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Session 81-Women in Craft Beer Culture: Women are Different than Men!

I have now written over 5000 words on this topic and deleted all of them. I love this topic Women in [Craft] Beer Culture. And I write about it frequently. See here, here, here, and here. Normally I have a take very similar to Jay Brooks here: just make good beer and it will appeal to women and to men. And men, stop being so condescending to women. Don’t test them on their beer trivia. Don’t assume that she doesn’t like beers 100+ IBUs. Don’t be shocked or “impressed” because she orders what you do, because that makes her soooooooooo awesome (sexist aside: ‘not like other girls, amirite’).

But that’s not the direction I wanted to go this time. I wanted to express the idea in the headline because I think that’s true too and I don’t see anybody else saying it. So I went looking for the data. And. it. is. sparse. Nothing I found speaks directly to the issue of whether, as many have claimed and SABMiller apparently believes, that women prefer sweeter beer, for example, or fruity beers, or wheat beers. I can say that in my personal experience, I have found this to be true. Most of my female friends who drink beer regularly prefer, for example Wild Blue, Blue Moon, or Razz Wheat. Two of my friends who do not drink beer regularly, actually claim to “hate” beer, will seek out lambics on occasion. I just poured at GABF a few weeks ago and I witnessed the same there too. A lot. But where’s the data? No matter how much personal anecdotes I can pile up, they will always be suspect, because perhaps I’m remembering wrong. Perhaps there were hundred of sample glasses in the hands of women into which I poured, unthinkingly, gallon after gallon of IPAs, bocks, and stouts. Perhaps it just that I was expecting to pour a lot of Apricot Wheat and Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Porter for the ladies and thus noticed it and remembered it with greater acuity. How can I know?!?!???

Here are my very brief reasons for thinking it may be true in the absence of actual data.

  1. Whether you associate the preference to physiology (“superstasters!!!”) or socio-cultural factors, it has been observed in laboratory tests that women express a preference for sweeter foods. (Note: both of those stories talk about the likelihood of both theories, but they each exhibit a very slight preference for interpretation linked.)
  2. In all but the youngest cohort of drinkers, women prefer wine over both beer and spirits. While it has been noted (here as well as other places) that wine and spirits are aspirational, the tendency is for cultures to move from beer to wine and from wine to spirits. However, women move to wine when they can afford it and do not continue on (in general). This seems to indicate a preference for sweeter beverages that is separate from aspirational motivations.
  3. New drinkers prefer sweeter and less complex beers to more bitter and more complex beers. [PDF] (I have a lot of problems with this study methodologically, but it’s the best we have for now and it makes intuitive sense) and since, in general, women are newer to the scene, it seems we could make an argument that…at least for a little while, women (in general) will prefer sweeter beers.

I don’t think Joe Craft should be making assumptions. And I don’t think he should be surprised when Ann Craft can outmatch him IBU to IBU. I think the woman craft beer drinker probably enjoys the variety available to her as much as the next person. But I don’t see any reason why SABMiller shouldn’t at least try to recognize that women have sometimes demonstrated flavor preferences distinct from the male of the species. At least this time they seem to be trying their hand at modifying their flavor profile instead of just sticking the same product into a marketing package that looks like a purse (ferchrissakes) and calling it day. That is, in the past, the megas have attempted to woo the ladies by reducing them to stereotypes and trying to sell them a lifestyle. At least this go-round they seem to be recognizing that the thing on the other end of the bottling line is a human that drinks things because she likes the way they taste and trying to cater to that particular preference.

I’m sure they’ll find a way to muck it up.

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Posted in The Drinking Class.