So it looks like the whole issue of attitudes towards women in the beer industry, as covered in some detail in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser recently, is starting to come to a head.
Foster’s recently announced the end of its childishly sexist Good Call campaign, in the same week as Alan Clark, the boss of SABMiller, called for an end to lager marketing that “for many years was either dismissive of, or insulting to, women.”
Two days later, the purchase of Meantime Brewing by SABMiller was held up as an example of how the world’s second largest brewer is starting to address the 50% of the world’s population that has been actively alienated by beer in recent decades.
Dig into this, and you find a very different narrative from the kind of lager marketing and beer scene in which, in Clark’s words, women are “either not present at all or entered as the butt of a joke.”
I’ve seen the arguments played out many times before, so here’s a practical example.
My wife and her friends like beer. Every single one has been patronised and insulted in pubs and at beer festivals when attempting to order beer. So they were reluctant when I asked them if they’d like to come to the Camden Town Brewery for the launch of a new beer.
Camden Town is bursting out of its small premises — hence the recent crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to build a new brewery. In its current location, in a series of arches directly beneath Kentish Town West overground train station, there’s a tiny bar with rudimentary furniture made out of reclaimed industrial timber. The walls are unvarnished and unpainted, giving the whole place a makeshift look.
Posters for Camden’s beers and various other beer paraphernalia provide the decoration. Outside in the cramped, narrow yard, people sit under outdoor heaters in the evenings, and a constantly rotating selection of street food carts provides the solid sustenance.
The hotly-tipped Cloudwater Brew Co, which set up shop in Manchester earlier this year, had done a collaboration brew with Camden, and we attended its launch.
The beer was a Märzen — a strong, amber German lager style. Inevitably given current trends, it was more assertively hopped than the traditional style, but it really worked — the beer was clean and crisp, refreshing and distressingly drinkable, but also had a beautiful balance of soft caramel and tropical fruit hop.
My wife and her friends loved this beer. They loved its flavour. They loved the way it was presented and served, and they loved how the bar staff didn’t ask if they were sure they wanted pints, because it was quite strong.
On top of that, they loved the décor of the Camden Town Brewery bar, the people who were drinking there (around half of whom were women, all drinking beer), the ambience, and the amazing mini-pizzas that were being handmade on the food cart just outside.
It really isn’t difficult to make beer appeal to women.
As has been proved countless times, you don’t do it by trying to create a “beer for women” that patronises them.
You do it by not insulting or alienating them.
You do it by simply taking gender out of the equation altogether, not being too masculine, but not trying to create artificial feminine appeal either, and realising that gender targeting should be irrelevant in beer. It makes about as much sense to talk about beer in gender terms as it would to ask if brands such as Apple, Starbucks or Coca Cola are masculine or feminine.
The vast majority of craft brewers understand this, which is why SABMiller thinks that simply by buying Meantime, it can increase its ability to talk to women about beer.
I’m writing a great deal about the craft beer scene at the moment, particularly how it’s playing out in north London, where I live. I know many readers of this column might dismiss this as a tiny bubble, a hipster fad, the preserve of what they imagine to be the fickle metropolitan elite.
If that’s what you think, I doubt I’m going to change your mind. But please, even if you think craft beer offers no useful lessons for you, if you’d like to be making more money by persuading more women to drink more beer, look at how the craft beer world has done it.
Craft has solved one of the biggest problems in beer, and they’ve made it look so easy, it’s like they’re not even trying. They are. But the key thing is, they’re not trying too hard.