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Ick, Cooties

It is once again time for The Session: that monthly gathering of beer bloggers around a central topic.

This month’s topic comes courtesy of Tasting Nitch, and is Women and Beer: Scary Beer Feminists or a Healthy Growing Demographic? 

sessionSession #81 is not an argument, unlike some past session posts. I’m not here alienate the baguette bearers, I have my opinions and if you want to read my posts about women in beer, then you can. If not, then fine by me.
But let’s also avoid this being another “bah humbug, let people drink what they want,” session.

As the saintly Mr. M. Jackson created ‘beer culture’ by focusing on the people behind brewing, let us too take one blog post to contemplate the cultural shift that gender is taking in the beer world.

Feel free to write about what you want as long as it is beer and woman related!

Usually I’d have put my Session post up the Tuesday before, rather than after, the first Friday of the month, but this time I was waiting for responses to a series of questions I had sent out.

You see, I realized if I was going to talk about the experiences of women in the Buffalo beer scene then it might be helpful to actually, well, talk to some of them. I reached out to the Buffalo Beer Goddesses to see what it’s been like to be a woman drinking in our fair city.

My sincere thanks goes out to Sara Rosenberry, Tracey Maciejewski and Jeannie Alexander for taking time to talk to me!

Their responses were incredibly encouraging: for quite a long time beer — the mainstream, macro-lager kind — has portrayed beer as a sports-lovin’-man’s drink, actively discouraging women from drinking it. Then, stupefied as to why their message of “this isn’t for you” somehow hasn’t caused women to flock to their product, they release beer with a package designed to look like a purse. This continues today, with an ad for Bud Light that once again reinforces that meat and beer are for men and that anything vegetarian is effeminate (for the record: it is pronounced KEEN-wa and it is goddamned delicious).

The Beer Goddesses at the Southern Tier brewery

The Beer Goddesses at the Southern Tier brewery

And yet, the Goddesses shared only good experiences with me. They’ve heard horror stories: men being surprised that a woman likes good beer, telling them what “IPA” means when the woman was just asking what brewery the tap handle was for, calling them “girls”… but in general my question about bad experiences was breezed past on the way to answering the positive questions.

There’s a trend in Buffalo, friends. The Beer Goddesses are making an impact: lots of bars and breweries in the area have contacted them about hosting events. The cynic might say that it’s because there’s an untapped market to exploit, but I’d like to think it’s because, despite the craft beer’s depiction as bearded white dudes (I don’t know where that comes from), people — men, women and those who don’t fit into the gender binary — are excited about other people drinking beer, no matter who it is.

“People in the craft beer community just want to hang out and share in enjoying good beers,” Sara says. “If you’re open to try and appreciate new beers and information, you’re good and you’ll have a good time at craft beer events.”

There was a bit of a backlash when the Beer Goddesses were first suggested. There was the predictable “Why do women need their own group?” response, which ignores the fact that a group for women does nothing to hinder the existence of any current groups. Eight months later, I have to say the results are obvious: the Beer Geeks have continued, not exploded in a blaze of misandry, and the Goddesses have 263 members and counting.

Tracey hadn’t been too involved in the local beer scene before the Goddesses. She’d liked beer for quite some time (her “lightbulb beer” was Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, which puts my own “Saranac mixed 12 packs” to shame) but didn’t consider herself part of any community. Now she’s involved to the point where she was a representative on Winging It.

Jeannie always felt comfortable at events but noticed that it’s not the case for everyone: “Many women want so very badly to be involved in the community,” she says, “not just as spectators, but to learn and experience.”

Sara’s noticed the same, for both men and women. “I bet there are a lot of people who would like to get involved and know more and share with the community, but don’t know how.” I was lucky: when I started brewing my then-boss knew Ethan. I somehow forgot that I had mild social anxiety and asked him to take me to a Niagara Association of Homebrewers meeting.

This shirt should probably be a business expense (from xkcd)

This shirt could probably be a business expense (from xkcd)

For me, NAH was the way in. If the Goddesses are someone else’s, excellent! “Being involved in the goddesses, or really any group, kind of automatically makes you a member of the community,” Jeannie noted. It’s true: the Buffalo beer lovers are a very open, friendly group, but we maybe don’t always do a good job of showing that. I know there have been far too many times when I’ve let my aforementioned shyness/anxiety keep me from starting a conversation with someone who, in hindsight, maybe was “new” or otherwise interested in getting to know people.

What can you do, then, to encourage not only women but all people to get involved in craft beer? Follow Wheaton’s Law: Don’t be a dick. Be nice, or at least not overtly hostile.

Then more women will join the community. More men will join the community. The community gets better. More breweries open. More good bars open, and more existing bars switch their lines to good beer. Buffalo, in short, will be embeered.

As Jeannie put it: “Let’s all like beer together!”