It's not a particularly comfortable topic on The Session this month. Nichole is our host and the topic is Women and Beer: Scary Beer Feminists or a Healthy Growing Demographic? Phew. Where do you start with a question like that? I'm not sure I've ever met a scary beer feminist, or if I'd even recognise one. That the demographic of women drinking beer is not especially healthy is pretty much beyond doubt, however: 50% of the adult population, yet every set of statistics on the subject I've ever seen has shown women to be a minuscule proportion of the beer drinking public.
Yes, it appears to be changing -- there are certainly more female voices in the online beer world than there used to be, on both the production and consumption side -- but they are still way under-represented. It may be partially one of those Lean In things, that women are just less interested in making noise about beer than the boys are, but I don't doubt that there's also a real gender-specific apathy towards beer behind it. When I went looking for hard figures in the 2013 Cask Report by way of illustration I didn't find what I was looking for, but instead there's an odd sort of half qualitative metric, saying most licensees believe more women are drinking cask ale. It also includes the statistic that a mere 34% of women in Britain have ever tried cask ale. Perhaps we can chalk some of that up to the image problem of some British cask beer, something not shared by every other beer culture, but that's still an incredibly small number.
The number of women out there enjoying what the beer world has to offer may indeed be growing, but that growth is both from a very very low starting point and appears to be happening extremely slowly. In the years that I've been paying attention to beery happenings there have been several initiatives by the trade to pitch their product more towards women, most of which have been poorly conceived and doomed to failure from the start. I'm more hopeful of general trends like good restaurants beginning to carry good beer; of a greater spectrum of quality beer being available; of more and better beer education being available from producers and retailers; and of smarter, more attractive branding. These are the best weapons we have in getting the female wine drinkers to occasionally give a craft beer a go. But I'm sceptical if they have sufficient collective firepower to ever win us a fair share of territory in the war of the female palate.
For one thing it's dark: a proper deep shade of red-brown. There's lots of foam at the beginning but this subsides quickly and the aroma from the surface promises hints of spiced treacle. I had been expecting something quite fruity and sticky but instead it has these strange and very tasty dry cherry sherbet notes, with elements of prosecco, hyper-sweet children's cough medicine and old lady perfume in there too. Very weird, and not a beer that can be consumed quickly as there's just too much going on. The flavour is noisy.
I've no idea what buckwheat is supposed to impart flavourwise but the cocktail of oddness in here resembles nothing I've had before. For all that, I quite like it as a sipping beer, a role it adapts well to as it warms up and flattens out a little.
Nitch says she doesn't want an argument in this Session, which is absolutely fine by me as I have no real answers to the questions, only a resigned melancholy that the female perspective is so lacking in the beer world; a thankfulness for those women who are making themselves heard, in what they say, write, and brew; and an off-kilter beer to drink, and write about, and perhaps help persuade those of either sex to go and explore more of what beer is and does.