“Real Bitches Know Beer” and Bitch Beer is Here to Prove It – The Ladies on Women and Craft Beer

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“If 'bitch beer' is beer for girls, then every beer is bitch beer.”

So says the introduction to Austin Beer: Capital City History on Tap, the latest in a line of accomplishments from the women bloggers at Bitch Beer. I had the distinct pleasure of catching up with two of the ladies, Caroline Wallace and Sarah Wood, at Hi Hat Public House for the Revolver Brewing release party where we talked everything from baking with beer to responding to catcalls – and the prevalence of prejudice against women in the craft brewery community.

More on women, craft beer, and Bitch Beer's mission below the jump.A few weeks ago in the midst of a controversy around Deep Ellum's promotional van for their blonde ale, Dallas Blonde, Caroline Wallace reached out to let me know that the writers of Bitch Beer supported the criticism of Deep Ellum's marketing choices. The blog has faced its share of criticism, especially in the wake of their own post about sexist trends in craft beer advertising.

I followed up with the ladies to talk about their experiences as women making space for others in the craft brewery community.

Who are the ladies of Bitch Beer? According to their blog,

We want to disprove the old adage that women aren't really beer drinkers. We're evoking a name often given to sugary, low-alcohol content beer substitutes like Smirnoff Ice or Mike's Hard Lemonade to prove that, from a stout to an IPA, so-called bitches can drink any damn beer they please. You heard us, every beer is a Bitch Beer.

Since the blog's inception in February of 2012, the writers have covered festivals, established bonds with movers and shakers in the community, and faced their share of controversy. It all started with a trip to a brewery.

“We noticed that that there weren't a lot of other women there,” Wallace told me. “There were some women with their husbands, or with big groups, but we were this group of five or six girls and we didn't see that anywhere else – even though there were huge groups of men.”

They named the blog at the brewery and bought the URL as soon as they got home. Thanks to their time working at the St. Edward's school newspaper, the ladies knew they could run a publication together. They just needed the right platform.

Since then, the blog has afforded them incredible opportunities, from gracing the cover of the Austin Chronicle, to co-founder Shaun Martin's appearance on the Cooking Channel, to becoming published authors with the release of Austin Beer. But for Sarah Wood, these things don't quite compare to the everyday interactions she gets to have.

“People don't necessarily get to interact with the people who are building the community the way that we do,” Wood explained, “They want to hear our opinion; they want our input. You don't always get to engage with people making a product you care about in that way.”

Though their experience overall has been incredibly positive, this issue with Deep Ellum was not the first time they had heard about or experienced this prejudice in the craft brewery community.

Wood pointed to a story shared with them by one of their readers. Her favorite beer is Stash IPA, and during one trip to the store to grab a four pack, she noticed that the sales person didn't ask for her license. She asked if he wanted to see her I.D., to which he responded, “No, women don't drink IPAs, I'm sure its for your husband.”

This comment came to them at the same time that they were facing criticism from a male blogger, who couldn't understand what they were “whining” about. Wallace said his argument amounted to the idea that “you feel alienated because you're alienating yourself.” This idea – that a marginalized and oppressed group is responsible for their experiences of oppression and inability to just get along in society – is nothing new, but that makes it no less damaging to the goal of open dialogue about the issue of sexism in craft breweries' marketing strategies.

One great side effect of the craft beer boom in Austin is the advent of the craft beer bar. In these establishments, craft beer drinkers can find carefully selected brews and knowledgeable staff – though whether the customers acknowledge the bartender's extensive understanding of the beers on tap sometimes depends largely on the gender of the bartender in question. In some cases, female bartenders have asked to help the next customer in a long line in front of their male counterparts only to hear, “No, I'm going to wait for him, I'm going to ask his opinion on my beer.”

Wood described this attitude as, “I'm going to order my beer from a guy who knows. There's no way you can know.” This lingering assumption that women just don't get beer is exactly what Wood says Bitch Beer is “trying to get away from.”

Even among brewers and bar owners who want to encourage women to consume their product, it is hard to escape the idea that beer is a boys club. Wood related a story where she was told enthusiastically, “Even our female waitresses are expected to know about craft beer!”

Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that beer is assumed to be a guy thing when so many of the people making the beer are men. When asked about women working in the Texas craft brewery community, Wallace responded, “There are several breweries that are co-owned by husbands and wives, and there are several that employ female brewers,” but to her knowledge, “There are no female brewmasters and no breweries singularly owned by a woman, at all.”

“There are definitely some prominent female brewmasters around the country,” she added, “But, again, it's a minority.”

For Wallace and Wood, this low percentage of women as creators and consumers does not reflect the potential of the craft beer community. Wallace pointed out that craft beer makes up only 7% of the beer consumed in the United States. “What an amazing opportunity to market equally. Or, to not have exclusive marketing, because its where your growth can come from,” she explained, “It's an easy source of growth if your product is good.” She thinks better marketing towards women is “important” even for those producers who don't necessarily understand why certain things are offensive, because these breweries stand to potentially alienate 50% of their audience.  

For Wood, it's also about the inconsistency in quality between advertising and beer. “Craft beer is a more artisan product,” Wood stated. “They [consumers]want whatever is in [the bottle]to be thoughtful.” She continued, “It's always inexcusable if something is blatantly sexist, that's always awful, for me at least. But is is more offputting when you expect some care to go into that product.” Wood compared the marketing strategies for fine wine and steak to the quality of craft beer, and said that these sexist choices “lessen their product. It lessens the value and the care they took making it.”

Despite the sexism and prejudice they've heard about and encountered themselves, both Wallace and Wood are positive about their experiences and Bitch Beer's future.

Wallace said,

We get a ton of women that start reading our blog and tell us, “I am so interested in craft beer! Your blog is awesome.” Even though there are amazing women in craft beer – there totally are – they are a small minority. There are still women who are just getting in to craft beer, or just starting to think about craft beer. So the idea that, “Hey, there are other women doing this too,” is really helpful and empowering.

Added Wood,

For the most part people think what we're doing is really interesting. They think its cool that there are seven women that write about beer. It will be an even cooler day when the draw isn't that we're seven women writing about beer – its that we're seven craft beer enthusiasts, like everybody else, who happen to be women.

I will certainly raise a glass (of local, craft beer) to that.  

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About Author

Genevieve Cato

Genevieve Cato is a feminist activist and a native Texan. While not writing for the Burnt Orange Report, she can be found working for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, serving as a community member of the Communications Committee for the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, and drinking copious amounts of pretentious local craft beers.

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