I’m a beer-drinking, earth-loving, twenty-something, Asian woman.
And Craft Beer, I think it’s time we Defined The Relationship.
I’m no beer-expert, but I do love you… even if I don’t always love what you do.
Last month, when a conference brought me to Minneapolis (also known as Craft Beer Heaven) for the first time, I made a point to check out the city’s brewing scene. My friends and I ended up sipping Peanut Butter Porters and Chocolate Milk Stouts at a joint called Dangerous Man Brewing Company.
Its logo: a bearded man.
A small thing, I admit; but, it bugged me. I kept thinking: What does this mean? Who is this marketing to? Is the company suggesting that its beer is made for men with beards (of the stereotypical white-Millennial-hipster-man variety)? For women who like men with beards? Why “dangerous”?
To be fair, Dangerous Man is owned by a woman, and its staff consists of just as many women as men. The man in the graphic on the front label is the brewer himself, and has called himself the “dangerous man.”
But this bizarrely specific label points to a trend in the craft beer scene, one that’s made me wary. As a woman, am I welcome, drinking Dangerous Man and other craft beers?
Sexist, sometimes racist, labels have a history in craft beer. In March of this year, Chicago stores refused to stock SweetWater’s problematic label, Happy Endings, which depicted a man’s O-face next to a box of tissues and a geisha’s silhouette. But that’s not all. Take these brews, which are sold numerous places:
- New Hampshire’s Stark Brewing Company’s award-winning Mt. U Cream Ale, which features a topless woman with her stocking-clad legs in the air
- The Coney Island Sword Swallower Steel Hop Lager, with a woman in a tight red dress “swallowing swords”
- Hop Valley’s Mouth Raper IPA
- Pig Minds Brewing Company’s PD, which shows a woman’s legs with her panties at her ankles.
Craft Beer, what’s the deal?
Craft Beer’s Identity: Anti-Big Beer
The Brewers Association, a leading organization of American craft-brewers, defines a craft beer as small (sell no more than 6 million barrels of beer per year), independent (less than 25% owned or controlled by any major non-craft beer industry company), and traditional (excludes flavored malt beverages).
It’s an exciting time for craft beer: American craft breweries have been on the rise since the 1980s, and last year touted 3,418 craft breweries. Craft beers amounted to a record-breaking 11% in overall beer sales in 2014 (that is, $19.6 billion of a $101.5-billion-pie). Not bad, considering that in 1965, the US only had one craft brewery.
And so often, craft beer is seen as the opposition to Big Beer. That means craft beer needs to look responsible, both environmentally (where big beer can’t compete), and socially. Beer mega-corporations been openly, embarrassingly misogynistic for quite some time. When Bud Light had to apologize for its most recent “Up for Whatever” campaign ads—which flaunted the caption: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night”—who was really surprised?
But I expected more from you, Craft Beer. If you want to be seen as the underdog, and as both environmentally and socially conscious, then why are you still perpetuating these archaic notions of women right on your labels?
Beer: Not Just a Boys’ Club Anymore
Women have been shaping beer for some time, and they still are. Some of the earliest examples of brewsters were in ancient Egypt, when only women made and sold beer. In colonial America, when people drank more beer than water, women were the primary brewers. It wasn’t until late in the 1700’s, with the rise of industrialization, that we began to see the birth of the male-dominated beer tradition.
And behind the scenes, craft beer is returning to women, in a way that Big Beer isn’t.
Craft beer has a small but growing list of amazing women. Check out Annie Johnson, who was the first African-American to win the prestigious Homebrewer of the Year Award in 2013, as well as the first woman to do so since 1983. Or Harlem Brewing Company’s Celeste Beatty. New Belgium—which makes one of my favorite and most accessible black lagers, 1554—was co-founded by Kim Jordan but is now 100% employee-owned, with many women holding senior and executive positions.
And if you’re a woman and want good company while exploring some good beers, new groups are budding nationwide, such as Hops for Honeys (Alabama), Crafty Ladies Beer Club (Colorado), Georgia Ales and Lager Sirens (Georgia), Girls’ Pint Out (chapters nationwide), or Pink Boots Society (chapters nationwide). If there isn’t one in your area, you can start your own, like Chrystalle Ball did when she moved to Northern Virginia and started a DC-based women’s beer club.
The Bottom Line
Craft Beer, I like you for the cool new ways you’re taking on environmental responsibility.
In the US, it takes, on average, 7 barrels of water to make 1 barrel of beer, or at best, around 3 barrels of water to 1 barrel of beer. Up to 70% of water used in breweries is discharged as waste, and in many communities—75% of people in the US live within 10 miles of a craft brewer—breweries are responsible for a majority of the water usage. This is a legitimate concern for California’s drought-plagued craft breweries, but they’re not pulling a Nestle and wasting water without thinking of solutions. Lagunitas, a brewing company with an office in California, is working to switch brewing to their location in Chicago.
Ska Brewing Company gives away craft brewing mash to feed cattle instead of dumping them in landfills. New Belgium boasts a 99% waste-diversion rate, even pumping back the methane generated in the treatment process to create energy—what amounts to a 14-15% reduction in its overall fossil fuel consumption. Brooklyn Brewery uses 100% wind energy, the first business in New York City to do so. (And they have a great Chocolate Stout). Allagash, Brewery Vivant, Deschutes Brewery, and Odell Brewing Company are just a few more examples of craft breweries gone 100% renewable energy.
Craft Beer, it’s clear that environmentally, you’ve got Big Beer whooped. But it can’t stop there.
May 11-17 is American Craft Beer Week, and I can’t wait to try some new brews—but I need to see that you’re responsible in your labels and advertisements.
So, Craft Beer, what do you say? I want to support you. Can we work this out?
Ah-reum Han was born in South Korea and raised on the sandy savannas of West Africa. She’s been to five different continents, but learned to keep her feet still long enough to get her B.A. in Creative Writing and Cross-cultural Sociology from Carson-Newman University. She is currently a third-year M.F.A. candidate and thesis fellow in fiction at George Mason University.