Craft Beer Culture and Women

Homebrewing class with Nicole Todd, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, Santa Cruz, California, January 2015

Leslie in homebrewing class with instructor Nicole Todd at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, Santa Cruz, CA

There’s plenty, in addition to the product, to like about the American craft beer movement. In the age of Anheuser-Busch InBev (headquartered in Belgium) and SABMiller (headquartered in London), a lot of folks warm up to notions like local businesses and old-fashioned American entrepreneurship. And what’s not to like about craft beer’s grassroots history, its David-in-the-shadow-of-Goliath status and the role of women?

That’s right; the role of women.

In early December, I downloaded Travels with Barley: A Journey Through Beer Culture in America (published 2007) and settled in for a few pleasant hours of reading. One chapter later, I was back on Amazon, looking for my next read.

A couple of months passed before I went back to the book, which actually turned out to be a pretty entertaining read. That first chapter, which so quickly lost my attention, described the spring break action at a beach bar. Between the barrels of beer consumed (estimated at 50% Budweiser), the hordes of tipsy, barely-clad females and the annual mullet toss, the place sounded like a paradise for testosterone-heavy college guys and rednecks.

While you won’t find the word “feminist” on my résumé, stories and commercials with sexy women in skimpy clothing just don’t make me want to drink beer. I’m sure craft beer has its share of male chauvinists, but I’ll argue that overall, it’s a lot more welcoming to women than traditional American beer culture has ever been.

Drop into most brewpubs or craft brewery taprooms in the U.S. on a Saturday evening, and you’ll find large numbers of women, most of them decently dressed and drinking responsibly. This change is particularly noticeable in the 21 to 34-year-old demographic. A 2012 Statista report found 44% of women in this age group had drunk a craft beer in the last year versus 32% of men.

In last week’s post, I wrote about attending the Philadelphia Brewers Plate. Strictly on observation, I’d say maybe a third of the folks working the craft beer booths were women. Among attendees, my guess is close to 50% were female. Virtually all the women I observed wore clothing that would have passed the dress code for dances at the high school where I used to teach. I never saw any overtly drunken behavior or anybody hanging over the bathroom toilet. My point is: craft beer culture has made drinking beer more respectable and cooler than it’s ever been in America, especially for females.

Among the employees with whom I spoke at the Brewers Plate, the women were every bit as knowledgeable and prepared to answer attendees’ questions as the guys. I never felt that any of the men took our beer/brewing conversation less seriously because I was a woman. In terms of dress, both male and female employees most often wore T-shirts or other clothing from the brewery they represented.

When it comes to beer, in most aspects, it’s still a man’s world—as the media frequently remind us. But over the last forty years or so, the craft beer movement has tenaciously and independently forged its place in the larger beer world. In a similar way, women are working towards parity within the movement.

Comments

  1. Leslie,

    I’m currently working on an ethnographic project about gender within the beer culture in Anchorage, AK. Most women I’ve spoken to here seemed to believe that Alaska is more inclusive of women within the craft beer scene, but your article proves that women are becoming increasingly interested in it throughout the US!

    Also, I trudged through the first chapter of Travels With Barley as well and never picked it back up, You’ve inspired me to go back and read the rest of it! Thank you for posting this blog!

    • Leslie Patiño says:

      Hi Celia, thanks for your comments. I agree that women are becoming more involved in the craft/homebrewing world. If you’re not already familiar with Ginger Johnson and her work, you might want to check out her website, Women Enjoying Beer.

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