Our resident expert René van den Oort, of Beautiful Beers in Bury St Edmunds, challenges the perception beer is for blokes
Having spent the past eight years or so finding out the style of beer people like when visiting my shop, I inevitably encounter a situation when a female customer requests assistance to pick a good choice of beers, and I ask “Is it for yourself or someone else?”. The answer on many occasions is “Oh it’s not for me; I don’t like beer!”. Although trends are changing, there still seems to be this perception that beer is a bloke’s drink and that women are more suited to drink wine or a gin and tonic.
For many years some of the biggest breweries in countries around the world even tried (and failed) to produce a ‘beer for women’ in the hope to increase their appeal and therefore increase production and subsequently profit. Beers mixed with fruit juice, weak, insipid beers, even pink beers; they tried all sorts. Millions of pounds went on research, development, testing and marketing only for the product to be withdrawn from sales a few months later.
Dozens of breweries tried and failed miserably. Why? Well for a start they all made the same mistake: they forgot to look at the history of beer brewing. Some of the earliest evidence of people brewing beer showed that men weren’t even involved in the making of beer. The ancient Sumerian god of beer, Ninkasi, was female, with only priestesses allowed to create this miraculous brew, made by soaking bread, grain and honey in water. Right up until the Industrial Revolution, apart from monks and nuns, women brewsters were the main producers of beer. And, of course, most women, as well as men and children, drank ale or beer as this was generally safer to drink than water, due to the process of boiling and the addition of a natural anti-bacterial product: hops.
Jumping forward 250 years and beer still uses the same ingredients. There are, however, many, many more varieties, flavours, characteristics and strengths of beer currently available. In fact, in the last few years there have never been so many different beers available. A beer for everyone. And everyone is different, whether you are male or female, everyone prefers different beers.
In addition to that, women have a more refined, sensitive palate and can taste a wider flavour spectrum in beer. As men get older their ability to taste flavours reduces and long for stronger flavours as their tastebuds and sense of smell reduces.
Nowadays, the brewing industry is still dominated by men. They brew, taste, develop, research and advertise the beers which, inadvertently, appeals more to men than women. Luckily, this is changing, be it rather slowly. Breweries such as Fullers, Humpty Dumpty, Burnt Mill and Boudicca all employ brewsters. There are now more female beer sommeliers than ever. And there are now more beers available that will suit most palates than ever. There’s no such thing as a beer for women. If you enjoy a flavoursome, complex and refreshing alcoholic drink like I do, then why not try something different. I’m sure there’s a beer out there that will suit you. . . But please remember, enjoy your beer, but drink sensibly.
René van den Oort is owner of Beautiful Beers
1b St John’s Street
Bury St Edmunds