For centuries, beer was the drink of the people. It was primarily brewed by women in their homes and was quaffed by everyone, regardless of gender, age or how many peasants were plowing their fields. But, at some point, the ‘drink of the people’ became the drink of the lads, brewed by, marketed for and sold to men – and now we’re trying to dig ourselves out of a football-shaped hole.
Of course, we like to think that this male-oriented perception of beer is transforming. It’s true that a brilliant new generation of female brewers are leading the charge; take, for instance, the recent collaboration between top women in the beer industry and female brewing students to create limited-edition kettle sour at Pressure Drop Brewery. Such steps are increasing the visibility of women in the trade and driving change from the inside out.
Still, the consumer market has yet to catch on. According to the new Gender Pint Gap report from Dea Latis, only 9% of British women say beer is their most frequently consumed alcoholic beverage, compared to 40% of British men.
This number is roughly the same as one found in another study conducted in 2009, and given the rise of the progressive British craft beer movement, this stagnancy may be shocking to some. In an industry that is rapidly evolving, why does the beer gender gap remain so prominent?
The root of the matter
The Gender Pint Gap report hones in on a number of factors that contribute to the issue, from volume size, to the negative health implications of beer, to feeling judged for drinking a brew – but one of the biggest barriers to beer drinking for women seems to be the taste. Dea Latis reports that the 83% of women who never drink beer do so because they don’t like the flavour.
‘It still seems to be the case that women consider beer to be a generic drink and think all beer tastes the same,’ said beer sommelier and journalist Sophie Atherton.
Male-oriented advertising also plays a major role – and not just the bikini-clad beach babe enjoying a brew in the adverts that air during Premier League breaks. Sara Barton of Brewster’s Brewing Co points out that within craft beer, packaging and branding is still very much geared toward ‘bro’ culture (think skulls, spaceships, lucha libre-style wrestling masks).
And skewing beer advertising towards women takes a deft hand in order to avoid falling back on old stories. Consider the conflict that arose when BrewDog rebranded its Punk IPA ‘Pink’ to raise awareness of the gender pay gap, which received criticism for addressing stereotypes with more stereotypes.
‘There needs to be a concerted effort to show more positive images of women drinking beer,’ said Atherton. ‘If women see other women drinking beer, it might start to undo this silly notion that beer is a man’s drink. It’s got to become the norm in visual imagery to show as many female as male beer drinkers.’
Perhaps the most important takeaways from the report are the practical ways the trade can address the discrepancy in beer drinking among women.
Dea Latis encourages sampling as a way to grapple with the problem of taste, and Harviestoun Brewery’s Lolly Watkins, beer sommelier, agrees.
‘One of the simplest methods for tackling these barriers is education coupled with sampling,’ she said. ‘Until potential consumers have the means to discover what they like, chances are they’ll stick to what they know,’ she said.
The report also proposes changing the language around beer – rather than using the word ‘bitter,’ look for more appealing descriptors; rather than defaulting to a pint, offer a glass instead.
While the crux of the matter is certainly not as simple as semantics, the smallest details can, over time, add up to a larger shift in both the industry and beer drinking culture as a whole. Through industry efforts, we can bridge the beer gender gap and a brew can once again become the drink of the people – so grab a shovel, and start digging.