Sexism and Craft Beer: A Bad Pairing

Beer pairing has come a long way from the days when you might gulp a Budweiser while gnawing on a piece of pizza or down a Coors Light with your burger. In fact, an entire industry has grown up around beer and food pairings, beer and music pairings, beer and art pairings and more. However, not all such combinations are good things. For example, take sexism and craft beer. That’s definitely a fusion that we should all strive to avoid, from breweries to beer lovers. 

The Situation As It Stands

Now, you might be excused if you think the sexism problem in the beer world is limited to too few brews that appeal to female drinkers. While that’s certainly an issue, the situation is a bit direr than that. Beer has traditionally been viewed (as in since Prohibition, not before that) as a man’s world, but that perception must change. Women make up more than half the nation’s population, and if breweries large or small want to succeed, they must do more than add “feminine” beverages to their lineup.

And make no mistake, women make up a significant percentage of all breweries’ audiences. Don’t believe us? Here are some eye-opening stats:

  • Women aged 21-34 consume craft beer over the national average.
  • Women aged 21-34 represent 15% of total craft beer consumption.
  • Women account for 25% of total beer consumption in the US by volume.
  • Women account for 37% of total craft beer consumption in the US.

One of the problems facing the industry as a whole (including both Big Beer and craft beer) is marketing. Most beer marketing is male-centric and even talks down to women. The few marketing campaigns directed toward women have failed miserably. Hayley Jansen of New York’s Taproom No. 307 says this is because women are looking for flavor, not pink or fruity brews (in an interview with First We Feast published in early 2015). 

The First We Feast article goes even farther, highlighting Chick Beer, ostensibly “the only American beer marked specifically toward women […] a light beer with a pink label”. One female beer writer loathed Chick Beer so much that she said, “Dumbing women drinkers down to the lowest beer denominator does not legitimize our presence in the marketplace.”

However, the problem runs much, much deeper than beer styles or the presence of a bikini-clad girl or two in a beer commercial. Let’s talk about bottle and label design.

The Bottling and Labeling Conundrum

Sure, there have been some spectacular bottle and can designs created by forward thinking craft breweries, but some of these things should never have seen the light of day. Clown Shoes is perhaps the most obvious offender. Tramp Stamp, a Belgian IPA, shows a woman’s shapely derriere with the beer’s namesake tattoo on the small of her back. Another is PD Peach from Pig Minds Brewing. The bottle label showed a woman’s lower half in a miniskirt, panties pulled down to her ankles. Bad taste much?

SweetWater Brewing out of Atlanta, Georgia recently found itself in hot water when a Chicago retailer refused to carry the company’s Happy Ending. This imperial stout featured a relatively innocuous seeming label featuring the company’s trademark leaping trout. However, the rest of the bottle’s design wasn’t quite so innocent. “Put a smile on your face”, it encourages, with the silhouette of a geisha girl, and a rather garbled blurb featuring words like, “rub”, “lube”, “roll”, “stiffy”, “explosive”, “body”, and “huge”. The label garnered cries of sexism, but also borderline racism for the geisha design. 

“No harm was intended,” said SweetWater’s founder, Freddy Bensch. “We maybe didn’t think this all the way through.” Those words could sum up a great deal involving beer labeling in the craft industry, which is becoming known for designs that feature scantily or even unclothed women on many labels.

Is it an epidemic? No, it’s not. Is it a problem? Yes, it is. No matter what side of the fence you fall on, sexism has no place in the craft beer industry. What’s more – it’s more frightening than bottle and can designs in poor taste or a limited ability to market to female beer drinkers. 

Heather Vandenengel, a blogger, beer reviewer and someone closely tied to the industry has pointed out several incidents that not only made her feel uncomfortable, but that she actually had to leave. For instance, a post on another Facebook page about the inappropriateness of someone bragging about beating women and raping them garnered images and jokes of women being beaten and raped posted by readers in the comments. Note that this Facebook page (Don’t Drink Beer) is one that’s patronized by a significant number of brewers, brewery owners and others in the industry.

Bad taste? Not even close. Something that should have never happened? Absolutely.

She goes on to tell that she’s drafted numerous blog posts about such incidents, but invariably deleted them before posting because of fear of reprisals. Sounds more than a little like last year’s #GamerGate debacle, doesn’t it?

What’s to Be Done?

There’s no easy fix here. On the one hand, there’s the notion that any steps to curb these incidents is simply an attempt at control by the PC police. On the other, there’s the very real fact that breweries, brewers and beer lovers are not just marginalizing half of society, but their actions are highlighting the very deep problems between the sexes. 

Either way, this is the 21st century and women have had equal rights for a long time. It’s high time for things of this nature to stop. What about you? Are you a woman who’s had a negative experience involving the craft beer industry? What are your thoughts on labels, beer names, and styles?