Back in my beer rep days, one of my many duties was to press the flesh at store openings. When Earth Fare opened its Huntersville location, I set up a table with five beers to sample to shoppers. I arranged the sampling order by increasing flavor intensity: Pilsner, Hefeweizen, Pale Ale, Stout and IPA. People would stop their carts at my station, ask a few questions while they sipped each offering, and be on their merry way.
I understand not all beers appeal to everyone, which is why I'd always bring a variety. By now, I was used to "I don't like (hoppy/dark/sour/light) beers," but one shopper surprised me. "I don't like dark beer," she said.
Her cart was half full at the moment. I glanced it over quickly and responded, looking her dead in her eyes, "Yes, you do."
She looked confused. I gestured at her cart as I continued, pointing out items of interest. "A bar of dark chocolate. A bottle of red wine. You're even a coffee drinker?" She nodded. "A solid stout can have all of these flavor elements inside. Do you really want to keep selling yourself short?"
She acquiesced and learned something new: She actually did like dark beer. Two bottles of stout joined her cart, and she shopped on.
Somewhere in the past, this person had made up her mind that dark beer wasn't her thing without so much as trying it first. I'm not throwing stones in my glass house; I used to dislike asparagus until I gave it a real shot. I can understand how beer can be intimidating, as there are thousands out there spanning hundreds of varieties. But a number of local groups are willing to help you out.
One for the ladies is the Charlotte Beer Babes. Headed by Bethany Burr, this education-focused group hosts multiple events each month that seek to chisel away at the stereotypical "beer is for boys" mindset. They arrange beer education sampling sessions, brewery tours and homebrew demonstrations.
An event worth a mention is happening Saturday, Aug. 23: The Charlotte Beer Babes are partnering with Unknown Brewing to present Craft Chicks Hustle Harder. An admission fee of $10 scores you a beer of your choice, plus complimentary food from chef Rochelle Baxter of Queen City Pantry. An all-female 10-beer homebrew competition will be held, and Unknown will tap a special one-off keg — a Honey Scottish ale — for the event. There's plenty of nonbeer related goings-on too. Proceeds from the event benefit the Pink Boots Society, a group of female "movers and shakers in the beer industry" helping other women in the beer industry educate themselves to further their careers.
Historically, beer brewers were primarily women. The Sumerians, who were the first to brew, even deemed Ninkasi to be the goddess of beer production. A poem in her honor, nearly 4,000 years old, also contains the first written beer recipe. But look around at the next beer festival you attend, and you'll see the large percentage of men versus women betrays this rich history.
A study of Danish children published by the University of Copenhagen in 2008 proved, in simplest terms, that girls have a better sense of taste than boys. Ladies have a clear advantage when it comes to identifying the presence of sweet and sour. A Science Daily summary of the study succinctly states: "According to the figures, boys need an average of approximately 10 percent more sourness and approximately 20 percent more sweetness to recognize the taste."
I'm not suggesting brewers need to cater specifically to women. That pandering path is already littered with skinny cans and pink-clad bottles, drenched in saccharine-sweet artificially-flavored swill. If women are superior tasters, why are they being targeted with inferior beverages? Marketers should realize that beer segregation is just wrong. Products such as Eve and the lamely named Chick Beer aren't helping bridge the divide.
Shedding the "beer is for boys" stereotype is a necessary first step. Ladies, I'm not saying you'll love everything you try, but I do ask that you simply try.
Just last year, labels for more than 29,000 different beers were approved. If you're unsure whether beer is for you, you just haven't found a favorite yet. Thankfully, groups like the Charlotte Beer Babes are here to help, and this weekend's event is a great time to join the craft beer scene.