Friday, January 11, 2008

Beer appreciation by women

From Jay Wilson's Brewvana blog:

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.

He quotes brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf:
"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." <...> women are less likely to enjoy spilled beer-and-puke environments. <...> Like many women, Fahrendorf is put off by what she calls “the cheesecake factor,” the “sex sells” mentality of advertising.

It's ironic that US breweries once gave great attention to female drinkers. From the World War II era, there's suggestion that the 6-pack itself was introduced because the breweries had deemed it to be the the ideal size for a woman to handle: quantity vs. portability. [Bob Skilnik, Beer & Food: An American History (Jefferson Press, 2007, Gambrinus Media), p. xiv] No comment here!

Anyway, blogger/brewer Jay Wilson convened an informal taste panel/focus group to see what an age-diverse group of women — 6 women, 6 decades, 6 beers — actually did prefer, enjoy, or were intrigued by, rather than what they didn't.

The results are illuminating. Yes, his panel was small, limited, one-time. But, if I might quote myself from ten years ago:
At the 1998 Mid-Atlantic Beer and Food Festival, at least 40% of the attendees were women. This a proportion that had been growing at this festival since its inception five years earlier. For the most part, these women were bucking the conventional wisdom that women only drink sweet, flavored, or fruit beers. They were sampling all of the beers. <...>

Particularly intriguing was a conversation between two women who appeared to be just past the minimum age. They were standing in line, eagerly waiting to receive refills of HopDevil Ale, an India Pale Ale, brewed in Pennsylvania by the Victory Brewing Company, that is big, bold, very bitter, and very aromatic.

These women, however, were not remarking upon the bitterness of the beer, but, rather, upon its hoppiness, that is, its fresh herbal aromatics.

Any generalization is fraught with inherent contradictions, but might it be that many of today's brewers (mostly men) are concentrating on no character on one end to extreme character on the other, while eschewing the food-like qualities of their beer?

And ...

Putting aside for a minute the aesthetic argument for a well-balanced beer, is it a good business model to ignore the preferences of female drinkers or potential female drinkers?

It's beer for thought.

[UPDATE: I'm chuckling. I've just noticed that uber blogger Lew Bryson has posted a piece on exactly this topic this morning at Condé Nast Portfolio. I'll take an oath that I had not seen his article when writing my comments. It's quite the beery convergence!]

Past Steelhead Brewery brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf has been writing on her figurative and literal road trip in her blog Road Brewer.

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