Women and Beer

by Wendy Margetts

According to the most recent Cask Report 2011-2012, cask ale is appealing to a new audience of younger, affluent and sociable drinkers. Even more interesting, the number of women drinking cask ale has doubled since 2008, one in six cask drinkers are now female. This certainly turns that old notion that all real ale drinkers are old, bearded males on its head. Of the 600 plus CAMRA members in Lincoln branch, a quarter is female.

Certainly there is a bevy of females in the beer world, working to encourage and promote beer to women and men alike (lest we be accused of sexism!). There is Marverine Cole aka The Beer Beauty and Melissa Cole writing about beer on their blogs and in the national media. Then we have female brewers such as Sara Barton from Brewster’s in Grantham and Claire Monk at Welbeck Abbey Brewery near Worksop, amongst many others up and down the country.

Your local pub I’m sure will possibly have a landlady or female barmaid pulling your delicious pint and maybe helping you decide what to drink and giving advice on taste. Just like Anna at The Strugglers in Lincoln, who takes a real interest in her ales, nurturing them in the cellar, ensuring the beer is in perfect condition to be served to customers. She gets real job satisfaction from introducing customers to new tastes and flavours in beers.

Women traditionally have always brewed beer; in the Middle Ages all villages and towns had a Brewster (the traditional name for a female brewer). The brewster brewed most of the ale drunk in Britain, but with the introduction of new brewing ingredients and methods, she was gradually edged out by men determined to brew on a larger scale and make money.

The Brewsters reputation was then dragged through the mud, with accusations of short measures, high prices and tampering with the beer. In certain cases, Brewsters were compared to witches, and they were burned at the stake. With this history, is it any wonder that women feel ostracized from the world of beer?

There is a real tradition then of women and real ale, so why aren’t more of them drinking cask ale? Well I would agree that packaging and marketing has certainly turned many females off drinking real ale. Seedy pump clips with smutty double entendres and dodgy pictures are just the start, not many women are comfortable holding a pint glass either.

The newer and more modern breweries know this and have introduced special stemmed half and third pint glasses, similar to a wine glass, that are more appealing to the female drinker. Some of the larger brewing companies are realising there is a market for female beer drinkers, and are trying to brew special beers to appeal to them.

Personally I think beer drinking women are too intelligent to be swayed by a pink label on a bottle or pump clip in order to get them to drink. They just need to go to their local and see what there is to offer and give it a try’

There are no particular flavours of beers that appeal to the female drinker. In my experience working behind the bar at the Lincoln Beer Festival, women tend to enjoy all kinds of beers encompassing all types of flavours: hoppy, smoky, fruity, or malty. The key is to try as many types of beer as you can to find the ones you like – that is part of the fun!

And what about the beer? I purchased my bottle of Brewster’s Porter from Doddington Hall Farm Shop near Lincoln. Brewster’s is brewed by Sara Barton, a female brewer who is also the founder of the Project Venus, a group of female brewers from around the country who get together to brew special beers inspired by their many talents and strengths. The bottle is smaller than your average real ale in a bottle at 330ml, the perfect size for me. It is a lovely dark colour, with a lovely roasted smell and velvety texture, the aftertaste is chocolate – Delicious. A perfect beer for a cold winter’s night.

Look out for more about women and beer in the next issue of ‘ImpAle’, Lincoln CAMRA’s magazine.