One of the most surprising results of our first beer talk, recently held at the Free House, was that over half the participants were women. We have observed that most women in pubs are drinking wine or cider, not beer. Inquiring at one pub, the bartender made a high guess of 15% of female patrons ordering beer. That seems to be in line with international research showing that women account for between 13% and 25% of beer consumption, though we couldn’t find exact statistics for New Zealand.
Since we started this column, many women have commented to Maria that they had seen her photo, but admitted they didn’t read the article because they don’t drink beer. A few women did express interest in beer, but often with qualifications, as if it were a bit embarrassing to be a beer drinking woman.
So what is it about beer and women? Is beer drinking unladylike? Beer marketing might play a part in this. Do you really want to associate yourself with those adolescent bikini-ogling dopes in the adverts? Of course, a lot of mature men don’t want to either, but they can shrug it off, or choose a more sophisticated brand. For women, there really aren’t appropriate brands offered. Stella Artois approaches a hip woman’s drink, but isn’t all that widely available.
But even a woman who ignored the implications and tried a beer often found that it didn’t appeal to her tastes. She might have tried various brands, but until recently most NZ beers were similar enough that she could quickly write off the whole product. Yet, with the rapidly expanding availability of other beer styles, this preconception might no longer be accurate.
In the book Fermenting Revolution, Christopher Mark O’Brien suggests that women have a more refined sense of taste than men, and are more willing to experiment with different beer styles. He implies that they are always looking for something new, but maybe they are just looking for a beer they actually like.
Back when we met, Maria did not like beer and, trying many, did not change her position until Fritz brought home an Australian Sheaf Stout. Having tasted Guinness, she was sure she didn’t like stout, but this was an entirely new experience. It was a creamy, thirst-quenching, alcoholic cold coffee. Nothing about it seemed like beer.
From then, she started drinking more dark ales. As Fritz kept offering tastes of different lighter beers, she found more and more to her liking. Her tastes have developed until now she happily drinks beer styles that many beer loving men find overpowering.
Her theory, then, is that beer is an acquired taste for almost everyone. Most children screw up their faces when tasting beer. But boys are peer pressured into drinking it anyway in a way that girls are not. Eventually most boys develop a taste for beer, where the girls have moved on to wine or cocktails. (Of course some men also don’t like beer, and it’s funny to note that Maria’s father had a similar stout experience about ten years after her.)
So why were all of those women at our beer basics talk? A few already liked beer, and just wanted to understand more about how it’s made. A few were learning in a work context, so they could know more when serving it to others. And there was some element of witnessing a new gourmet food movement that they didn’t want to be excluded from.
O’Brien also suggests that because they are experimental, women would naturally be a part of a revolution in beer. So, if it’s just a matter of figuring out how to approach beer to find the types they like, women may yet become beer drinkers.
Now to get rid of the perception of beer drinkers as drunken louts…
Originally published in the Nelson Mail.