One of my favourite films is Calamity Jane. There’s a great musical number where Jane – who smells like a horse and wears a raccoon skin hat – is convinced by her friend Katie that maybe their shack would be improved slightly by brushing up some of the crap off the floor and hanging some gingham curtains. Katie also convinces Jane that having a bath and smiling are two things which might make her more appealing to other humans. And she’s right. The house looks better with gingham curtains and window boxes. Calamity is nicer when she smiles and doesn’t reek of horse piss. Sometimes everyone benefits from a Woman’s Touch.
This week a report was published of a study by consumer group Dea Latis (hence the mangled Latin in the title) called the Gender Pint Gap. Funded by the Brewer’s Research and Education Fund it aimed to look at the attitudes and behaviours of British women towards beer. Wading through the 40 page report, I’m more confused than ever. And not just because the main image to the report shows women drinking dark ale from wine glasses. (More on that later).
The report begins “Women drink beer.” Good start! However my first question was “Why do we care if they do or not?” Two possible answers spring to mind – either we care because the brewing industry could be getting their hands on women’s money, or we care because we believe there are systematic barriers being put in place to women’s consumption of beer. They can also go hand in hand. “It’s good business to not be sexist”, we have heard numerous times over the last year. People will boycott beers with sexist names or pumpclips, and they will avoid venues and chains which have been called out on social media for treating women with disrespect. But you can also be sexist by suggesting that it’s the women that need to change, and not the purveyors of the booze.
The report sees the ‘premiumisation’ of beer as an ‘opportunity’ and suggests that maybe if Kim Kardashian West started glugging craft it would convince younger women to follow suite. But what is premium to one gender might not be premium to another. Does premium mean higher ABV? Does it just mean more expensive ingredients? Does it mean in a nice lilac bottle and costing £8, because when Aurosa did that we didn’t like it! Does it mean going down the gin route and filling pumps with beers featuring hibiscus and rose and parma violets?
The gin revolution might be an interesting place to look for answers. Not too long ago your average pub might stock Hendricks and Gordons and leave it at that. Now even the ‘tastiest’ pub will have a beautifully backlit gin shelf, a box of Groupon gin goblets and some Iceland frozen berries in an old ice cream tub next to the lemons. The resurgence of gin was sparked by other concerted efforts to get more women into licensed establishments. This chase for the female pound in the alcohol industry has been going on since well before the rise of the Ladettes – but back in the mid 90s the trend was to emulate men by sinking pints of lager, listening to Oasis and making the word England have three syllables. Female identity moved on to the ultra feminine after girl power took a hold – now the trend was not to be like blokes but to embrace the pink and sparkly, so prosecco and cocktails started to show up on A-boards across the country.
Prosecco proved an easy win – couple the small measure with the aspirational and keep it cheap, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for capturing groups of young women. No-one can tell if that’s a Marc Jacobs or a Mario Jacobs from a distance, and no-one can tell that’s not champagne at first glance. Cocktails were next on the horizon, and because gin is a versatile spirit it earned a comeback after decades in the ‘non-trendy’ wilderness. Served with a sparkling mixer, red berries, ice, and some sort of floating leaf in a tiny fishbowl- it looks good and the flavours are familiar.
So how do you do this with beer? There has to be a crossover range for those who are sparkling wine and spirits drinkers. Gin, prosecco and cocktails are aesthetically pleasing. A framboise in a stemmed glass looks nice. A wheat beer in a hexagonal glass with orange floating in it looks nice. A pint of bitter ain’t that instagrammable. If you want to grab women at entry level and convince them to embrace beer, you have to start with what they already like and say “We can do that!”
Take beer festivals. I attended IMBC in October, and Chester Craft Beer festival in April which had a noticeably higher proportion of women than your standard CAMRA event. What IMBC and CCBF have in common is a wider variety of styles, smaller measures, and a genuinely pleasant experience due to the unusual venues and entertainment on offer. I could confidently have taken a woman who had never drunk beer in her life and led her to beers which weren’t too much of a shock to the system for someone who is used to drinking wine and gin. I could not have done that at most other beer events I’ve been to in the last few years, including those run by CAMRA. Especially those run by CAMRA.
The fact is that tons of women drink beer. Beer is ours, we started it and then got kicked out of our own party, just like with Science Fiction and The Beatles. I agree with Dea Latis that slapping a pink label on it is not helpful. However, we can’t sell beer to women who are not already into by attempting to force them to like everything that men like OR ELSE. There’s nothing wrong with drinks that taste of fruit. There’s nothing wrong with a beer that looks nice. If we want more women in the beer club, we have to sweep up the crap from the floors and admit that flowers are nice and it pays not to smell of horse piss. How’s that for a manifesto?