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Monday, 7 August 2017

Women and Beer

Ninkasi, Sumerian Goddess of Beer
According to legend, beer was a gift from a goddess to womankind. Beer has been brewed for at least 10,000 years, and for most of that time women were the brewers. In the early 18th century, three quarters of brewers in this country were female. So why is only 13% of beer in this country drunk by women, a far lower figure than in the USA or most of Europe? Dea Latis, an organisation committed to bringing beer to women, suggests it’s because of misconceptions that beer is ‘fattening’ (it’s not, in moderation), ‘all tastes the same’ (it doesn’t) or is ‘a man’s drink’ (it doesn’t have to be).

Over recent decades, beer marketing has mostly been aimed at men. In TV adverts, hunky Tetley Bittermen turned away from beautiful women to pick up their pints – the message being: 'don't let women get in the way of your beer'. More recently with the real ale revival, some brewers have deliberately chosen sexist names with suggestive illustrations on their handpumps. To give a few: Slater's Top Totty; Slack Alice Cider; Teignworthy Bristol's Ale with a crude visual pun on 'Bristol'; and York's Naughty Noelle – all with demeaning pictures to match. A few names are so crude that I would not mention them here.

Faced with all this, it is hardly surprising when women don't relate to beer, so those brewers who deliberately alienate 51% of their potential market are scoring an own goal. Fortunately most aren't so juvenile, and the situation can only improve further with the increasing number of women brewers.

In recent years, Jean Pownceby of Liverpool CAMRA tried to redress the imbalance by arranging social evenings where knowledgeable female drinkers would bring along woman friends unfamiliar with beer to try out various brews, and have a good night out in the process. 'Snowball', as it was called, was a very successful local initiative.

Nationally, a quarter of CAMRA members are female - that's around 47,500 women signed up to support real ale. With the increasing choice of real ales in pubs and bars, along with the bottled beer shops that are springing up, the chances of men and women finding a beer they like have never been better than now.

The post above was another article I wrote for the CAMRA column in the local press. I wanted to refer to the brewery set up a few years ago by a young woman to brew beers deliberately aimed at women. This brewery seems to have vanished, I can't recall the name of either her or her brewery, and I've been unable to find anything through a search engine. 

My opinion at the time was that the assumption that there was a beer just for women was misguided, and had it come from a male would deservedly risk being described as patronising or sexist. Having worked at many beer festivals over the years, I know that women drinkers will choose a wide range of beers, including dark milds and stouts. A pale lightly-flavoured beer with citrus flavours might be a suitable introduction to real ale for lager drinkers, but that applies to men as well as women.

This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and the Ormskirk Advertiser. Previous reviews are here.


  1. Brewsters'? I think that was set up as an all-women operation, and I'm pretty sure they're still going.


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