By Anthony St. Clair
More and more, women steer the ship of craft beer in the U.S. and in Oregon.
Women increasingly buy craft beer, and craft breweries are trying to appeal to them. Women run beer bars and are certified cicerones. Women are the founders and owners of industry publications (like this one). In today’s craft breweries, women are hard at work in the brewhouse and in the boardroom.
“Change is here and it’s gaining momentum,” says Christine Jump, of Rogue, and director of Barley’s Angels, a global organization that works with women consumers and public craft beer establishments to further women’s involvement in the making and enjoying of craft beer. Jump’s view is shared by two other women in Eugene’s brewing industry: Mercy McDonald, founder of Claim 52 Brewing; and Dana Robles, brewer at Ninkasi Brewing Company.
“My favorite beers tend to be on the dark end of the spectrum: stouts, dark strong ales,” says McDonald, who’s often on hand when Claim 52’s tasting room is open. “There is no ‘female’ beer style. If a woman doesn’t know what to order, we don’t steer her to lighter styles. We try to understand what flavor profiles are preferred and spend some time letting her taste and describe what she likes or doesn’t like about the different styles.”
McDonald adds that Claim 52’s tasting room customers “are probably sixty/forty male/female.” And it’s not due to location or decor. “I wouldn’t say we take a feminine approach to the space,” says McDonald. “It’s a warehouse location in an industrial setting. We do emphasize that the brewery is clean, organized, and family-friendly, so it is welcoming to whoever walks in.”
Across town at Ninkasi, Dana Robles notes that while the industry is becoming more welcoming of women, there’s still work to do. “I do feel men take for granted the ease in which they can traverse the workforce and society at large,” she says. “There are a lot of alienating forces out there that inadvertently discourage women from working in a brewery. That could be a poster in the bathroom, the name of your beer or even the culture of your company that does this.”
Portland-based Jump is optimistic about women’s increasing role in Oregon’s craft beer sector. “Metropolitan areas of Oregon are forward thinking,” she says. “While gender separation is no doubt still happening, I’ve seen hiring practices here that reflect experience and qualifications without gender influences.”
Women continue moving into higher-level roles in breweries as well, from brewers and managers, to owners and CEOs. They increasingly are being recognized for their leadership too: Earlier this year, Full Sail Brewing, founded by CEO Irene Firmat, was awarded “Craft Brewer of the Year” by Beverage World Magazine.
“I see more women understanding that they can succeed in the industry too,” says Jump. “I don’t see it changing the nature of craft beer produced. Women in the industry understand that women aren’t looking for ‘women’s’ beer, but for quality, complex, flavorful beer.”
The number of breweries, brewpubs, bottle shops, and other establishments throughout Oregon and the U.S. continues to grow. This brings not only more opportunities to enjoy different styles of beer, it also brings more jobs and more ways for beer to interrelate with other parts of life. More breweries highlight partnerships with community organizations, are involved in family events, and promote beer and food pairings—things that appeal to women and men alike. There’s more quality and diversity—not only of beer styles, but of ideas.
“I like the variety and complexity of craft beer,” says Jump. “There’s an endless supply of new craft beers that are heart-stopping delicious, or that take a favorite dish to a whole new culinary level. And the community that surrounds craft brewing are some of the best people I’ve known.”
Marketers Still Have Much to Learn
How are breweries trying to change their marketing to attract more women customers? Three Oregon craft beer professionals share their thoughts: Christine Jump, director of Barley’s Angels, Portland; Mercy McDonald, founder of Claim 52 Brewing, Eugene; and Dana Robles, brewer at Ninkasi Brewing Company, Eugene.
Jump: “The biggest barrier breweries have to building their female demographic is two-sided.
“Women want quality and flavor, in an environment that makes experimenting comfortable. Market the flavor of the beer, what foods it complements. Show both genders enjoying beer with barbecue or in a fine dining setting. Rogue Ales puts pairing symbols on their bottles; that kind of thing helps women explore new beer.
“Secondly, training at the retail level is imperative. Servers and bartenders need to know the beer, so that they can steer consumers toward the flavors that they enjoy. As long as there is a bartender anywhere that will scoff at or dissuade a woman from ordering a craft beer, the breweries lose.”
Robles: “I don’t feel particularly marketed to as a woman. Beer seems to be gender-neutral. There are the exceptions; some beers that have insulting double entendres on their labels are an example. I think that is a misstep.
“Any serious beer drinker wants a quality, delicious beer every time, regardless of calories, reputation or image. Do we need to dress up beer for women? I would say no. I don’t know which demographic needs their beer style/label gender stereotyped to feel okay about drinking it. They aren’t any women I know.”
McDonald: “I think the biggest mistake that is being corrected, in large part by the craft brewers, is losing this illusion that your product is primarily appealing to men 25-40.
“As more women are part of the communications arm of the business, as well as on the operations and management side, this is going to continue to trend away from sophomoric sexual references or overly masculine language while still being fresh, edgy, creative, and fun. There’s really nothing to lose here.”
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