Monday, September 18, 2006

Notes: Craft Brew Culture

A post on Alexandre Enkerli's site last week dealing with craft brew culture really got me thinking about beer folks as a cultural group. Enkerli is a homebrewer and a cultural anthropoligist who had given a presentation entitled Brewing Cultures: Craft Beer and Cultural Identity in North America at the joint conference of the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) in June of this year. As I read the presentation, I kept thinking, "Yep, that's me," or "yeah, I've noticed that, too."

The most fascinating part, and the part I kept thinking about, was the role of and relationship to women in this group. I posted some comments on Enkerli's blog, and we started an email correspondence on the topic. He asked for my observations about women and craft beer. What follows are notes from our discussion:
RELATIONSHIP I'm married and have been working to get my wife more involved in the hobby for years. She's supportive of my hobby, but it's always been my hobby. There were certainly echoes of my own situation in your description of the interplay between husband and wife and brewing. I do have to consciously carve out time for brewing, but it has more to do with having two small children (3 and 6 months) than needing permission (because it was easier to devote the time pre-kids). I should note, however, that I was kicked out of the kitchen years ago.

MALE-DOMINATED GROUPS We have a group of guys who meet each month or six weeks. It's basically a guys night out, but the premise behind it is beer appreciation. We each bring something interesting to drink and try. This summer we tried to get spouses, significant others, and families involved, so we held a summer picnic. There were a lot of families there, and I think we educated a lot of folks, but I think it was viewed more as a "let's see what the guys are doing."

WOMEN AND CRAFT BEER My wife is receptive to trying new beer, but isn't a beer drinker by nature--wine is more her speed. She does tend to like Wit beers, though, and generally prefers fruitier or wheat beers to IPAs, Belgians, and Porters (my favorites). I've been searching for a couple of years now to find a recipe that would elicit a request for me to brew it again. I don't think her tastes are atypical, so I'm surprised more brewers don't try to target that niche.

In fact, there are only an handful of women I know who have an interest in brewing. Most have never brewed on their own (but have with me or others), but they have excellent taste in beer and tend to drink a wide variety of beers, including those outside the realm of wheat and fruit beers.

An interesting related observation--every year, I go to an AleFest, in which about 300 different beers are available for tasting. I always notice two things--1) most of the folks there seem to fall between 25-35, which is a lot younger than folks in the two homebrew clubs I've belonged to (in Boston and in Dayton, where most folks are generally older). and 2) There are a lot more women than I expect. It's not 50/50, but it's probably close to 60/40 (in contrast, in the homebrew clubs I belong(ed) to, it's was more like 90/10)

WOMEN IN BEER MEDIA This is a pet-peeve of mine. I think your description about women in craft beer media as being protrayed as purveyors of beer is dead on. I subscribe to Brew Your Own, and the covers often annoy me. Often they have brewers or beers on the cover, which is fine, but about every 3 issues, they have a young, attractive woman filling the "bartender" type roll you describe. Also, check out the link to my local homebrew store: The pic at the top drives me nuts because it's so stereotypical. It's disappointing because the store prides itself on its excellent beer selection, then stoops to the lowest common demoninator for its imagery. Overall, big-chested women hawking craft beers cheaps the image.
In addition, there were two other topics we touched on:
LOCAL BEERS [KJG] In thinking about your discussion of regional followings (and hooray for you for the nod to the Sox. Too bad about this year, though), I realized that whenever I travel for any purpose, I make it a point to find a local brewery or try a local beer. Beer isn't the purpose of my travel, but it's a nice perk b/c I get to try beers that aren't available at home, get to meet beer folks with different perspectives, and get to see bars and piubs different from the ones I'm used to. In fact, I'm to the point now that I often do a BeerFly search on the location before I even book my flight! And I can't imagine I'm the only beer geek who does that.

[AE] The regional/local dimension is clearly one I want to look at a bit more. It's all about "glocalization" and the whole "think global, drink local" thing. Here's one of my crazier posts on the subject: Beer and travel go well together. For instance, most cities have a couple of good brewpubs and they are nice places to get a sense of the local environment. (Some people do the same thing with vegan

Before beerfly, people used to post messages on the HBD before going somewhere, in order to know where the good beer is. It's a fascinating thing as people discover other places through beer. This is one of the things the large breweries haven't understood. We want our beer to be local and we use beer to go local. Given the geographical mobility of a lot of Americans, it can have a real impact.

COMPETITIONS [KJG] In addition, as related to beer knowledge and status, I wonder if it wouldn't be worth mentioning the various competitions that take place, both on a homebrew and craft brew level. I know quite a few homebrewers who brew almost solely for contests. They do well, and acheive a certain status within the group.

[AE] Competitions are a big issue. As you say, some homebrewers brew for competition. Our brewclub, the MontreAlers, has organized some competitions and many members are certified judges. But it's a can of worms for me. It's related to the whole "German engineer" part of the equation, which is fine. But I tend to be more of a "Belgian artist."

Please post comments--I'm interested to hear what y'all have to say on the subjects above.


Anonymous said...

From the femme beer connoisseur perspective: I would say you touched on it when you talked about how beer brewing is often combo'd with a guys night out. Kind of like how role playing games and such were often the same during H.S. When these are opened to females it is often the wives, girlfriends, etc... who may appreciate but aren't often into it as much. Therefore it's never quite sustainable in this way as a serious hobby. It is much harder to find a cohesive all girl group or mixed group that achieves the purpose of a good hobby: doing something you love and having other things/ experiences in common on the side while getting out of the daily rut! So I, like many other femmes, concentrate on expanding our palate with good beer and for better or worse miss the actual brewing experience except on occasion. It makes it special.

KevBrews said...

I'm not sure I quite understand. Are you suggesting that it is easier for men, as a grou, to combine a hobby with a social outing and that the equation is more difficult when it's either a mixed group or an all-female group? Does that apply to all hobbies or just those associated with beer?

Anonymous said...

No. More that some activities such as beer brewing have traditionally been lent toward male activities (socially) and have had more success as such. Of course I know that is not exclusively so. And personally, I can name quite a few femme friends who are really into beer (including occasional festivals, tasting parties) but not too many who might be into brewing/tasting even semi-regularly. I don't know if it is because of lack of exposure & opportunities or desire to do so.

As for femme & mixed groups: I don't think that they don't exist nor that there can't be successful mixed or female beer brewing groups, it just means it also takes a little more work to take into account the camaraderie kind of inherent in the guys night out approach, which is how many local groups are often established (excluding ones sponsored by breweries). And I'm not saying this approach is a negative or exclusive to males (or single gender groups for that matter).

Consider a guy into scrapbooking and his getting really involved (sorry for bad stereotyping but with marketing and groups available, they seem oddly parallel). He would find the craft store sponsored events readily but it would be much harder to find a personal group where he fits well/regularly as many are highly female concentrated with a girls night out/in approach. Once the initial barrier of finding/forming a regular group is overcome, I think it would be much easier, even second nature for him to make it a monthly event. But it's getting to that point in both brewing & scrapbooking that is the hard part. Much less if a group wanted to 'recruit' males for regulars. It's not impossible by any stretch but it can go against the masses, marketing. They are both hobbies that are also social events and are typically more dominated by one gender than the other. So being someone who is outside the 'norm' and travelling upstream takes more work and ingenuity to find the right fit. But that is probably all a 'well duh' moment anyway.

KevBrews said...

Good point. I'll bet stay-at-home dads are another good example.

Anonymous said...


bluecutie said...

I can speak only from an American perspective, which for this argument is probably too narrow. The media promoting beer to the general public has been targeting males FOREVER. In America, women think beer drinker = man. Is this mostly because of the advertising? Or is the advertising reflecting life? Which came first?

I think the advertising is reflecting life -- at least what it used to be. You'll notice the only beer ads that target women these days are the low-carb "health conscious" beers.

What are the demographics for your hobby in Europe? Are more women involved? What is the advertising like in Europe? Does it appeal to the lowest common denominator as it does in the States? Or is it a bit elevated?

This comment is a bit disjointed. I guess what I'm saying is for American women to become more involved, we have to erase years of programming. Many American women equate beer and beer drinking with slovenly men, beer guts, sports bars, etc. Women have to be introduced to the art and science of beer. It needs to appeal to their intellectual side -- as does wine. That's hardwork when you're up against the media.