In craft brewing, tapping the power of women

Pink Boots Society founder Teri Fahrendorf spreads the good word.

Though it’s a bit of a boy’s club today, craft brewing was historically a women-run enterprise, first a domestic chore dating back almost four millennia, then a craft, a cottage industry and, eventually, big business.

(For some, it was even more: The Sumerians had a beer goddess named Ninkasi.)

Brewing didn’t become male-dominated in Europe until the Renaissance, and it changed genders even later in America, where women remained active home brewers until the Industrial Revolution and production transitioned to commercial breweries.

(As one sage noted, “When there’s money to be made, the men take over.”)

Today, as small-batch brewing regains its historic popularity, women are reclaiming their rightful place in the craft, while also stepping up as consumers. Women aged 21 to 34 represent 15 percent of total craft beer consumption, ahead of the national average, according to the Colorado-based Brewers Association.

The Pink Boots Society, a women-in-brewing group founded by Washington-based brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf in 2007, currently boasts 2,500 members in 30 countries.

“Women are definitely underrepresented in the craft beer industry, but it’s evident that is changing,” noted Ashley Dunlop, tasting room manager and events coordinator at Crooked Ladder Brewing of Riverhead. “Here at Crooked Ladder, we’re primarily staffed by women, in roles ranging from management to sales to the tasting room.

“Women have a prominent place in the future of beer at all levels.”

Let’s hope that includes marketing, which has for decades relied on sports and bikini-clad models to push product. That’s carried over into craft brewing, too, where double entendre and mischievous label illustrations border on the derogatory.

No misogynist intent, perhaps – just dudes trying to be funny – but patronizing and sexist branding risks alienating half the market.

(The reality is, women actually have more taste buds than the majority of men, giving them the edge in detecting the nuances of flavor and aroma and the complexities of a well-crafted, well-balanced beer.)

And for a lot of young women, becoming a Master Cicerone, or certified beer expert, is definitely on their career radar.

“Women that drink craft beer aren’t bound by gender stereotypes,” said Sophia Del Gigante of Beer and Yoga. “We pride ourselves on pushing traditional gender roles and expanding the female story.”

Marketing directly to women doesn’t necessarily equate to being sexist, it often becomes that when marketers don’t follow the number one rule in advertising: Know your audience.

There are many products designed for or marketed to women that communicate in ways not appealing to women. That’s just failure to communicate and businesses that don’t change their all-male approach to marketing will get left behind.

Proper marketing to any niche should always be about catering to all of that market’s needs, not just focusing on the ways that, let’s say, women differ from men.

And here’s a tip: You’d better have your pitch buttoned up, because women more than men, tend to research and gather intelligence before they buy.

So is there any merit to brewing and marketing beer differently to men and woman? Maybe not. Some women, in fact, feel the whole idea of gender-specific beer or messaging only widens the gender gap.

Lauri Spitz, co-founder of Moustache Brewing Co. in Riverhead, certainly sees it that way. “One’s genitals do not and should not dictate what one can and cannot drink,” she said. “To perpetuate that belief would undermine the progress of bridging the gender gap that so many in this industry, both female and male, have worked tirelessly to close.”

Woman in beer have the double-duty of breaking-down beer misconceptions and gender stereotypes. It takes a lot of patience and education. Not all dark beers are heavy, for example. Not all IPAs are bitter. Girls don’t just drink fruit beers. Guys don’t just drink IPAs.

Research has shown that women embracing craft beer are looking for strong, unique flavors. They’re looking for new styles and brands, and are far more adventurous when experimenting with new beers than their male craft-beer-drinking counterparts.

That’s something the first craft beer ads failed to take notice of, notes Melissa Barrett, a craft beer designer and writer.

“If you look, all the women in the ads are doing one thing – serving beer to men. That’s it. Not the brewing, not the packaging, not the buying, not the drinking, not even the dissecting. If you want to promote your brewery to women, how about showing them drinking, buying, even brewing your beer? It may be that simple.”

Bottom line: Best practices will come from marketing professionals who understand that craft beer is a non-gender beverage. Any time you isolate or shun half your audience, it’s never a good place to be.

McCune is director of the Craft Beverage Division of Melville-based EGC Group. Reach him via or at 516-935-4944.

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