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02.2008

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: Lew Bryson

Suppose your store has two doors There isn't really any difference between them, just that one is on the wine side of your store, and the other is on the beer side (we'll assume you have your spirits in the middle).

When someone comes in the beer door, you show them spirits - hey, how about this nice new vodka? - and you tour them through the wine, and of course, you hand-sell them some nice seasonal craft beers and point out the latest specials on mainstream cases.

But whenever someone comes in the wine door, you show them wine - this one's good with that chicken dish you mentioned making - and maybe cordials and gin. That's it. If they wander over into the beer section, you just ignore them, because they obviously didn't mean to be there, and would soon be headed back to the wine side - just because that's the door they came in.

It sounds kind of strange, but you shouldn't feel odd about it. After all, if the beer industry doesn't seem to be interested in selling beer to women, why should you be?

WHY NOT WOMEN?

"All the mainstream beer ads are aimed at men," agrees Crystal Burlingame, who works at Blanchards in Marshfield. Crystal was heartily recommended to me by the readers at beeradvocate as a woman who really knows beer. "And they mostly run during sporting events when the general audience is male. What little craft beer advertising is done is usually in beer publications, which are mostly read by . . . men!"

I have to agree. We get cooking light at my home. Despite the name, it's a woman's magazine that happens to talk a lot about food. There are never any beer ads in there except an occasional one for Michelob Ultra. Yet there are frequent wine ads. The magazine has a wine columnist; there's been one serious page about beer in the magazine's history that I've seen.

Brewing is a man's game: industry estimates are that less than 1% of brewery workers are women. I'm familiar with all levels of the industry - production, wholesale, retail - and the place where women show up the most is in marketing and publicity. It's mostly men who make beer, mostly men who deliver beer, mostly men who sell beer, and yeah, mostly men who buy and drink beer. Which begs the question: How come?

"It's not that much of a mystery," answers Lauren Clark, a Boston writer who has worked in the beer business and has a crusade for good drinks going called DrinkBoston.com. "Women haven't flocked to beer for reasons of history, sociology and taste."

"Beer has been a male-dominated area for centuries," she explains, "ever since brewing went from a home-based activity performed mostly by women to a large-scale industry run by men. Also, drinking as a pleasurable pursuit has traditionally been more socially acceptable for men than for women. Look at magazines. Men's magazines have articles recommending and celebrating beer, wine and spirits. In women's magazines, alcohol is seldom written about except in certain contexts, like health studies.

"You have to consider advertising, too," she adds. "In the mass media, beer is undeniably marketed to men, therefore - duh - beer in general is seen as a man's product. The biggest breweries are afraid to advertise in ways that might appeal to women out of fear that they might alienate their core, male customer. The whole 'Women are from Venus, men are from Mars' thing is stupidly alive and well when it comes to beer advertising."

It's not like women feel welcome in most beer drinking situations, either. The whole craft beer scene, for instance, is "like a Star Trek convention," Clark says. "Most women who encounter a group of guys talking about original gravity, the Lovibond scale and IBUs are going to tune out, if not run away altogether. To put all this in perspective, let's admit that most men aren't into craft beer either."

Dawn Tully, who runs Tully's Beer and Wine in Wells, Maine, has her own radically honest thoughts on that. "I've been secretly harboring this opinion for a long time," she says. "I don't really think men like beer that much either. They drink it because they don't like wine, for various reasons, one of them being that wine's a 'girly drink'. Women don't have the "girly drink" problem, so they drink wine. I'm not sure that men like beer any more than women do."

SWEETS FOR THE SWEET?

Beer doesn't necessarily hit women in their sweet spot tastewise, at least, not for some women. "Women do seem to have different tastes when it comes to food and drink in general," Clark muses, "though I think this is far from hard-wired into our physiology, as is often assumed. Yes, women are the ones who go ga-ga over desserts and therefore do seem to have a preference for fruity, chocolatey beers. But I don't think the preference is overwhelming, and I think it diminishes as women get older and their palates become more sophisticated. Who is drinking all the fruit- and vanilla-flavored martinis? Mostly people in their 2Os, who haven't developed a taste yet for spirits."

"Women love chocolate and sweet beers, fruity beers," counters Suzanne Woods, a beer-loving, beer-selling friend of mine who reps for Sly Fox Brewing, near Philadelphia. Suzanne has organized a woman's beer group in Philly called In Pursuit of Ale. "At a beer club meeting last October, the majority of the ladies were drinking the Dogfish Head Punkin' ale. But men love chocolate, too. I think people who aren't beer drinkers will gravitate toward chocolate beers."

Dawn Tully sees the same kind of thing with a beer that most folks will tell you is a "girly" beer. "One year my best-selling single bottle was the Lindeman's 25.4 ounce Framboise lambic," she says. "It's popular with women, but it wouldn't be the best seller if men weren't buying it. The Framboise will sell to non-specialty beer drinkers. It's like a category unto itself, like champagne. Some people don't even know champagne's wine; and people don't know lambic's beer. People will say, 'I don't like beer, but I love this!' It happens all the time."

All of which reminds me of something Alan Newman once told me about Magic Hat's #9, their pale ale with a hint of apricot flavor. "Among the beer geeks of the world, they say "#9, oh yeah, that's a girly beer." There are not enough girls in New England to account for the sales of #9! Don't call it a girly beer. A lot of people love it."

Sweet beer for girls is "just another stereotype," says Bonnie Reed, a beer enthusiast from Southwick. " I don't understand why male beer drinkers suggest sweet fruit and chocolate beers first. Find out what the woman likes in wine, or mixed drinks, and find a beer that compares. She likes bourbon? Try a Scotch ale. Maybe she likes coffee; try a stout. You have to cater to the individual."

BAITING THE HOOK.

How do you get the woman to the beer? Clark makes it sound like seduction. "I think setting is the most crucial," she says. "Women care about esthetics and atmosphere, and, like men, they often follow the lead of members of their own sex. So, if a woman walks into a nice-looking bar that is filled with men and women drinking attractive beers of all different styles and colors, served in distinctive glassware, they're going to be more apt to give craft beer a try rather than fall back on a Cosmo. And the thing is, they'll often begin to realize, 'Hey, I like the taste of this stuff!'"

Burlingame talks to her female customers, gets them to open up. She used to be a wine geek herself, and took on beer as a challenge, so she knows how to talk both sides of the aisle. "Just talk to them, see what they like," she says. "Tell them how well a beer will pair with the food they're planning. A lot of talking will get people interested."

Once you've got them interested, show them the package. "Packaging drives everything," she says. "Some of the nicer cork-and-caged bottles of beer look elegant on the table; appeal to the sense of sight. A nicer looking bottle looks better on the table than a can of beer; put it in a wine glass and it will taste even better. I've got a lot of women who come in here and buy good beer. It helps that there's a woman here to talk to. We all tend to feel more comfortable speaking to the same sex."

Tully thinks women may have to get over a bad impression of beer from early experiences, much like a kid who had liver and vows that they hated it and will never try it again. "Many people get their first exposure to alcohol when they can't afford to buy halfway decent beer," she conjectures. "They buy the lightest, cheapest beers they can get their hands on. A lot of women don't like those. Beers with more flavor, craft beers, they'll like them, but they usually stumble across them. They won't pick them up. They have a solid opinion from early on that they don't like beer, and they won't even try it."

How does Tully fight that? "We use segue beers," she explains. "Michelob Ultra is one way to get women back into drinking beer. 'Ooo, this will make you less fat!' I don't know about the truth in that, but it worked. A lot of women went back to drinking domestic beer because of Mich Ultra. That's a segue beer, and when they start to get bored with Ultra, we can move them into other beers from there. People move from light to heavy, sweet to dry, less expensive to more expensive. That's how our lives work, our bodies work, our pocketbooks work.

"But the hard part is getting them to try it," she says. Tully sees women staying in the car when men come in to buy beer. "If I could hand women a beer when they're sitting out in the car waiting for their husbands to get beer, and just say, 'Hey, try this, just take it home and try it . . .' I could double my beer business in a year. Women are an almost entirely untapped segment in America for selling beer."

Woods brings up one point that can kill a promising sale, even if the woman likes the beer: the beer belly image. "Many of the women I know that truly enjoy beer still don't drink it sometimes," she notes ruefully, "because a 'moment on the lips is a lifetime on the hips.' But there is a lot of positive research being done on the health benefits of beer, and it's a pretty well known fact now that a pint of Guinness, for instance, has 125 calories. If these health facts continue to be featured on the news and in print, we'll have more success getting women to order beer instead of Beaujolais." Know your facts, and you can fight the myths.

Harpoon brewer Katie Tame (see sidebar) isn't in sales, but she's got the idea. "I haven't really gone out and made a point of talking to women about beer," she says. "I don't like to force things on people in general. But I always end up talking about beer. I tell women what makes a specific beer different and unique and wonderful. I've had women come up to me and say, "You're drinking something dark." Yeah, and it has flavor, too!"

"There's no shortage of women in the world of wine and fine food," says Clark. "Those are the women who are most open to trying craft beer, which is seen more and more as part of the wider world of good food and drink." Maybe you can get some copies of Lucy Saunders' excellent new book, The Best of American Beer & Food, to set the hook on women like that. Open the page to the Lamb with Ratatouille and Hefeweiss Sauce, and you've got a sale.

I believe that women are just like men when it comes to their tastes. That women, like men, have different tastes as individuals, and that they are not gender-selective for sweets and glop any more than men are. That women deserve to be treated with the same respect when selecting a beer that men do, not a patronizing assumption that they want something light, fruity, candyish, or wine-like. They, like men, may not even know what they like. But I believe that the best way to find that out - for both of us - is to offer them the same kind of choices that I would a man.

Which means that sometimes I do offer them - women and men! - a mix of Young's Double Chocolate Stout and Lindeman's Framboise, a raspberry truffle in a glass that I find to be pretty damned good myself. Sometimes you just can't fight success.

WHO'S
WEARING THE
PINK
BOOTS?

A "male-dominated" industry is not the same as an "exclusively male" industry, of course. Katie Tame works in production at the Harpoon Brewery in Boston, in the Quality Control lab. She oversees the beer production at Harpoon, helping to make sure that every drop of beer that leaves the brewery is up to snuff.

Tame agrees with Clark that the industry has been a man's game for years. "It's interesting that brewing is male-dominated now," she says. "In Egypt, way back when, women did the brewing, but it's turned around. When industrial brewing first started, the social standards that were set up oriented females to work in the house, that was their role. Males went out to work in breweries. It's also a very fast-moving, high-energy output job. The physical aspect of it is like fire-fighting. Women might not have that ability, or may not be seen to have it."

She brought up Teri Fahrendorf, a woman who's been brewing great beers for years at the Steelhead breweries on the west coast. Fahrendorf, a highly acclaimed brewer and well-liked member of the craft brewing industry, took a leave of absence recently to tour the country, brewing with women brewers and stumping for a woman's brewing organization she's forming, the Pink Boots Society.

"Teri has said that there aren't a lot of women in brewing," Tame notes. "But when I started, I got a lot of support from the men at the brewery. No one questioned why a woman was brewing. I actually think of myself more as a scientist than a brewer.

Tame thinks that women represent a great opportunity for craft brewers and, by extension, retailers. It's a matter of getting the beer out there for them to try, and letting them know it's okay to be seen drinking beer. "Craft brewing is growing tremendously, particularly Harpoon," she says, "and with more exposure . . . It's not that women need to be encouraged, they just need to see other women drinking beer. There's an idea that women feel they need to hold up some kind of demure aspect, be women, and then women see men drinking beer, so . . ."

She doesn't subscribe to the idea that women need a different kind of beer. "I don't think I think about beer differently than the men," she says. "Whenever we do a taste panel, everyone has their own thoughts about beer flavor, and so do I."

Then she pauses, and laughs. "I just started homebrewing, and I'm bottling a garlic beer," she says. "That's one difference, but it's me, not a woman difference: I like garlic. The guys told me I needed a good ale as a base, but I just want garlic in it!"

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