Gender Expectations in Craft Beer

Craft beer is always perceived as a boys club. Regardless of how much you might abhor sexism in the industry (myself included), we all associate beer with masculinity, and are often surprised by women in the craft beer community. With the latest plagues of sexist branding, failed marketing ploys and a general lack of representation in terms of women in the top positions, i.e. brewers, owners, GMs; it is no surprise that women's position in craft beer has been a popular discussion topic throughout certain breweries, podcasts and writers.

Even brewers identifying as women are other-ed, or other themselves, through the label ‘brewsters’. The term ‘brewsters’ is thought to have medieval roots as the surname of a person who’s occupation was to brew (traditionally a women’s job until 1350), but as most of the early surnames on the records are of men, we can assume the term has widely been non-gender specific. Interestingly the suffix ‘-ster’ is often used in a derogatory manner, such as youngster, trickster, mobster ext. The fact that beer writers, brewers and other industry workers are willingly separating themselves from their male cohorts, perhaps, is another indication of the problem.

“Inviting women into otherwise male enclaves in order to give a ‘woman’s perspective’ is also patronising, reductive and ignores the intersectional nature of all our identities in which we are defined not only by our gender – be that male, female or otherwise – but also our race, age, religion, sexuality, abilities, and so much more.”

Emma Inch, Freelance Beer Writer

Another pressing issue for women in the industry is their treatment by men. Throughout my experience in the drinks sector I have encountered a range of hostile responses, ranging from low-level aggressions such as being ignored in favour of male colleagues, to overt sexism, unwanted sexualisation and comments such as ‘well I’m sure you only know about the wines’. Women in craft beer are not formalities to be polite to before diverting attentions to male members of staff; we have been chosen for our knowledge of the industry and are as experienced as our male counterparts. At a recent beer festival, whilst helping my sister and her partner pick a beer they’d both enjoy, a male volunteer accosted us, assuming I knew nothing. He then proceeded to lure us to the dustiest old cask ale in the tent, whilst making comments to my sister’s boyfriend about the ‘princesses’ he was with. All three of us informed him of my vocation, all attempts were ignored by him. A few weeks prior I was also mansplained what a stout was by a bartender at a London taproom.

It is clear that a huge effort needs to be enacted on the part of male bartenders/volunteers and other male occupants of the higher positions in the industry. Whilst the behaviour of older male volunteers no longer surprises me, it is no less aggravating. Experiencing sexism from younger bartenders in new, trendy craft beer haunts, is surprising and quite harrowing. It speaks to the perception that a natural progression away from hegemonic (and unreasonable) gender roles is granted through a generational shift, it suggests that this is not the case. An active role in demanding an end to these ideals needs to be adopted, it seems that craft beer sexism won’t passively go out of date, we need to work towards fixing it.

In addition to changing attitudes towards female members of staff in the industry, and changing male customer’s reaction to women in the trade, there also needs to be more focus on engaging with women customers. The organisation Dea Latis commissioned a YouGov study into women’s beer drinking habits. They found that, of those participants who do not drink beer, 83% don’t do so because they dislike the taste. Craft beer boasts an eclectic range of flavours, from sour beers to barley wines to double dry hopped IPAs. With this in mind, how could 83% believe there is one, monolithic beer taste? The only answer I can imagine is that they are not exposed to the differing ranges of crafty flavour, this needs to change. I, and any other person in the industry, need to engage with customers and introduce them to the various flavour notes of craft beer. Any beer fan can engage by informing those around them of the wide ranging subcategories of craft beer.

If there are any women reading this who don't drink beer because of the associations attached, trust me, we've got something for you! If you're more of a wine drinker, we've got lambics, an array of sours including strawberry and cucumber flavoured beers; if you prefer coffee we've got a multitude of stouts and porters which are coffee infused, often so much so that we forget they're beers!