The lights were dimmed and the chatter was loud at Taproom 307. Plates of pizza, French fries, and fried pickles sprawled across the table, with, of course, glasses of beer. It was, after all, girls’ night out.
The pub was hosting the aptly titled “Ladies in Beer” event, now in its second year, a new tradition for the women working in the beer industry to celebrate their growing presence. The women at the event represented nine of 12 craft breweries participating in New York City Beer Week, which includes Red Hook’s acclaimed Sixpoint Brewery. Thanks to the rise of the craft beer movement, more women are drinking beer, drawn to the beverage by complex tastes they tend to find more appealing than watery mass-produced beer, which is largely targeted to male drinkers. According to a July 2012 Gallup poll, women, now represent one-quarter of beer drinkers in America, compared to 20 percent in a 2007 poll. And Sixpoint’s female contingent says women in the craft beer industry are breaking down gender stereotypes about both drinking beer and the beer industry itself.
“It used to be very unladylike for a woman to go to a bar and order a beer, and I think a lot of women didn’t want to drink beer because of that notion,” said Heather McReynolds, Sixpoint’s brewster — the female term for brewer. “I think that’s changing with craft beer. You can have a beer and it’s not ladylike or unladylike, it’s just what you want to drink.”
Perception may have discouraged women from drinking beer in the past, but taste is also a factor. “I think for women in particular, it’s been really exciting to see the craft beer industry get bigger,” said McReynolds. “A lot of women don’t think that beer can taste good. I can make a beer with so many more ingredients in it than I could with a wine.”
It’s possible that these extra ingredients and more complex tastes could make craft beer more attractive to a female audience. Scientists at Yale University have determined some people, called “supertasters,” are born with more taste buds than others. Studies have determined that 35 percent of women are supertasters, compared with 15 percent of men.
“In general, women have better palettes than men, so of course they wouldn’t want to drink crappy mass produced beer,” McReynolds said. “As a female brewer, it’s exciting for me to see women getting excited about beer for the first time, and learning what beer can taste like.” McReynolds was sampling Single Cut brewery’s “Rudy,” a new rum barrel aged, “toffee smooth” amber lager the Queens-based brewery debuted for Craft Beer Week. From her own brewery, McReynolds’ first recommendation is Sixpoint’s dark, rich “3Beans,” a porter made with cacao, coffee, and romano beans – for women who want to try something “crazy.”
Finding the perfect beer for other women is a welcome challenge for Sixpoint’s Kristen Ridenour, the brewery’s Manhattan sales representative. “I can always find a beer for a non-beer drinker,” she said. Naturally, she would recommend one of Sixpoint’s six classic brews. Her pick is “The Crisp,” for an indelible sehr crisp flavor, brewed with noble hops by McReynolds and company.
McReynolds is one of four brewers at Sixpoint Brewery, and the only female of the bunch. As the sole brewster, McReynolds receives no special treatment from her team. “They treat [her] like an equal,” said Ridenour. “They don’t act like, ‘let me get that for you, little lady!’”
McReynolds agreed. “I do all the work that they do, even if it sucks.”
According to Meg McIntyre, the general manager of Sixpoint Brewery, people are not treated differently based on gender in the craft beer industry. “If you care about the craft you’re making, no one cares if you’re a man or a woman. That’s where big beer and craft beer really part ways.” McIntyre called the mass-produced beer industry “an old boys club.”
The employee makeup of Anheuser-Busch, which brews Budweiser, Beck’s, and Stella Artois, was 20 percent female according to the company’s 2011 annual company report — down from 21 percent in 2009 – a decline of 1,160 women.
Nonetheless, McReynolds said that the mass-produced beer industry is slowly changing because of the influence of the craft-beer industry. “I think big beer is a little more behind the times than the craft beer industry is, but I think the craft beer industry is making it more progressive,” she said.
Mass-produced beer may be taking a cue from craft beer with good reason. In the first half of 2012, beer sales rose by 1.9 percent in the US – the first increase since 2008. According to the Brewers Association, which represents craft brewers, craft beer sales alone rose 12 percent during that time.
That growth is evident in New York City Beer Week, under the direction of the New York City Brewers Guild, which touts itself as “the premier craft beer spectacle of the year.” Running until March 3, with over 300 events at 100 venues around the city, the event, now in its fifth year, has brought together all 12 New York City craft breweries to join in the celebration – and their women too.
“It was important for me that we get the girls out,” said Hayley Jensen, beer sommelier at Taproom 307 and co-organizer of Ladies in Beer. “I think people associate beer with guys, and frat boys, or old men with beer bellies.”
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