A Few Thoughts About Beer, Gender, And What Women “Should” Drink

In Beer News by Karl16 Comments

Since this started a bunch of shit on the Tweets yesterday, I thought it demanded more than 140 characters at a time.

For those just joining us, at 2pm yesterday afternoon, the folks at Howells and Hood tweeted a link to a video clip that their beverage director, Ken Hendricks, participated in for a site called Women’s Forum. The first line of that piece reads as follows:

Ladies, I know, beer can be so confusing!

Remember back when Mattel came out with Teen Talk Barbie and started a nationwide shitstorm because Barbie said stuff like “math class is tough”? This reads like the 2013 beer dork version of that kerfuffle. The piece/video goes on to explain that girls like fruity beers like lambics, as well as Belgian ales because they’re “sweeter” and ciders because again fruit.

Despite egregious beer sins including calling hops “hoops” and some other various poor un-copyedited grammar errors, I’m not really here to shred the wording or even the beer choices specifically.

I am here to take issue with the message.

See, I’m not just a guy who drinks beer and writes about beer. I’m also a guy married to a girl who drinks beer. All kinds of beer. Mostly sours and saisons at the moment. For [deity’s] sake, my wife was the one that got me into good beer in the first place, with gateway brews like her beloved Oberon — when we met I was downing Busch Light like it was going out of style.

Ryan is similarly married to a female who also likes beer. She likes IPAs and other hoppy beers. Two different people. Two different preferences. We like them, and they like beer. As far as we’re concerned: end of story.

Our thesis statement today is this: Women can drink whatever the hell they want. Yesterday morning we would have thought this was an obvious statement, but apparently it bears repeating.

There is no specific style that pairs better with estrogen than it does with testosterone and there is no one beer that is specifically “for” women any more than there is any beer that’s specifically “for” men. Women can drink strong beers, aggressive beers, bitter beers, angry beers, beers with demons on the label, beers named after metal bands, “lite” beers, fruity beers, beers that are good and beers that are bad. Any beer they want.

And why am I writing this?

Because maybe guys need to say it too. Yes, we have gotten shit for our choice of URL in the past, but we’ve always been of the mindset that “guys” is a pretty all-encompassing term at this point, and fairly gender-neutral. I’m not trying to be an Internet White Knight here to save womankind from the silly girls-talking-down-to-girls whatnot but I’ve always tried to be an ally where possible, and this seems like a good time to plant the flag and say hey — beer knows no gender, and never has, in our experience.

I think the thing that really stuck out for us was not so much the idea that “girls like these beers because sweet and fruity” as opposed to the tone of the whole thing, which seems to be: We girls sure are such little uneducated things, and don’t know what beer is, and here are some girly beers because here’s what probably fit traditional gender roles.

It’s reinforced by exclamation-point-laden posts like “How to Find the Right Beer for You” (“…if you don’t want to choose one yourself, have the waiter or waitress help you. Try something new!”) and “Become a Beer Expert” (“Alcohol experts aren’t just for wine-o’s [sic]. There are some beer experts out there, too!”).

Maybe we’re hanging out with people that aren’t in the target demo for WomenForum, but we know a whole bunch of kickass women who don’t need the oh-gee-golly-aren’t-we-silly-little-princesses attitude.

Perhaps it’s best to close with the words from one of Chicago’s leading brewers, who also happens to be female — Metropolitan Brewing’s Tracy Hurst.

She said:

Dear Media: Please do stop trying to identify what a person will drink based on their genitals. Unless a drinking vessel requires the *actual use* of a woman’s delicate flower or a man’s joystick, please just stop. Just. Stop. – Signed, the broad who owns a brewery and drinks whatever the hell she wants.

Hear, hear.

Ladies, drink whatever you want. Guys, drink whatever you want. Pretty simple, huh?

About the Author



Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Draft Magazine, Time Out Chicago and more. He also helms the GDB social media outreach and prefers a good porter over just about anything.


  1. Amy Penrose

    Oh my… As a female beer drinker and blogger, I’m always interested in what people have to say about women & beer. As someone who uses their gender to set themselves apart in an industry dominated by the opposite sex, I struggle with these issues at times. If I’m bringing attention to the fact that I’m a woman, enjoying craft beer, am I not part of the problem? By assuming this role of “The Craft Beer Girl”, am I advocating for the female beer drinker, or exploiting her(us) as an anomaly?

    If I’m a brewer, and I brew a kick-ass beer and put it in a pink can… am I insulting female drinkers? What if I like good beer, and I like the color pink? By treating women who enjoy beer as “one of the guys” are we devaluing their femininity?

    It’s an interesting topic… glad to see some discussion happening!

  2. Steve P.


    While I agree with you on everything you spoke of in your article, I think your interpretation of the tone of the video and article was a little off. The video never says that girls can’t drink whatever they want. Ken was giving recommendations based off of what he sees women gravitate to in his bar. Its obvious to the hardcore beer geek that women can certainly try any particular style they want and drink whatever beer they want (my girlfriend loves Tripels, Sweet Stouts, Porters, and German Pilsners) but this article wasn’t written for the beer geek. It’s target audience appears to be women who don’t really drink beer and don’t know where to begin. I also don’t think he was insinuating that women should only drink those two style of beer and cider. He was merely saying that based on observations, this is what he sees women normally drink at his bar. (which I have been to and due to the location and clientele, Howells and Hood does not appear to get the craft beer geek crowd like HopLeaf or Owen & Engine, it seems to get more casual craft drinkers).

    I think his biggest mistake was not giving other suggestions beyond “sweeter and fruit-flavored beer.” I would have loved to see him push women (and anyone watching) to the direction of other great styles of beer. He had a great opportunity to expand his suggestions even further due to the fact that Howells and Hood has around 120 different beers AND lets you order a half-pour. Perfect opportunity to throw some suggestions that really push people to try new things.

    For the record, I do whole heartedly agree that the first line of their piece (….beer can be confusing…) set a terrible tone for the rest of the article.

    – GMB

  3. Sofia G.

    I agree with Ms. Penrose, and I think that in general we can say that beer culture is a traditionally male space that remains largely male in its icons and cultural trappings. The real trouble begins when we think about how to make that space more welcoming and safe for women, whether as serious drinkers or n the business itself. I commented on FB that I often get this kind of impressed surprise from men in the beer biz when I clearly demonstrate (by ordering or buying something) that I don’t have what they imagine a ‘feminine palate’ to be. Now, they probably aren’t consciously reinforcing the ubiquitous sexism that leads people to treat women as a different (read: lesser) species, in this case with different taste buds, ideas about and capacities to recognize pleasure and quality, but reinforcing it they are. If men in the business (and women too, because god knows women perpetuating patriarchy happens all too often) could start by being more aware of the way they interact with female bodied beer consumers, so that the first response to a female drinking an IPA isn’t so blatantly disbelieving, I think it would go a ways towards making beer a less gendered space. Just my two cents. Thanks!

  4. Trevor

    To me, this reaction is a little over-sensitive and I’d like to explain why. We have to take the context into account. It was a post on Women’s Forum, not For those that haven’t spent hours on end educating themselves about craft beer, it is confusing. Period. For men and women. This was a post in a women’s site that you all know full well is not a place where craft beer is in the top ten of topics of discussion, let alone top 25. Because this is a women’s website, he addressed them first with a greeting. Would you all have preferred he begin with, “Ladies and gentlemen?” He was then trying to appeal to the widest audience by introducing some beers that, whether you want to believe it or not, appeal to a lot of women who have not brought themselves too deep into the craft beer world. I read this blog post last week about men’s fashion and some items that “all guys need” the other day written by a woman, not that her sex mattered to me. Now I guess I know a bit more than the average guy about fashion, but it was a bit boring to me when she suggested a navy coat. But I understood the audience she was trying to reach and didn’t think for a second that because the average woman pays a bit more attention to fashion that she was being sexist. By not choosing something a bit more interesting, she was trying to reach the widest audience. If she helps someone out with her “basics” article that was placed in an appropriate location for the readers she was targeting, maybe she can get some more readers to delve into some of her more detailed, expert analysis. Which she also blogs about, and more often than not she is in that space where she doesn’t have to talk about navy sport coats. Now if I’m at Pitti Uomo, I might be a bit insulted if someone tells me that I should wear a navy coat. But I wasn’t. I am a strong, active advocate of a woman’s right to choose. Children and beer. How can these critics of this man pretend that time, place, and context don’t matter? I think it’s time we stopped attacking others in instances like this because it’s easy and a cheap (if false) way to try to feel better about ourselves. If we all took a step back and tried to realize his intentions we would agree that he was not talking down to women, on the contrary he was trying to bring more women into the craft beer world. Period. Funny how nobody has mentioned that the woman introducing him, enthusiastically I might add, was complicit in his sexism. Was she not being sexist by promoting and appreciating what he had to say? Of course she wasn’t, because she knew the audience they were trying to reach. But nobody would dare call her sexist. I would also venture to guess that none of his critics would be able to tell me what the first words out of his mouth were after she began her questions. “I have met women with very sophisticated beer palates, but there are a handful of styles that women tend to gravitate toward.” He was clearly trying to communicate to the uninitiated what the initiated like. And you know what? It’s a great way to get women to try craft beer that haven’t without being afraid. Whether you want to admit it or not, women look to other women for guidance in a lot of areas in life. The fact that I even have to say that makes me sound sexist. But he was reflecting in the video what women have told him they like. He was the one listening to women, all he did was re-communicate that to others because he wants more women in the craft beer world. Stop pretending like this was a note for women beer experts. It wasn’t, and if all you critics would think past your first defense mechanism not only would you see this but you might even be able to acknowledge it.

  5. Nancy

    “oh-gee-golly-aren’t-we-silly-little-princesses attitude”

    Spot. On.

  6. Katherine McGee

    Karl, I’m a 57-year-old “beer Mom”. I love my moniker! My son brews, my former husband brewed, and I love being part of a beer club full of young fun enthusiastic beer lovers!

  7. Joe Callender

    To me, there seems to be a lot of “reading into” and assumptions being made about the video. Did anyone notice that the article was written by a woman? The words in the article are her words, not Ken’s. She never provides a direct, verbatim quote of anything Ken said. He seemed to stay pretty middle of the road and thoughtful in his responses.

    Stephanie did the most damage with, “…and you’re a lady.”

    I think the “beer drinker stereotype” is so prevalent that anytime a guy tries to talk about women drinking beer, our well-developed assumptions mechanism kicks in so that we hear it the way we want to hear it, the way that proves “You see, I am right!”

    Sometimes you have to watch / read something 2-3-4 times. In a gender-related topic, your assumptions are always going to rise up on that first pass. You need that second pass to catch some of the assumptions you are making. The third pass may help confirm that you were making a bunch of assumptions and now you can see a story from more than one angle. Creating options for yourself is what keeps the conversation going. Stick to your assumptions and you shut down to other possibilities. But, who has time for that? It is so much easier just to jump to a conclusion and move on.

    The only thing Ken did wrong was to give the OK to put orange slices in your beer! But to each his or her own.

    Finally, as a beertender I see many, many guys quaffing the fruity beers. I am one of them.

  8. djiril

    Having watched the video, I’d say it’s far from the worst thing I’ve seen in my life, but I don’t understand why they choose to focus on “what women typically order.” If they are starting from the assumption the target audience is women who are intimidated by looking at a beer menu and don’t know what different kinds of beer taste like, I think it would make more sense to talk about how different kinds of beer taste rather than just focusing on the sweet ones just because more women tend to order them.

  9. Hannah

    As a 23-year-old woman who really *doesn’t* know much about beer vocabulary or what I like in a beer, I can confirm that that article is incredibly patronizing, even for its intended audience. Sure, I don’t know about beer – but that’s not because I find it “so confusing,” it’s because I haven’t taken the time or energy to learn anything about beer. I hate when I am trying to order a beer somewhere and feel like not knowing what I want is upholding some ridiculous gender norm in the bar-tender’s head, but it’s just not a priority for me, and that’s my choice, too. So Karl, thank you for being a good feminist and ally to clear-thinking women everywhere. Every little bit of sanity out here on the internet helps.

  10. K Sykes

    Interesting that all the folks defending the video and the bartender in these comments are men. Nicely done piece, Karl!

  11. Wendy

    I’ll be upfront about this – I’m not much of a drinker, particularly beer. And when I do drink, I tend to go for the fruity, “girly” drinks (beer or otherwise).

    That said, I HATE this attitude. Because it makes me feel like I’m checking someone’s “stereotype” box every time I order a drink. I shouldn’t have to worry about whether my choice of beverage is confirming some misogynist’s view of the world or whether I’m helping break down gender bias. I don’t want to care – I just want a drink!

    But I have to care, because it’s shoved in my face every. single. day. about all sorts of different topics. Some I feel very strongly about (women in video games, for example) and some less so (beer), but I know that for every fruity drink I order, some other woman’s getting shit for her choice to NOT conform to advertising’s gender-separated view of the world.

    The real solution to this, in my opinion, is to make “girly drinks” a reasonable MANLY option as well. Why can’t men drink fruit-based beers? Women have a much easier time drinking “guy drinks” than guys do drinking “girly drinks,” and that really needs to stop. We’re not going to get over the misogyny until men stop wussing out about someone, somewhere, thinking they might possibly have something in common with the word “feminine.”

  12. Kayde

    In Montana if you don’t drink beer, you’re not human. :-) My boyfriend is a home-brewer and I assist him in developing recipes as well as the actual brewing process. EVERYONE regardless of sex should be interested in educating themselves on what options they have for their palettes. Also, drinking beer doesn’t make me one of the guys, and nor would I want it to! I am quite content being myself and wearing dresses and perfume while enjoying an imperial IPA. It doesn’t take balls to have discerning taste and curiosity.

  13. Fay

    It’s articles like these that restore my faith in humanity, so thank you. All I want is to be able to order and drink a beer I like without being met with skepticism and confusion, which is unlikely to happen as long as videos like this one continue to reinforce the stereotype that vaginas hinder the ability to enjoy non-fruity beer.
    It’s difficult for some men and non-beer-drinking women to understand how frustrating and demeaning it can be to experience that kind of stereotyping on a regular basis- because they’re not experiencing it themselves. So I appreciate this that much more.

  14. Wandering Justin

    I’m on board. Let me throw this out, too: The person who taught me how to homebrew is a 4’11 Asian woman who made an award-winning stout. How’s that for kicking a stereotype in the goolies?

  15. Mark

    You say that there’s no style of beer that pairs better with estrogen than it does with testosterone. It sounds like you’re stating that hormones don’t affect taste, but you aren’t backing up that statement with any research.

    Hormones affect many things in your body, and I wouldn’t rule out that they affect amylase production, the enzyme used to convert starches in grains to sugars to make beer. If someone with more estrogen has a higher concentration of amylase, their food may taste sweeter, so they may enjoy a certain style of beer more.

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