WHAT WOMEN WANT
But do either of these studies show we can tell what kind of beers a person will like based on gender? Absolutely not. From the minute we are born, numerous things can influence our tastes and preferences. Add to that the fact gender and assigned sex are not one and the same thing, and you realise just how useless (and kind of offensive) it is to make assumptions.
What about the fact that way more men than women drink beer? And they do: women make up only a fifth of the beer market in the United States, and although there aren’t reliable recent figures, it’s likely to be an even smaller percentage in New Zealand. Not that you need statistics. The imbalance is so obvious I still get people saying to me, always very well-meaning of course, ‘It’s so cool that you know about beer and you’re a chick.’
The reason women drink less beer, I reckon, has nothing to do with the way beer tastes and everything to do with advertising — the last 40-odd years of it specifically. Based on my extensive research (a full afternoon searching “old beer ads” on the internet), it seems beer advertising in the 1950s and 60s was friendlier towards women, probably because they were the ones doing all the shopping. American brands like Schlitz and Budweiser typically showed thin, glamorous couples drinking beer together at home, often while carrying out such wholesome activities as carving pumpkins, interior decorating, and entertaining guests with dodgy looking plates of Jell-O salad.
By the 70s, however, there was a shift. Beer ads no longer showed men in their boring old houses with their boring old wives, but alone or with other men doing fun, macho stuff. Stuff like playing poker, hanging out in dark bars, and just generally being rugged outdoors. These ads featured the kind of man who could grow a moustache at the drop of a hat, lasso a wild bear from 20 paces, and would rather die than order a glass of chardonnay.
As for us ladies, we were relegated to one of two rather sad roles. I will call these the “obstacle” and the “prize”. The obstacle is the dreary wife or clingy girlfriend who tries to get in the way and spoil all the man-fun (search Carlton’s “The Nagging Wife” on YouTube for a perfect example). The prize is the busty, scantily clad babe who will presumably sleep with anyone who drinks the beer. In print ads, I’ve noticed, this woman is often the same size as the bottle she’s standing next to, presumably to confuse the male viewer into thinking she and the beer are one and the same.
After decades of ads like this, we’ve got the message loud and clear: beer is a drink not just for boys but for men. Rough, manly men who like their beers cold, their pursuits dangerous, and their women the shape and size of Barbie dolls. It’s no wonder the products advertised haven’t been hugely successful with women, but then big beer companies never seemed to want our lame lady-money anyway. Why bother, when they have always done so well with men? At least, that seems to have been the attitude until quite recently, which brings me back to this idea of beers for girls.
They do exist. Or at least they did a few years back, and this is where they are probably best left and forgotten. These beers — prompted, no doubt, by a worldwide decline in overall beer consumption — were the result of clumsy attempts by breweries to win back women after forty years of neglect. British beer writer Melissa Cole describes the move as “the business equivalent of someone breaking up with you horribly at school, only to beg you to come back in your mid-30s”.
Instead of trying to market their existing ranges to women, many companies created a brand new breed of “feminine” beers. Prettily packaged and light in alcohol, calories and taste, these targeted brews all had the same basic premise: that in order for a beer to appeal to women it needed to not resemble beer in the slightest.
I can only speak for myself here, but if beer companies want to attract more females — and they should, because we make up half the potential market — they need to remove gender from the equation altogether. Maybe take a leaf out of wine’s book and talk about the product itself — who made it, what it tastes like, the terroir and stuff — rather than focusing on the type of person who should be drinking it.
Within the craft beer sector, that’s what happens most of the time. Craft brewers love nothing more than talking about their own creations (have you ever met one in a bar?), and even if they wanted to they probably couldn’t afford to pay models — even miniature ones — to pose in bikinis. Their marketing tends to be limited to social media, and focuses on subjects like yeast strains, hop varieties and what type of French oak the beer was aged in. This may be boring to some people, but at least it’s boring in a gender-neutral way.
One question remains unanswered. If there’s no such thing as girls’ beer, what was it the people who asked for it wanted? And, for the record, it was just as often men ordering “something girlie for the missus” as it was women ordering for themselves. Did they want beer that was pink? Strawberry cheesecake-flavoured? Served from a glass shaped like Channing Tatum’s chiselled torso? No. (Well, there might have been a few takers for that last one.) When I asked, I found most of them did not really know what they meant by “girls’ beer”. They just thought it was a thing we would have, like low-alcohol or gluten-free.
You’ll be pleased to know I did not sequester these customers with long rants about the problematic history of gendered beer advertising. Nor did I say, “Well I’m a girl and I like this one” and slam down a chilli-infused double IPA in front of them. I’m proud to say I handled these requests with the grace, wit and charm of someone who clearly was born to work in hospitality: I told them we’d run out.
It’s no wonder the products advertised haven’t been hugely successful with women, but then big beer companies never seemed to want our lame lady-money anyway.
Edited extract from How
to Have a Beer by Alice Galletly (Awa Press, $26), available now.