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.

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Hop Tonic
October 23, 2009

Guinness ad from the 1920s

Guinness ad from the 1920s

My best friend in college happened to be Irish and once when I had a cold he offered me his cure-all: a pint of Guinness and a raw onion.  Did it work? Why yes.  My guess is it was the raw onion that really made you want to be better so badly that you decided you were.

But the health properties of Guinness were renowned, if perhaps fabricated. “Guinness is good for you”– so good that it was given to people recovering from surgery, blood donors, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

But new research suggests beer might have some health benefits.  Beer is lower in calories than milk, juice or, contrary to popular belief, wine.  Beer contains a chemical which has recently been found to protect mineral bone density.  Beer can provide you with B vitamins, can lower your risk of hypertension and heart disease.  The hops in beer have sedative, anti-anxiety properties.

But is beer good for you?  This is the question I’ve been mulling over for a few months now.  I have recently finished a course in Holistic Therapy, and my fellow students were a varied bunch, but very few were beer drinkers.  One classmate said to me, on finding out that I wrote a beer blog, “What will your clients think?” I believe she was fairly scandalized. Why would someone in a healing profession publicly confess to drinking beer?

While the benefits of beer can be found in other foods, and no one would propose beer as a health tonic, is it really that bad for you? It kills brain cells; it taxes the liver.  Is it beer that makes the belly or the 6-pint sessions that do it?  Most caloric comparisons of beer and other beverages are not ounce-for-ounce.  Consistently beer calories are measured by pints, while other beverages are listed in smaller measures. What if we rethink the pint?  I’m not asking for stemmed glass.  I’m just wondering when more pubs will start to server more flavorful, compelling beers in smaller measures.  This is how I like to drink beer, and when one considers the way beer is presented in places like Belgium, it’s not so unusual.

I have always balked at subscribing to a lifestyle, which is just another way of signing yourself up to be a marketing demographic. The phrase healthy lifestyle makes me recoil, bringing to mind as it does supermarket shelves full of bland, packaged foods and patronizing advice from experts seeking to capitalize on our mortal fears.

But many who do subscribe to a healthy lifestyle are trying to eat organic and they’re probably even counting their food miles, which means, whether they know it or not, they are warming up to the slow food movement.  And most ale drinkers are–perhaps unwittingly– part of the slow food movement: they know their beer miles because they know the brewery that’s made what they are drinking.  They probably know how it was made, how long it took and the resources that went into making it as well as the history behind it.  Some probably even brew their own.  And, in knowing all this, we ale drinkers savor what we’re drinking and that’s healthy.  But how do we explain this to people who only equate beer with cheap lager, binge drinking and the infamous “gut”?

It would be wonderful to see beer festivals pitched to the slow food movement.  Recently there was a BBC 4 show on a slow-food cheese festival in Italy. Cheese is probably as bad for you as beer, maybe worse! But the cheeses at this festival were being savored in small amounts, which is the same approach many beer drinkers take to tasting at a festival.

The healthy lifestyle industry has at its heart certain puritanical ideas.  In its most cynical aspects, it’s hoping to appeal to the self-hating kill-joy in all of us.  Has the misnamed “Be Good to Yourself” Diet Frozen dinner ever filled anyone with glee?  Has a Lite beer ever really brought joy to anyone?  Guinness used its 1920’s slogan because after drinking the beer, people said they felt better.  Good beer can make us happy.  Happy people live longer.