since smaller brewers have limited resources, it’s up to us: the already converted.
We run our mouths constantly about beer, so it shouldn’t be too much for me to ask everybody to step it up a notch. Many of you already volunteer at festivals, a great way to help the cause. Many of us preach to our circle of friends and family. My cousin Suzannah directly benefited from growing up in a household where I was constantly bringing over beers for her old man to try. Now a college grad, she drinks the good stuff.
So I’m here to challenge you. Organize a tasting like I did this week–with people you don’t necessarily know. Get out of your comfort zone and stop preaching to the choir. Get up with a female friend, co-worker or relative and have them rustle up a houseful of women. Brighten their day with beer. Teach them. Care for their well being like never before. You have nothing to lose, and I guarantee you’ll have fun. If a hundred of my readers did this twice a year, they’d reach 1,200 potential beer lovers. If 200 did it, well, I’m not that good at math. In any case, we’d be starting a snowball down the mountain. A very good snowball. I’m sure the small, craft breweries would appreciate your help.
(This isn’t a request, it’s an order. I expect you to report back and tell us how it went.)
The Road Brewer (the aforementioned blog, by Teri Fahrendorf)
Pink Boots Society (Fahrendorf’s compilation of female brewers, one of the most inspiring and beautiful web pages I’ve ever viewed)
Taking the Beard out of Beer (Melissa Cole’s Girls Guide to Beer)
The Best of American Beer and Food (Lucy Saunders pairing and cooking with craft beer)
A Beer Sort of Blog (by a Beer Sort of Girl)
All About Beer (edited by Julie Johnson Bradford)
The Queens of Beer (an old Brewing Techniques article)
Beer for Chicks (Christina Perozzi–the beer chick/sommelier)
2007 Beer Drinker of the Year (Diane Catanzaro takes the prize)
2001 Beer Drinker of the Year (Cornelia Corey was the first female to win eternal glory)
Boak and Bailey (a husband and wife beer blogging team–Boak gets bonus points because she’s a Zeppelin fan)
My Beer Pix (Beer Molly and Beer Sage[her husband]‘s beer blog)
This list, like so many others, could go on and on. In fact, it should go on and on. It’s a beautiful thing, a little piece of brewvana.
Big thanks to Donna and all the beer drinking girls who were willing to indulge me this past week.
Big thanks to Teri Fahrendorf for contributing to the cause (for this post and the bigger cause).
Tasting photos by Jake Wilson, 11. Bottles opened by Tom Wilson, 8. Thanks, guys.