Archive for the ‘women and beer’ Category

Hymn to Ninkasi
December 13, 2011

Hymn to Ninkasi, Hop Pendant Necklace by Feral Strumpet on Etsy

The Hymn to Ninkasi is a 4,000 year old song to the Sumerian goddess of brewing, and it’s also a recipe for beer.  (There’s a brewery in Eugene, Oregon named after her, but I have yet to try any of their beers.)

History often shines a miraculous light on what we take for granted.  Who first learned to turn the heel of a sock when knitting it?  Who first knew which herbs would cure or kill? And who first discovered brewing? There are many legends across cultures, but when confronted with the details of the thing it’s no less startling.

“You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar
The waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks
the malt in a jar
The waves rise, the waves fall.

You are the one who spreads the cooked
mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes.
Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads
the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes.

You are the one who holds with both hands
the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey and wine
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
Ninkasi, (…)
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)

(translation by Miguel Civil.  You can read the whole poem here.)

The goddess is both the brewster and the brew itself. The rhythm and repetition, the vivid scene rendered in each stanza reminds me that brewing is very much a fun time, some cooking and cackling over a boiling pot– but it’s also a ritual, a visit with the ancestors who once saw brewing as such a wonder, they sang about it.

I was inspired to make the necklace pictured in the post after reading this poem. I have many elegant beer-inspired designs in the Feral Brewhaus section of my etsy shop.

Women in the Tap Hole
August 13, 2010

Women’s Hour today has a terrific show– not only do they talk to some fascinating knitters, but they also discuss women and beer.  Increasing numbers of women are drinking real ale, as well as brewing it.

Jenni Murray makes the point– which I’ve been trying to tell most of my wine drinking friends, that beer is less fattening than wine.  If they won’t listen to me, or to CAMRA’s press release, maybe they will listen to her.

The Yorkshire barman they quote says he never used to see “Women in the tap hole,” nor did he have to clean lipstick off a pint glass.  Those days are over.

Though the Landlady of the Grapes says she seldom sees women going alone into the pub– it seems despite more women drinking beer, many  pubs still feel like a male domain.  I often go to pubs alone but always feel a bit conspicuous doing it.  The Jolly Butcher is one exception to this– I feel perfectly comfortable there and that’s down to the friendly staff who now greet me as a regular.

Change is happening.  In the Observer:

More than half the students working on doctorates at Britain’s biggest beer studies department, at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, are women. At the three other main universities that offer a PhD in brewing, numbers of women either match men or are catching up fast.

I look forward to the increasing number of women in brewing, reclaiming the ancient tradition that once belonged to alewives, brewsters and goddesses.

Soon enough, women will work alongside men in equal numbers as equals, brewing in greater numbers.  We can hope that in turn the last hurdle preventing women from enjoying beer– puerile, macho marketing– will be a thing of the past.

Local Lager, Lager, Lager
August 8, 2010

Bud Girl from 1904

A brief googling of “beer and women” turns up a dark parade of lager and misogyny.  It’s hard to separate the two.  Even with the new shiny-retro Stella ads aimed at women, it’s enough to turn a girl off the style.

I don’t expect much from a good lager and to be honest, they don’t expect much of me, either.  They’re like that friend you have that doesn’t mind a bit of dumb fun while crawling around the mall or dancing to 80s music. But the trick is to find someone who’ll do those things but not annoy you. They’re rare.

Munich is the place to find such companionship in a beer garden, in a brewery canteen. But what if you’re not in Munich?  What if you’re in London?

The Bunker brewpub in Covent Garden used to brew a perfectly fun lager but then they changed the recipe, labeling it as Freedom lager and it just wasn’t that good anymore, and now they are no longer.  Though you can still get Freedom lager around, it’s a bit like seeing that friend that used to be fun but then adopted some seriously green middle class lifestyle and lost their sense of humor in the process.

And then there’s shiny Meantime Helles and Pils– both totally drinkable yet I don’t choose to drink them very often because usually wherever you find these beers there’s a wider selection of something that’s just more enticing.

Brodies, an East London brewery that’s brewing some really compelling beers, does a London Lager but I’ve never had it.  They have a brewery tap, King William the IV in Leyton, which seems worth a field trip!

Last night we met some friends at the Regent in Islington, which has the best pizzas in London but the beer selection is a bit lackluster.  Chalkboards around the shabby-chic interior proclaimed a new Cotswold Lager on tap.  I was a bit wary but by the time I had my second half I was won over completely.  This beer was easy to drink and went down well with the pizzas.  The sweet malt character gave it just enough backbone to not be boring, but it was dry enough not be annoying.

That is, I wasn’t annoyed until I read the Cotswold Brewery website’s description of the beer, a complete throwback cliche describing the beer as if it were a woman being offered up for sexual consumption: “If you think lager doesn’t taste of much then it’s time you pressed your lips up against a pint of Premium. She’s a full flavoured seductress who will soon have you head-over-heals with her crisp, dry taste and flirtatious bitter kick. It’s love at first sip.”

Read on with mild horror the description of their Dark Lager: “This one is a dark little number who can really pack a punch. She’s bursting with flavour and lashings of taste, yet retains a smooth finish that will warm even the most frozen of your cockles. She is normally only available during the winter but has proved to be a popular little number so we have kept her on for the summer.”

The wording of the description is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.  Their lager really deserves a better public face.  It’s another example of a good British brewery in dire need of a marketing makeover.

This Gendered Pleasure
October 28, 2009

In the news yesterday: Ex-Anheuser female executive Francine Katz, the “Queen of the Beer Industry”, sues for gender bias and pay descrepancy, claiming working for the company which oversees brands like Stella and Bud entailed enduring a “frat party atmosphere.”

Katz said that by 2007, her base salary and bonus were only 46 percent of what her predecessor on the committee, John Jacob, had made six years earlier.

It’s no surprise that corporate, big-lager culture would be a hostile place for a woman to work, but I think it puts the arguments of sexism and the beer-o-sphere in perspective.  It goes all the way to the top and trickles all the way down. I would like to think that microbreweries and independent pubs could separate themselves from the Big Boys in many ways.  That would mean not just keeping quality and tradition alive but also involving women respectfully and equally. Is that so hard?  What is it going to cost? Other beer bloggers have argued it’s not up to the small businesses to change things in this way.  But it is precisely on this level where we have seen change in the US and here in the UK as well. (For example the Pink Boots Society was started by craft brewers, not macros.)

A couple of weeks ago I was discussing the sexism in the beer world with a friend of mine, also an American immigrant.  Both of us are from the West Coast of the US, where, she argued, we lived in a bubble of progressive thinking.  It’s true that in Portland, Oregon and many other brew-happy cities along the coast women drink beer, brew and serve it expertly, and they do so without being some kind of anomaly. They don’t have to worry too much about what kind of image they are projecting or whether their involvement with beer has made them less attractive to men. (I’m happy to report I’ve lived unburdened by the “I’m drinking from a pint glass– will a man ever want me?!?” dilemma.)

A recent conversation amongst beer bloggers has discussed whether beer-drinking women are sexy.  The Bittersweet Partnership, a branding “feeler” from the Coors corporation, has asked the internets what men think of women who drink beer.  I have written about the Bittersweet Partnership before.  I think it’s missing the point, at least for serious beer drinkers who are more interested in the flavor, history and culture instead of the image it projects to the opposite sex.  Their approach is clumsy and corporate, and doesn’t speak to me as a woman consumer, but with that said there is a part of me that really hopes they eventually hit it.  Especially if that’s what it would take for the “small guys” to listen.

In general men are not expected to subscribe to the same acute self-consciousness as women. Are men worried they will be rejected by women based on what they are drinking?  I wouldn’t waste my time turning the tables–  let’s face it, asking if beer-drinking men are sexy is a pointless and slightly depressing question.  Homer Simpson swilling Duff or worse– Beer, Sex, Chips and Gravy comes to mind. Beer isn’t very sexy, period.  Or is it?

Good beer has an undeniable earthy sensuality, and it makes you feel good. If we are to find the sex appeal in this beer culture of ours, we only have to think back to our last festival or gathering where someone said, “Oh, this is wonderful.  Try it!” That generous spirit is much more appealing than insisting on “no beer guts.”  We need to ask ourselves which is sexier– the image of the drinker in the right clothes, striking the right pose and drinking out of the right glass or the attitude of someone who sees new beers as an adventure– someone who is totally present while they taste things.  To prefer the former is, I’m sure, a failure of imagination.

No Futures
October 22, 2009

The Dead Milkmen might have some marketing tips for punk investors

The Dead Milkmen might have some marketing tips for punk investors

Of course it would take a fab party, thrown by the BrewDog guys, to get me to break my long silence.  Some of the blogoshire has been discussing the Equity for Punks proposal, the most recent business development strategy from my favourite UK brewery.  Basically, you can own a small share of the brewery for a dear price.  You get a say in their plans and a 20%, life-long discount on their beers.

I arrived at the party without knowing what was up, having left early that morning before the informative email had been sent.  For days I kept wondering what the news could be– building it up in my mind as some big, ongoing collaboration between a US brewery like Stone, or some new transatlantic brewery, some London-based brew house,  but I kept wondering– why have it in the City, right in the heart of the very unpunk land of suits? Well, now I know.

Toni and her colleague, the brewery’s PR people, welcomed me to the party and filled me in– how lovely to arrive somewhere and know friendly faces were waiting to have chat and get you a beer.  These guys have PR down, and it’s not just because they are professional about it– there is sincerity in everything they do.

Later in the evening James came by and guessed perfectly the beer in my glass (delicious Bashah, a black double-belgian IPA by Stone and Brewdog– the one-two punch of chocolate malt and a complex hop combination). When James asks you how you like something, he genuinely wants to know.  Drinkers matter to James, as much as the beer. That’s why, if I had the 230 at my disposal right now, I would hand it to him in a heartbeat. After all, this brewery has given me some of my most ecstatic beer moments and continues to capture my imagination.

(Other beers of the evening were old standbys as well as the sardonically named Nanny State, a 1.1% mild, practical joke of a beer which tasted more like unfermented wort and was so hoppy I was still tasting it the next day. )  I saw several beer bloggers who let me know my posts have been missed– it’s nice to know that people still remember this blog.  At one point Jesus John beat me repeatedly at arm wrestling.  And I even managed to make some new friends as well– we shut the place down.

Now the morning-after-the-night-before haze as abated, I have read the Equity for Punks prospectus and have decided that as a traditional investment it makes no sense at all.  But as Pete Brown has pointed out, that’s not really why they are doing this, and if you read the comments to the post, James has articulately responded to some concerns being raised about the numbers on this thing.  The green brewery they have planned is beyond exciting, and if this means the brand will grow, making their beautiful beer more accessible to a wider range of drinkers, how could I be against it?

The ironic “Equity” pun is intentional, I suppose– this isn’t necessarily equitable, especially to any of the punks I know who couldn’t afford the 230 quid price per share.

Equity for Punks promo image

Equity for Punks promo image

But there is another inequality here that surprised me– and that is the new role of women-as-window-dressing.   It is an approach that BrewDog hasn’t had to take to sell their beers, until now.

Unsurprisingly, most of the people at the party were men.  A sea of suits.  Except, milling about were a pair of women sporting a shiny version of Camden punk-goth-emo, looking like two exotic birds misplaced among a murder of crows. At first, naively, I was excited.  Look– other women! I was about to go up an chat to them when the realization chilled me: these were BrewDog’s answer to the Bud Girl.

The promotional image for Equity for Punks features three screeching maenads-for-hire, decked out in the latest Suicide Girl style sexy-punk.  Whose idea was this?  I’d like to think that James and Martin look a bit uncomfortable in the photos, as if the tie-pulling there is more than fabricated flirtation. Did their new partners at Skyy Vodka put them up to this?

My short time wearing a suit and working in the City taught me that it was like going back in time, to gender roles of the 1950s.  Women in the London banking industry survive by somehow embracing their role as sex objects while competing in a man’s world. BrewDog may be ironically donning suits as well as the backwards gender attitudes of the City, but I’m not in on the joke.  I would like to think that James and Martin’s being surrounded by a punk harem is just an abberation in the brand’s marketing.   Though I might be the only person to openly voice this discomfort, I was not the only person that night to comment on this.

BrewDog, please don’t use women in this way in the future– you risk losing potential women drinkers, and alienating the ones you already have. We don’t want to be the flowers in your dustbin.   But do I have to put on my old corporate suit and find 230 pounds before you hear me on this?

Not really a page three girl
August 6, 2009

Irrelevant really, except I once was very blonde and very young.

Irrelevant except I once was very blonde and very young.

I’ll admit one of my prime annoyances is the marketing of blonde ales as if the beer is a woman you can “have”.  “Skinny blondes like to have a good time” being the most recently obnoxious example of this.

According to the press, Brew Dog’s Trashy Blonde has come under fire from feminists. This beer happens to be my favourite offering from Brew Dog, and that’s saying a lot.

It’s a pretty lantern-orange color. The big fruits (lychee dominates) and hoppy bite are fresh and juicy, and they ask little from the drinker, save that you pair it with something tasty.  Anything really. I won’t say it’s easy going because then I would be anthropomorphizing this beer.

The marketing of Trashy Blonde is so OTT and really kind of poignantly satirical, it’s hard to be offended.  Once a friend of mine read the label out loud.  “You know you shouldn’t…A titillating, neurotic, peroxide punk of a pale ale.  Combining attitude, style, substance and a little bit of low self esteem for good measure; what would your mother say?”  She and I, both avowed feminists, cracked up.

If we could just drop the blonde’s “e” it could be talking about the forbidden boyfriend, about a person we know or used to be. It could be, my my hey hey, the story of blond Johnny Rotten.

Good beer is sexy.  Can we find a new way to talk about this yummy aspect that doesn’t demean women?  Irony is one place to start but it’s going to be, as most things worth doing, a very tricky business.

Another way to get your five a day
April 20, 2009

Crap beer: it’s a blank canvas!  Here is a terribly blurry picture of me drinking “Garlic Beer”–one of my guilty pleasures at Garlic and Shots.  It’s basically generic lager with crushed garlic floating in the head.  I consider it a health drink.

Lime in a Corona.  A wedge of lemon in a hefeweizen. If you’re a girl, these are probably the first beers someone sets in front of you.  Maybe a shandy, if you started early.  And this is one of the benefits of being a lady— you can put stuff in your beer and no one will look down on you for it.  I mean, any more than they already are.

When I used to teach on a Marine base sometimes we’d celebrate after finals with boilermakers at the local watering hole (off the base– for some reason the Marines insisted I never set foot in the bar on the base.  To this day I regret not checking it out.)

I would consider plopping a shot of soju into a glass of Hite–a Korean “beer bomb”.  I could also see myself adding some Jagermeister to a pint of Guinness.  I might add some whisky to my Sassquash mild to give it some lifeblood.  Do you ever put anything in beer either to get you happy faster, or to improve a mediocre pint?  Do tell.

Thank you David Mitchell.
April 19, 2009

Banned Courage ad

Banned Courage ad

Don’t you hate it when someone does something stupid/insenstive/hostile and then says, “I was drunk”?  Perhaps some people like to see booze as some Jekyll potion, but drink can’t create something that wasn’t already there.  It does, however, provide people who are jerks with an excuse for their behavior.  Which brings me to this ad.

David Mitchell takes on the courage ad in a recent Guardian piece. He also takes on some of the irrational responses of the ASA to beer advertising with his typical humanity and humor.

Like Mitchell, at first I didn’t get this ad.  The woman doesn’t look “bad” enough to explain the scenario.  Is she asking him to unzip her?  Follow her up the stairs to the bedroom?  Why is he afraid? What is going on?  Only the little tag hanging from the back of her garment helps with the narrative…oh, she just bought that dress.  And, oh, by perverse advertising standards we are supposed to see this woman as fat.

Mitchell has the optimism to see the ad as a joke on a relationship-ending mistake– the guy will be drunk enough to say, stupidly, “Your ass looks fat in that.”  Whereas, once I “got” it, understood it to mean beer gives you the courage to shame your lady (permission to be a brute– in the mode of the “Don’t Expect Help on a Tuesday” Nuts ads which feature a hapless woman getting sprayed by broken plumbing while she calls to her distracted partner reading the magazine). The ad seems to claim the guy is justified in being totally tactless because she’s a fat cow and somebody’s got to tell her, might as well be you.

It doesn’t take courage to be an ass, but the beer’s a handy excuse.

Hey Laaaaady
April 9, 2009

Can you spot the laydeez?

Can you spot the laydeez?

I’ve spoken before of my love of the Ship Tavern in Holborn, and I visited there yesterday.  The celebrations of Cask Ale Week were definitely on: a Theakston Mild and Bitter being the most significant and tasty offerings. After a day of checking out dead things in jars at the Hunterian Museum, nothing satisfies like a lovely pint of bitter!

Two American friends were visiting and were drinking the mild. I tried to explain the philosophy behind Cask Ale Week but it was difficult.  While perusing the official website, I had little luck figuring out how to find a participating pub, or even what events were on, (don’t get me started on the picture of the well groomed college students on the site’s homepage.  It’s just odd.) I was guessing when I explained it was a way to celebrate a distinctive national beverage that has been coded as unfashionable.

In the US, the microbrewery revolution has changed the kind of beer most people I know drink.  The offerings at most stores are quite varied now. Many Brits who have never been to America think it’s still the land of Bud and Coors, but in metropolitan places this is not the case.  My friends ordered pints of mild without having to be coaxed to do it, and one of them was…wait for it…a woman.  That cask ale is associated with old bearded men was impossible to convey to them as we were sitting in the lively Ship, surrounded by all kinds of people who were drinking ale.  (It’s true the women were mostly drinking, you guessed it, white wine.)

My friend Laura picked up a flyer announcing the events of Cask Ale Week at the pub, one of which headlined with the pun, “femALE” day.  It addressed us as Ladies, and my friend said, “See, they’ve gone wrong right there.  Ladies?”  To an American ear the word lady is an insult.  It’s something Jerry Lewis yells.  No one wants to be addressed as a lady– which either means you are a granny, a member of the Christian Right or the recipient of some stranger’s anger.   Here it’s perfectly normal, and even polite, to refer to a woman as a lady.  I still vaguely resent it, and all the ideas that come packaged in that word–which is probably why I engage in such unladylike activities like beer blogging.

The flyer suggested we try some cask ale for £1 on the 15th of April, technically two days after Cask Ale Week is over.   Presumably we don’t have to wear a hat and gloves to partake of our cheeky half, just a pair of XX chromosomes.