Women drink craft beer.
It seems like a pretty obvious statement, but apparently it needs to be said.
So I’ll say it again, this time with dramatic punctuation: Women. Drink. Craft. Beer.
They drink a lot of it and the number of women who are discovering the craft beer industry is growing every single day.
As of 2013, women account for 25% of total beer consumption by volume in the United States and they account for 37% of total American craft beer consumption.
A recent poll suggests that beer is now actually the first choice of alcoholic beverage for US women aged 18 to 34 (Take that, white wine).
Women work in craft beer, too. According to a 2014 Auburn University study, the United States brewing industry is now roughly 29% female.
And while statistics on gender-specific drinking habits here in Canada aren’t quite so robust as those recorded by our YUGE neighbours to the south, even a cursory glance at our local brewing scene would suggest that here in Ontario women are embracing craft beer just as wholeheartedly.
The Society of Beer Drinking Ladies, a Toronto-based organization founded on the straightforward concept of giving women a safe place to enjoy some beer away from lecherous bar bros, has seen enthusiasm for their efforts swell to the extent that the first 30 women-only events they threw drew as many 350 women. Their most recent event earlier this month drew 500 beer-loving women and, for their next event, they’re trying to find space to accommodate an expected 1000 beer drinking ladies.
Barley’s Angels, an organization dedicated to “the appreciation and understanding of craft beer among women through events with craft beer professionals” has no less than seven chapters in Ontario.
Ontario-based beer writer, Certified Cicerone, Prud’homme Beer Sommelier, and Beer Judge, Crystal Luxmore has recently teamed up with her sister, Prud’homme Beer Sommelier and Community Manager, Tara Luxmore to monetize their vast beer knowledge by offering guided tastings and customized beer events as “The Beer Sisters”
Beer writer Robin LeBlanc just co-authored the soon-to-hit shelves second edition of a guide to Ontario’s craft beer scene.
Ontario is home to Mirella Amato, the first woman in Canada to become a Certified Cicerone and the first non-US resident to earn the Master Cicerone certification.
Jon Downing, Brewmaster Professor and Cofounder of Niagara College’s Teaching Brewery, a brewing program that is the first of its kind in Canada, estimates that women currently comprise around 20% of the brewing students on campus each year.
And while they don’t keep statistics on their member breweries’ make up, the Ontario Craft Brewers recently used the occasion of International Women’s Day to shine the spotlight on the growing ranks of women working in all levels of Ontario’s craft beer scene.
In short: Women like craft beer. Women are extremely knowledgable about craft beer. Women are helping drive this province’s current craft beer boom. Women in Canada are brewery owners, founders, brewers, sales reps, supervisors, communications directors, event coordinators, and directors of marketing.
And yet, people in Ontario still think it’s appropriate to call a beer something like “Farmer’s Daughter’s Melons” or to slap a badly drawn cartoon with big tits on the side of the can.
I was recently confronted with this shitty reality in December when I was gifted with a “beer advent calendar” from the Ontario Craft Brewers–the very same organization that went out of its way to showcase its female members back in March. The calendar, featuring a 24 tallboys from member breweries, was, obviously, a pretty badass gift, but around the fourth or fifth day I pulled out can of Amber Eh! from Niagara Brewing Company. The can for this beer features a scantily clad lumberjack with a jaunty pose, a maple leaf cap, and shorts exposing enough ass cheek to seriously question Amber’s suitability for work in the timber industry.
I hadn’t seen this can before and I remember thinking, “Man, aren’t we better than this?”
It made me consider the fact that the advent calendar, the Ontario Craft Brewers, and the province’s brewing industry as a whole really did still feature some questionable choices when it came to sexist imagery, distasteful names, and objectification.
It made me look back at beers I had, apparently, come to just accept, beers I had perhaps overlooked, and beers that I haven’t purchased because of their cheesy and derogatory marketing and it made want to ask these breweries why, when we all know that women are playing such a vital role in the growth of this industry, they thought it was OK to use them as simply decoration on the can.
And so I asked some of them.
Here’s what the ones who answered me had to say.
The brewery: Barnstormer Brewery
The offence: “Betty” the pin-up girl who adorns all of Barnstormer’s cans.
The response, via email (edited for length):
“This actually is not a road we’ve been down before, and the story behind our branding has little to do with women in the sense you perceive it to be, endowed generously or otherwise.
Barnstorming is a form of stunt piloting made popular in the US following WWI due to a surplus of light military aircraft in the country [. . .] To better identify their aircraft in the eyes of the public, many of the pilots opted for artwork on the nose of the plane. [. . .] Regardless of any personal belief in the sexuality of the imagery, I think the resurgence of this style of artwork in modern culture exemplifies its timeless appeal.
The history of barnstorming has never been deemed sexist, It was in fact one of the only industries of the time to allow women to compete at the same level of men. The very success of historic figures like Katherine Stinson and Bessy Coleman threatened contemporary stereotypes and served to propagate ideas of equality during a period in which the notion was not yet popular.
Our cans are modeled after these planes; not in sexist fashion, but in respect and admiration of all these pilots, their aircrafts, and their contribution to the growth in civil aviation. Are [sic] branding is not mocking a naughty person next door, or body parts of females, or anything sexual as some other cans are.
Your enquiry actually got me thinking about our business and how women influence it on a day to day basis. I am happy to say our fermenters in the brew house are each named after iconic female aviators, some of which were named above.
[. . .] Yes, we decorate each of our cans with a pin-up girl. Her name is Betty. She has become a focal point of our brand, even has her own twitter account, and a signature component on each of our labels. Like the barnstormer’s [sic] for which our brewery is named, we associate ourselves with this artwork to become identifiable in the public eye. We don’t share the opinion that her presence in our company in anyway objectifies women or damages the credibility of the craft beer industry.
Moving forward, we will update our website to show the historical context of our choices, and the values of our company as a whole. If anyone would like to comment on any part of our business, positively or negatively, you’ll always have our ear and a response.”
The brewery: Nickel Brook Brewery
The offence: The can art for Naughty Neighbour American Pale Ale
The response, condensed from a phone interview with Matt Gibson, Nickel Brook’s Manager, Corporate Sales and Marketing:
“This comes up for us from time to time. We have twitter and we have instagram so every once in a while we get a comment like, ‘oh I love this beer but I wish you guys didn’t have this label.’ It’s not like we’re getting a flood of angry letters, but every once in a while it does come up and it’s something we have to wrestle with. I guess our take on it at this point right now is that our label, I would’t put it in the same category as Farmer’s Daughter’s Melons from Whitewater or whoever that was, or even the ones that are explicitly sexual because it was never the intention of our label to be sexual. Maybe sexy—and I know that’s a fine distinction—and certainly not sexist, that was never the intention.”
Ben’s Beer Blog: “I’m not sure many people ‘intend’ to be sexist…”
MG: “I would argue that something like “Farmer’s Daughter’s Melons” is intending to be sexist in that it’s intending to be provacative. Ours is meant to be more of a play of pin up girls on WW2 bombers or Sailor Jerry Tattoos, that sort of old-fashioned, classic look. Admittedly it might be a little outdated and it is a conversation that we’re continuing to have. One thing that [brewery owner] John [Romano] mentioned when I brought this up with him was that when we did switch the branding from our old label, which was a little more on the nose and a little dumber looking—”
BBB: The old label looked like a porno DVD cover.
MG: “Yeah, it was a girl shushing people. When we switched from that to the current label, our sales went up something like 250 per cent. I’m not saying “screw you women” but it’s an effective label and it is effective advertising. So we have to look at “what’s our imaging and what’s our brand image.”
The other thing that made us excited about it last year was that the Toronto Burlesque Festival approached us—we didn’t engage them—and they said, “We found your beer in the LCBO and we love the logo and it plays really well with what we’re doing.” They’re the largest burlesque event in the country and we sponsored their big festival in the summer and I think we had over 3000 people over three days at Revival and the Mod Club. So a huge group of, arguably, very empowered and sexually liberated women were embracing our thing and just think it was fun and cheeky—which was our intention behind it and never to be sexist but just be fun and sort of playful. ”
BBB: You do have a “less blatant” example when this argument comes up but it wasn’t something—I’m assuming—this isn’t art created by a woman or the subject of the art was not the person that came up with the idea, and that’s typically where the argument lies about whether or not something is objectifying or empowering, i.e is the subject involved? As I’ve spoken to women in researching this article, they see this kind of marketing or they see this beer and it still kind of makes them feel like this isn’t their industry. They’re “the thing on the can,” not part of the community that made the stuff in the can.
MG: “For sure. And that’s definitely a conversation we’re continuing to have. I can’t say where the branding is going to go so I don’t want to say anything ye–or at all–but if we feel that it’s something that needs to be changed, then we will. We’re not married to it forever. It’s an ongoing conversation. We redid it three years ago and maybe our awareness has shifted. And I hate to make this argument because it sounds like “I’m not racist, I have black friends” but at least half of our staff across all areas are women. We’re very much aware that women are driving the growth in craft beer—specifically, women seem more willing to try the sours and the funk beers that we’re pushing out more. We have a lot of success in that market so we definitely don’t want to do anything that’s going to alienate those drinkers.
At the end of the day, our job is still get as much beer to as many people. If we’re finding that people are saying, “I love this beer but I don’t drink it because of what’s on the can,” then it’s something that we have to change. As it stands right now, our sales are strong across the market.”
The brewery: Whitewater Brewing Co.
The offence: The can art for Farmer’s Daughter Blonde, and the name of a variant brewed with watermelon, called “Farmer’s Daughter’s Melons.”
The response, via email:
“We certainly don’t intend the Farmer’s Daughter to objectify women just as we don’t intend the Whistling Paddler to objectify men. For some it may be jokes however, for many of us with a rural background, it represents the beer well in that it is a beer with traditional values. Clean and not complicated. Wholesome. Hardworking. We are in the process of making some changes but it is not because we think the brand sexist but rather a change will be fun.
Farmer’s Daughter’s Melons is as you say, “A boob joke”
Best of luck with your article.
Christopher D Thompson
Whitewater Brewing Company”
The brewery: Niagara Brewing Co.
The offence: The can for Amber Eh! which features the above-mentioned “sexy lumberjack”
The response: None.
Despite five separate attempts to contact Niagara Brewing Company for a response via different media, including two Facebook messenger inquiries that I know were “seen,” the company declined to provide me with any response to my questions about this can label.
I think you’ll probably agree that, with varying degrees, all of these responses suck.
Obviously Niagara Brewing Company ignoring my inquiries entirely sucks.
And obviously Christopher using “it’s a boob joke” as a defence for one of Whitewater’s sexist beer names really sucks (I pointed out that it was a dumb boob joke in my inquiry to show it was defenceless and he agreed it was a dumb boob joke AS HIS DEFENCE. That’s some Donald Trump press secretary level spin right there).
But even the responses that don’t suck as obviously still suck. Matt Gibson, in our conversation, tried hard to show there was no ill intent in Naughty Neighbour’s can design and I believe that he doesn’t think it’s offensive, but having a single group of women use your can for an event does not mean you get to infer that all women are OK with said design.
And while I’m impressed that Barnstormer is open to feedback and willing to make changes, the nod to history for the “timeless” nature of titilating art doesn’t do much for me. It’s great they appreciate groundbreaking women, and I dig the rehashing of the wikipedia entry for barnstorming, but I have to call attention to the fact that it’s Betty, the titillating pin-up who makes the can, and not a likeness of the early aviation pioneers they name dropped like Katherine Stinson or Bessy Coleman–the latter who was actually black and part Apache and might be the coolest potential candidate for a beer tribute ever. (Seriously, how cool would that can art be?).
But let’s be honest, it is perhaps not surprising that all the people I talked to about these labels were men, and it’s likewise not surprisingthat they all essentially failed to see why these types of labels were not harmless or were not “all in good fun.”
And so when I still didn’t have any good answers about why this shit still happens I reached out to Garnet Pratt Siddall.
Garnet is the owner of Side Launch Brewery in Collingwood, the 2016 Canadian Brewery of the Year. She is also the newly-appointed chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers. If pronouns are new to you, I should also point out that she is a woman. Importantly, Garnet (the woman) was also at the helm of Side Launch Brewery when the company opted to release a beer flavoured with clementines that was called “Clementines Gone Wild” and featured a curvy silhouette on its can.
So I talked to Garnet by phone about why this is happening, why this happened even under her watch, and why this is still OK.
BBB: Why is this still OK?
Garnet Pratt Siddall: “I don’t know.”
GPS: “It’s not the answer you’re looking for, but I don’t know why it’s still OK. I can make some guesses about why it still happens, and part of my guess comes from how Clementine’s Gone Wild happened–in an organization I led–being a woman having worked in male-dominated industries my whole life.
I have always been a very firm defender of my own rights as a woman and a person in whatever workplace I am in. What I can say is that, I can remember it very clearly. I was sitting in a room with the three other managers of the business at the time, who were all men, and one is now a woman. Three men and me. And when we knew that we were going to add clementine flavour to a beer, we were just sitting around a table trying to figure out what we were going to call it. And because Clementine can be a female name it started out as “Oh my darling Clementine” and then it was like, well that’s not really jazzy enough from a marketing standpoint. And we did some mock-ups of an orange with a smile on it, it was like, really cheesy, and then all of a sudden we threw the concept out to the guy who does a lot of our design work. He glommed on to the fact that we were releasing the beer right around spring break so he tried to make it a spring break kind of theme.
And so the first mock ups were Clementine, a woman on the can, and they actually were offensive to me. I mean, there was a nipple in the silhouette. It was really, really bad. And it just got scaled down so much that I just kind of just became OK with it, by default. Which is a horrible thing to say, but even as a president of a company, sitting in a room with three guys, who are all sitting in a room looking at me and saying, “This is OK. There’s nothing wrong with this.” We had that conversation and I actually ended up believing it. And that’s the problem.”
Garnet likens the experience to many she’s had in other industries where there’s pressure to speak up, but it’s uncomfortable to do so. She tells me about working in a bar and dealing with an obnoxious customer. He was a regular, well known to the staff and he said things that were offensive to female staff members. “I should have said you have to leave,” she said of her decision to treat the guy with kid gloves, “but I didn’t, because there’s part of me that doesn’t want to make a scene, that doesn’t want to be that shrill, angry, feminist bitch.”
More recently, Garnet’s female staffers at Side Launch chose to wear sexy lederhosen for part of the brewery’s Oktoberfest festivities two years ago. “I made it clear to them that they didn’t have to,” she says. This year, someone suggested to new female staffers they should wear the same outfits and someone came forward to Garnet and indicated they weren’t comfortable with it. “And so I put a stop to that,” she said. “So I’d like to think I’m increasingly comfortable putting a stop to that sort of stuff, but it keeps creeping in. Even in an organization where there’s a female head, these suggestions are made and it’s up to me to say no as opposed to the people who ought to know that it’s not right in the first place.”
And therein lies some of the problem, likely. “This stuff just goes on and it’s left mainly to women (though sometimes men) to speak out,” Garnet says. “And I think we’re putting the onus on the wrong person. There’s a default perception that women who open their mouth get told they’re a bitch and men are assertive. It’s like, somebody at a brewery decides this is a label we’re going to use, and everyone is like, “yeah it’s great” and so the women there are put in the position where they have to be the ones to say, “no, this isn’t cool” and they risk sounding like a bitch and risk not being asked to come for a beer after work. It’s like “Oh she’s one of them.””
Given that Garnet is the newly-appointed chair of the only organization currently representing the interests of the province’s small brewers in any sort of fashion, I was very curious to know if this issue is something that comes up–especially given that every offensive beer label I’ve mentioned thus far does in fact belong to members of the Ontario Craft Brewers. To my mind, this is the sort of thing a member organization ought to tackle. Garnet opened my eyes a little about just how difficult a task that might be.
“We’ve definitely talked about it and it has come up,” she told me. “We have a draft of a code of conduct, and it comes up at every meeting, and it’s going to come up at the next one in two weeks.” The problem, she says, is when it comes down to discussing how to police such documents. “Let’s say someone decides something is offensive, do we vote to decide if it’s offensive? I’m the only woman on the board. Maybe four of us find it offensive and five don’t? Only in the most extreme cases are you going to get consensus.”
What then? she says. Do you revoke a brewer’s membership? Do you ask them to rename their beer? Pull 10,000 or 20,000 cans from store shelves? What if they say, “fuck you. No.”
As Garnet points out, it can become a potentially sticky issue. “The OCB has largely historically received a good chunk of money from the province,” she says “and the government has alwasy encouraged us to be as inclusive as possible, so a code of conduct makes sense, but the province will say, is this product available in the LCBO? And if it is, and the LCBO is OK with it, how come you aren’t?”
So while Garnet assures me she and the OCB are working toward having some kind of guidelines, it’s not as simple as making a rule.
And so, while I’m something like 2000 words into this blog post on sexist craft beer at this point, I am faced with the niggling doubt that there will be dudes–and probably a lot of dudes–who will still read all this (or more likely not) and dismiss it as a non issue.
They’ll see that most of the stats I quoted above show women are still a minority and so it still makes “good marketing sense” to appeal mainly to men. They’ll accept the brewers’ defences that have been offered (by those who bothered to talk to me) or they too will dismiss the boob jokes and dumb names as harmless fun. They’ll gloss over Garnet’s frustration about the inherent sexism of male-dominated industries or they’ll point to Garnet’s frustration with her member organization as a clear indication that this is something that can’t be solved and I should probably move on.
Or, more likely, as I’ve encountered when I raise this topic with men in the beer industry, they’ll tell me I’m being overly-sensitive or trying to make an issue where there isn’t one.
And to that I would like to say a proactive, “Fuck you.”
Because this matters.
We may have our quarrels about what exactly craft beer is, but one thing everyone who works in and supports the industry can likely agree on is that “craft beer” stands in opposition to big beer. Not to put too philosophical a point on it, but whether it’s the boundary-breaking spirt of experimentation, the attention to quality ingredients, the focus on supporting local business, or the collaborative, collegial and inclusive spirit the companies making beer in Ontario and across Canada embody, people who gravitate to craft beer tend to do so because is, to put it in overly-simple terms, it feels like it’s something “better” than the alternative macrobrewing/marketing companies that churn out lacklustre lagers. So why, in matters of marketing, can’t this industry strive to be better than the dude-focused big beer ads of old?
If you’re still not convinced, I won’t preach craft beer evangelism at you any more. I won’t “mansplain” objectification to you if you’re still struggling with why this isn’t OK. I won’t try to (further) shame any brewers with questionable marketing. I won’t even try to point out that alienating the industry’s largest growing segment of drinkers and a massive resource for future employees is probably a bad business decision.
Instead, I’ll offer some words from women working in this industry. These are people who love craft beer as much as anyone else, who have chosen to pursue careers in an industry they are passionate about, just like all of the men out there, but are so often being reduced to decoration for a beer can.
I asked these women one simple question, “How does this kind of marketing make you feel?” and here’s what they had to say.
“Thanks for asking me to participate in this. Here’s my thought on your question.
When I see this type of marketing it reminds me that there are still so many brewery professionals and consumers who are unable to see me as an equal.
I don’t feel as if I am welcome to work in production, especially when I remember all the times where I’ve been ignored while standing next to my co-worker, who has the exact same title as me. When I see these ads it reminds me of the times people have not seen my value as a brewer, but could only identify me as muse or ask if I am even capable of lifting a grain bag. I don’t see an end in sight with these ads and this type of behaviour in the beer world.
I’ve been told to get a thicker skin. I’m working on it.”
Folly Brewpub, Toronto
“I wish I could say that it offends me, but at this point it’s something I’m desensitized to. When I see objectification or sexism in marketing, what I really feel is that it’s low-hanging fruit, and it frustrates me because it seems like everyone knows it. I don’t necessarily care how artistically the woman on the can is depicted, or how empowered you think she feels. There’s too many other great ideas and creative concepts in this world, at this point in time, to still put forward sexist marketing because it was presumably the best idea on the table. So if I had to say anything to the folks putting out this antiquated marketing, it would be this: you can do better.”
GTA Community Beer Rep for Muskoka Brewery
“As a consumer, this kind of marketing makes me feel that those breweries have very different values from my own and it deters me from wanting to buy their product.
As a marketer, I believe that when a brewery puts their beer in a package, the package takes on the important job of telling that beer’s story and communicating the brewery’s values. It makes me sad to see breweries using sexist imagery to tell their stories and convey their values. It also makes me curious to understand why and how the brewery came to the decision to associate their brand with that type of imagery. Who are they targeting? Why do they feel this is this the best way to target those people? How do they want me to feel about their company?
Maybe they are saying that their beer isn’t meant for me or that it’s not meant for 50% of the population. Maybe they are saying that a woman’s value is in her appearance. Maybe that’s not what they’re saying at all, but that’s definitely what I take away whenever I see sexist packaging.”
Left Field Brewery, Toronto
“As a woman who not only loves beer, but also works directly in the marketing of it., when it comes to sexism in beer marketing there is a fine line between a simple fact vs. a blatant tactic to include something that may be offensive. There is no fault in recognizing that your core demographic of, say, a fruity beer or Radler appeals more to women, that’s fact–but hey, it may also be your brother’s favourite beer, too. It becomes offensive when said beer showcases women (cartoon or not) in a half dressed manner and they are turned into an object and not seen as someone who may actually enjoy the beer themselves. The days of beer marketing with half dressed women are over. Canadian craft breweries should relish the opportunity to pave their own path and not make a carbon copy of what the Budweisers of the world succeeded with in 1988.”
“Your question is relatively simple, but the process of trying to answer it was anything but.
This isn’t a problem unique to the beer world, we all know that. But the beer world is where I spend a lot of my time, and it’s the one where I can have an influence on change.
This sort of marketing gives me a lot of feels, and they aren’t positive.
I feel irritated. I feel insulted. I feel degraded. I feel disrespected. I feel unwelcome. I feel distrustful. It bums me the fuck out. But mostly I feel very, very irritated.
It’s irritating that at this stage of the game some people still think it’s a good idea to resort to the sort of played-out, lowest common denominator kind of garbage that we should have left behind in the last century. It’s lazy. It’s myopic. It punches down. It demonstrates a lack of some sorts. Sensitivity? Awareness? Respect? Intelligence?
It makes me wonder about the type of people who create this type of image for their business. What were they hoping to accomplish? Who do they think is drinking their beer?
But mostly, how do they treat the women in their lives?
It’s also irritating because it reaffirms and reinforces an underlying current of systemic sexism in this industry that we all try to ignore or deny. The majority of my experiences during my five or six years in this industry have been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve had some discouragingly negative experiences though, and with the exception of some pretty gnarly stuck mashes and one poorly-timed black eye that was entirely my own klutzy fault, they were all related to sexism of some sorts.
I can’t separate the sexism I’ve experienced with the sexism I see in the marketing. I see these images and I’m reminded of every stupid comment, every slight or creepy exchange, every time I was made to feel powerless, invisible or insignificant because I wasn’t a man.
It’s irritating because I am SO FUCKING BORED of having to have this conversation. There are only so many things you can say about it because it’s always the same faux-pas being committed. But this stuff continues to happen, so I’ll continue to talk about it in hopes that other people are too, and eventually we’ll get through to the last of the dinosaurs holding on to their backwards opinions. Or they’ll die. I’m good with either. I’m irritated because these sexist marketing stunts insult everyone’s intelligence, waste everyone’s time, puts unnecessary emotional labour on women, and divert attention and energy away from the thing that brought us all here in the first place.
I don’t know a single woman who came to the beer world because she wanted to get a cookie for being a special feminine snowflake. We came for the beer, just like all you guys. Dealing with sexist bullshit in all its various forms and intensities is an unfortunate consequence we’ve had to suffer for trying to live our best goddamn lives.
Overall though, the one unpleasant conclusion I draw from these backwards tactics is that someone is telling me that I don’t really belong here.
I don’t have equal standing. I’m not in on the joke, I’m the butt of it. I know that this isn’t representative of everyone’s opinion, but there aren’t too many men willing to call these breweries out and it makes me wonder why.”
Microbrasserie Dieu du Ciel, Montreal
Guess what? I’m not the first person to try to tackle this topic. If you want to read more, here’s some other thoughts on the subject.
- Folly Brewpub brewer, Christina Coady, writing a blog post in early 2016 to talk about her involvement in a special brew in celebration of International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day, opted to use the occasion to muse on What We Don’t Like Talking About
- Inspired by Coady’s blog post, beer writer Robin LeBlanc then wrote about the issue for Torontoist
- Dennis Talon wrote about this issue for Bartowel in August, inspired largely by the beers of Old Flame Brewing, who produce a beer called (ugh) Dirty Blonde. (Incidentally, I contacted Old Flame for this article and they essentially reiterated that what they said to Dennis then still stands and the the branding is supposed to have a “very playful and respectful tone.”
All beer can photos stolen from the LCBO website or my own instagram.
Society of Beer Drinking Ladies crowd photo c/o Ren Navarro.
72 thoughts on “Let’s talk about sexist beer marketing”
Thanks for writing this. When I was in the process of building a business plan for a brewery, one of my partners felt like he had the branding all nailed down with Amber Ale called Skinny Red Head. It became a bit of a riff trying to explain to him why this was a terrible idea and how it would harm our brand. Wish I had this article to show at the time.
Thank you Ben.
Reblogged this on Schoolhouse Craft Beer.
Thanks for a really thorough article. As one female brewer responded, many of us (myself included) have become desensitized to this type of marketing. Your article reinforces the harm and reminds all of us that we can (pun intended) be better than this.
Hi Ben- thanks for writing this. On March 17th in Guelph, the Queen of Craft program (through Wellington brewery) is covering this topic exactly, showcasing the same labels as well as going into the precarious history of the role of women in beer media. It will be a discussion with over 80 women, determining what images empower, and which do the opposite. Let me know if you’d like to join in!
Thanks for this article. Something I’ve been thinking for a long time – I haven’t bought any of these beers specifically for their branding. It’s cheap, it’s lazy and it’s offensive. Period.
Fantastic article. This is something that we really struggle with in my business. I operate one of the grocery stores in the province that is licensed to sell beer. We sell 3 of the 4 beers you mentioned, and one of them was our best selling beer over the summer. I’ve had the opportunity to engage with some employees at one of the breweries you mentioned and their response was indifferent and said something similar to, “at least it’s not as bad as an Old Milwuakee label.” I’m at a point where I really need to consider my comfort selling these beers, regardless of how well they sell. That is complicated by the fact that beer isn’t nearly as profitable in grocery stores as most believe, and eliminating a top selling item is less than ideal.
Sexist imagery and marketing in the craft beer world have always been the refuge of the lazy and creatively challenged. When no one at the table has the gumption to actually imagine something truly new and creative, let’s pull out the pin-up girls and double entendres. And the fault lies with the men of the craft brewing industry in two ways. First obviously for taking the low road. Secondly for not being the ones speaking up against it. The women in this article who say that they feel under pressure to be the challengers to the system are absolutely right: everyone in the industry, not just the women, should openly challenge this attitude that somehow using this imagery is okay. So here’s a challenge to the men reading this blog. Go to Facebook, email, Twitter or your social media weapon of choice, contact the brewers mentioned in this article, and tell them “As a man, I am disturbed that you would feel your sexist imagery has any place in the modern craft brewing industry. Get your shit together.”
So it’s acceptable to objectify women so long as it’s a celebration or homage to the historical objectification of women? lol ok. By that logic could I put a swastika on a can of beer and claim it’s to honour historical iconography and that would make it okay? (Sorry to go from zero to Godwin’s Law in one sentence—I’m just bad at analogies.)
Question for Nickel Brook: Might that 250% spike in sales of Naughty Neighbour also be related to the format change that went along with it (from 6 packs of 355 ml bottles to single 473 ml cans) and not the label change? You almost seem to infer that sales went up because the new label is more acceptable/less offensive when I think it’s a lateral shift at best, and that the single serving format almost certainly was what drove up sales.
Anyway articles like this are great for shining light in dark places. As long as men in society view women as sexual objects and not as equals we will always have this problem and maybe by addressing the symptoms we will slowly cure the disease. You can either speak out or be complicit in your silence.
FYI Matt Gibson’s sexy/sexist comment totes reminded me of this:
[Ben, there is a double “with her” in the Luxmore paragraph]
“So it’s acceptable to objectify women so long as it’s a celebration or homage to the historical objectification of women? lol ok.”
Yes! Exactly what I thought. That response is completely illogical and ridiculous. I call it the “but, history!” argument.
As a beer-drinking woman, thanks for writing this.
I’ve shared it in a group I’m part of – Writing for Change. We drink beer, write letters, and try to make some change. Normally we’re writing politicians, but some days it’s hard to feel like we have much influence.
But your post gives me hope that if we start smaller – say with a few letters to brewers about branding – it might give us the little success we need to build momentum and take on bigger things.
If any Ottawa women want to join us, we can normally be found at Tooth and Nail in Hintonburg every other Monday night. So far, it’s been a group of strangers that become fast friends over Porters.
Good article. I enjoy nicklebrook brewing and I think the naughty neighbour is a tasty beer.
However I rarely buy it cos of the ridiculously can. I bought a can without thinking a few months ago and it was quite embarassing when my partner saw it!!!
I know there is a lot of ontario craft beer on the shelves and these breweries want to stand out. But really I dont think it works at all to sell more beer. If it did then the big companies (bud etc) would be doing it and they are not.
Loved this, thanks for writing! I’m a woman who loves craft beer, and I never buy brands with this style of marketing. I’ve also never really sat down to think about why. And now that I am thinking about it, I do agree it’s sexist and in bad taste, but actually I never buy these brands because they look cheap and lazy. As in, if this is the best marketing you can do, I don’t want to drink your crappy beer. I want to drink beer made by people who are serious about beer.
Hopefully writing like this will inspire lazy marketers to put more effort into their branding to highlight what is great about their beer.
Thank you for writing this. It’s so frustrating to see these tired old tactics used time and time again.
The problem with your argument is that the women being objectified don’t actually exist. Furthermore there are legions of women who like sexual imagery of women. Don’t believe me? Search “instagram models” on Google. I doubt you will acknowledge the validity of their perspective though. They should probably find a good male feminist like you to teach them what opinions a woman is supposed to have, right?
Thanks for giving me a list of beers to buy (and if they taste good) to recommend to friends. You sanctimonious self righteous puritan.
First let’s talk grammar and spelling… Without that you have no argument. Everything you’ve said is redundant and fuel for Ben’s argument. If you want to talk more about this I’d love to meet in person and discuss why you’re ignorant and misinformed. sub cultures exist, look at vaporizing nicotine… it’s shit, but it does exists but it doesn’t make it right pal. As a brewer and a passionate feminist supporter I will stand ground and say that you’re the reason why we have to keep this track on repeat. want my number? email? I’ll stand up for what equalitiy and what is right. I won’t insult you or get mad but i will preach, teach and inform you because clearly you are misinformed or never had a mother. “You need a mother very very badly!” — Hook 1992. you’re welcome. Fuck yeah I Just quoted Hook!
And yes, I meant to grammatically fuck up. Eat A politically correct erect Penis. you shallow minded and throated human.
Excellent article Ben. I hope this article leads to changes in the industry……changes that are long overdue.
Excellent and timely article, Ben. The craft scene here in BC has a significant number of women brewers (including Julia Hanlon, who brewed the Beer of the Year at Steamworks) but there are also Craft breweries that use objectifying/sexist imagery to sell their products. It’s like the sign says, ‘I can’t believe I still have to protest this crap’.
We’re organising a women-brewers-only cask festival for April, and it’s wonderful to see the response from the breweries–so far 100% positive, and the engagement of the women doing the brewing is fantastic.
I’ve spent 17 years brewing and farming, being patronized for my sex much of the time, by fellow Brewers and “fans” alike. I’ve even heard other women claim that their workplace isn’t sexist because they are “just one of the boys”, including the porn and strip clubs. The CBC in Portland had conference-sponsored events at strip clubs.
As Tim points out, sexism is rife out here in BC too, and I’ve heard the same excuses for labels here.
I don’t mind being called a hardass, humourless bitch, though. Women with labels like that got us the vote, human rights, won wars and grow the food that feeds us. We don’t need to be afraid of what they call us.
I am proud to be a brewer, farmer, owner, manager and sales person. Women in our brewery are not “girls”, our belt knives are the same size as the mens’, and we all work hard. I am especially proud to work with men and women who treat each other with respect and care – and really bad jokes.
Thoughtsnon Hoppy Floppy?!? She drinks better beer than any Ontario beer jounalist. Fine taste.
if an empowered woman wants to express herself and be herself… you can’t fight it. That’s like my new blog ” Small beer, Small bean.” That was also my nickname is highschool. If you’re going to judge others for expressing themselves you’re no better than rolling stone magazine.
I admit I didn’t know who or what Hoppy Floppy was but I googled and, while her IG account is private, it would appear she is a beer fan who poses provocatively with craft beer.
Your stupid dig about “drinking better beer” aside, you’ve actually hit the nail on the head of where the line can be drawn. “Hoppy Floppy” chooses to share sexy images of herself, and thus this is an example of empowering use of sexuality. When dudes use sexy images of women and the subject isn’t involved or is fictional, it’s objectification.
Is it Garnet or Garnett?
Solid points regardless.
The biggest part of sexism here is you, Ben. It’s 2017- let women have a fu**ing voice of their own. If all these ladies had a problem with the labels, they would’ve written an article themselves.
As a woman in the craft beer industry, for over 10 years the least of my issues is a beer can (has Old Mil been an issue for you, Ben since that was released?) Most of the issues stem from men themselves.
Oh, you’re surprised I’m a woman who works at a brewery?- Sexist
Oh, you’re surprised a woman likes beer?- Sexist
Oh, you’re surprised I know more about you than beer?- Sexist
Oh, you still want to make rude comments about my body?- Sexist
How often are the roles reversed on that?- Rarely.
I’ve been at the Nickel Brook shop when large groups of ladies (bachelorette party?) were talking non-stop about how much they love the Naughty label and how beautiful and empowering they felt it was.
Let women speak for themselves
Hey Janet. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
I totally agree that women need to “speak for themselves” which is why I reserved over 1000 words of the above content to let women who work in the beer industry speak directly to the issue. I think it is by far the most impactful part of this post and the reason it’s gotten over 1000 facebook shares in one day.
Also, you’ve said “If all these ladies had a problem with the labels, they would’ve written an article themselves.”
That’s not just a silly thing to say it, it’s a counter-productive attitude that speaks directly to reasons this shit keeps happening (and for the record, lots of women HAVE and DO write about this and it’s great!).
However, not all these ladies have platforms to share their thoughts–they are brewers, marketers, business owners etc. They are doing real work while people like me are dicking around on the internet. Not every one has the means or time or inclination to write about this issue, so those that can and do need to do it more.
Second, putting the onus entirely on the women to speak for themselves isn’t going to help anyone. Garnet spoke directly to idea that people dismiss women raising these issues as bitches. It’s awesome when women speak up, clearly. But if they don’t have allies listening to their issues and sharing them any way they can, what’s the point?
I agree that all the things you’ve listed are sexist and I agree most of the issues stem from men themselves. That doesn’t men shouldn’t talk about this. It means we really, really should!
Sweetie, many women have already written the article. Pay attention.
*More about beer than you
How Barnstormer Brewery thought that pointing out that some of their fermenters, OBJECTS THAT THEY OWN, were named after women shows they’re not sexist shows how completely out of touch they are.
Not allowing Ben a voice on this topic because he is male is counterproductive. This post has started a dialogue here and has had good traction on twitter and he’s helped bring this to the forefront of a lot of people’s minds.
And to repeat my point from my earlier post, it’s better to speak out than be complicit in your silence.
I also applaud Ben for calling out breweries by name and calling shenanigans on their limp rationalizations. I feel like lesser beer bloggers would worry such a thing would cut off their supply of graft or exclude them from information or invitations.
Anyway, women who want to objective themselves because they feel it empowers them, well, I don’t have to understand it do know it’s none of my business. For me I feel it sends the wrong signals and is demeaning more than it is empowering, but to each her own. It’s anyone’s right to do so within an adult and consenting context. That is one thing.
It’s a completely different thing for a company to use sexualized imagery to sell a product.
Please resist the urge to equate these two things or to argue that just because some women like to rub beer bottles on their tits on instagram that makes it okay to objectify women on beer labels.
#Firstworldproblems – Get over it. Maybe if I heard someone express concerns over Miley Cyrus twerking about with a giant dildo or perhaps the “instafamous” young lady [loosely] who built a following and career exclusively off of pictures of her derriere, I’d be able to take this “problem” seriously. Until women stop objectifying THEMSELVES, don’t expect anything to change. THAT’S equality. I don’t hear anyone complaining about the newly minted Mr. Clean…
You want to do something for the betterment of women? Call attention to female genital mutilation practiced in some of these third-world shit holes. Maybe raise your voice against pedophilic marriages in Pakistan, Afghanistan and many other Middle Eastern counties. Too far away? Sound the alarm about child sex trafficking in Seattle. Send up a flare re the decriminalization of child prostitution in California. In other words, get serious…
Here’s another idea… TAKE THE COMPLIMENT instead of CHOOSING to be “offended”. I personally am great admirer of the female form in all it’s varieties and relish in it’s artistic presentation. It SHOULD be celebrated… Or perhaps you’d prefer a Burqa?
Tell me ladies, do you REALLY want a world filled with PC, metrosexual man-boys who are afraid to express interest in you for fear of being shunned or accused of something? Do you really enjoy dancing exclusively with your female BFFs? If your answer to these questions is “yes”, then by all means continue. REAL MEN know how to remain respectful when expressing their attraction for you and a sexy label on a beer can won’t change that. Keep ginning up this kind of social stigma and you’ll only further reduce the number of them still available in the wild.
This article makes excellent fodder for discussion on a beer blog but it’s a completely ridiculous proposition in the grand scheme of things. SEX SELLS, it’s marketing 101. Unless you want to start anesthetizing everyone’s limbic system, that’s not likely to change either. It’s how we’re wired to help guarantee procreation of the species.
So many logical fallacies in here, it’s hard to count. Try again.
If you’d like challenge anything I’ve said here with something substantive I’ll be happy to discuss it further. To simply dismiss it all as logical fallacy and to suggest I “try again” seems a waste of bandwidth…
“REAL MEN” “man-boys” “metrosexuals” – it must be difficult for you to cope in an ever progressing world when your definition of masculinity is so narrowly defined and desperately clinging to so few defining factors. I recommend a good counselor to help out with that fragility.
As you know, this is a beer blog. So when you complain about “First world problems” while frequenting, and taking the time to comment on, a beer blog (which – shocking I know! – discusses issues relating to BEER) it’s not very cogent, to say the least.
Lol, I never cease to be amused when folks who (apparently) fancy themselves as “progressive” lead in with the ad hominem attacks in lieu reasoned discourse. How predictably disappointing. I know… Surely there’s something psychologically wrong with anyone who doesn’t share your perspective. YAWN…
To repeat the offer I made to another poster, if you’d like to challenge anything I’ve said here with something substantive I’ll be happy to discuss it further. If not, I guess I’ll just have to assume that any alleged lack of cogency is actually just a reflection of your own incomprehension.
Thanks for weighing in though 😉
Here’s a tip: when your original “argument” involves the use of terms like “REAL MEN”, hashtags like #firstworldproblems, and statements like “get over it” and “TAKE THE COMPLIMENT”, as well as a lack of understanding in the difference between a woman choosing to share sexy images of herself and a company using sexual imagery to sell a product, your “right” to any logical discourse goes out the window.
Look, there will always be bigger issues. No one is arguing that this is more important than genital mutilation, or ending world hunger. But to imply that we shouldn’t be discussing this, or that it’s not important, because there are worse things in the world is a silly and fallacious way to attempt to bury a viewpoint that you don’t like.
Sex sells, yes, but it’s a cheap and lazy way to sell things. There are plenty of other breweries doing just fine without resorting to lowest common denominator advertising.
The flip side of not blatantly sexualizing women for profit isn’t wearing a burqa, btw. It’s not one or the other.
If you read to the end of post, there are many women in the industry who feel very negatively about this kind of advertising. I’m happy that guys like Ben, and judging from the comments and number of shares on this post, many others in the industry, are listening to them and their concerns. If that makes me less of a man in your definition, I’m happy for it.
Have a great day.
Interesting… So my right to logical discourse is null and void, eh? Lol, that has an ominously fascistic ring to it, doesn’t it? I fully grasp the difference between the subject of your concern as expressed above but perhaps I wasn’t clear in making my point. The success of Miley Cyrus and her ilk establish without question that there is a market for this kind of salacious content. If we’re happy to accept this, why then is it not okay for an enterprising marketeer to use this knowledge to their advantage using fictitious characters?
Boiled down to it’s essence, what we have here is an attempt to suppress artistic expression under the guise of “sexism”. Oh the irony… To find ourselves living in a world where Andres Serrano’s “Immersion” wins awards but a saucy beer can label is cause for alarm. As they say, you just can’t make this shit up 😀
Living in a free society with something like The First Amendment means that there’s a high probability that you’ll be exposed to things that you’ll “feel very negatively about”. Seeking to stifle the creators of said content or pressuring them to alter their course is quite simply an act of intolerance.
What kind of man you are is of no consequence to me and I’m not sure why you would attempt to make this personal. I’m more interested in what kind of citizen you are and your ability to respect your neighbor’s right to free expression.
Thanks again for weighing in.
Something specific – well since you asked, let’s start of with your use of the fallacy of relative privation in an attempt to dismiss the issue at hand. An oldie, but a goody.
Just look at what Collective Arts brewery is doing. That’s all you need to do. Men are no longer neanderthal, right? It’s 2017, get with the program.
Men are genetically programmed to enjoy the female form. Yes it’s 2017. It will take more than 200 years of “society” to rid them of a trait 100,000 years in the making. Should we keep working on it? Yes. Change will only happen when women shut men down at every sexist turn and when fellow men do the same. It still bothers me that craft beer loving women feel they have to segregate themselves to enjoy the industry’s fruits. If 350 women regularly gathered at a public space I would expect men to change their behaviour quickly as every woman there could demand it. So would the bar owners. Money talks. And if that’s what works then so be it.
Okay I’m going to be all over the map here. So many things to address. I’m six beers in. Here goes nothing…
Dear Jay zed,
Question: If there was a fire in Ben’s backyard should he not try to extinguish it because there are oil fires raging in Kuwait?
As Diane said: fallacy of relative privation. A bigger problem doesn’t mean we should ignore a smaller one. We should deal with both. All of the issues you raised are certainly worthy of attention, and arguably far worse than a small handful of beer labels that show poor judgement, but that shouldn’t detract from the matter at hand or invalidate any attempt at inclusion in the craft beer microcosm that is Ontario.
Furthermore I doubt a single person with even the slightest bit of feminist leanings thinks Miley Cyrus a good role model for our daughters. So you’re not going to win any arguments by bringing that up. Twice. I can’t speak for the entire readership of this blog but I don’t see anyone happily accepting her trolloping about on wrecking balls nor throwing up there hands and giving up the fight as a result. It has absolutely no bearing on the conversation the rest of us are having on this subject.
Also yes. Sex sells. I don’t hear anyone arguing that point here much less are they confused by the very basic concept. Indeed it’s the very crux of the matter. Sex sells. But surely craft brewers are better than resorting to this tactic. Read Ben’s blog again if you missed the paragraph where he said as much.
I would assume more women than not are more attracted to enlightened men who don’t use phrases like “the female form” and “take the compliment” and I don’t think you have to be a real man or an imaginary man or any kind of predefined concept of a man. You just have to be a decent human being who treats all human beings as equals.
The First Amendment is an American construct I’m sure you know. (Ontario is in Canada) That said, these breweries are free to use whatever imagery they want. We are all free to take issue with it and speak to its detriment. You’re free to chime in here and nobody is trying to shut you down. You have just as much right to speak your piece as anyone and people like me who offer counterpoints are not fascists trying to shut you down. You weaken your argument by suggesting as much.
Artistic expression like free speech gives you the right to express yourself. It doesn’t give you the right to be sexist or racist or excuse acting like a lousy human being. These freedoms of expression are not absolute in Canada and should be exercised within reasonable limits.
And finally I can’t believe I spent all that time writing this reply to someone who offered Mr Clean as a counterpoint.
Thank you Ben. This is a disconcerting situation. Maybe the breweries that aren’t creative enough to leave the sexism out of the marketing of their products are not creative enough to produce a good product. Creativity and willingness to put in the long hours should be the only criteria that measure who should be brewing “craft” beer. I will definitely be on the lookout for this questionable marketing in the future and call out the brewers in question.
Wow, this is a supper well written article. It is truly amazing the world we live in; we should be smarter than this but unfortunately we continue to sell everything with sex. One can only hope that eventually the marketing world will start coming up with some NEW ideas!
I like to think that craft beer drinkers are smarter than to buy a beer because of it’s packaging; at least I don’t. A good colour scheme catches my attention first. If I’ve never tried it before, and it’s a style I like (and it’s not too pricey), I’ll probably buy it. Leave the sexist marketing to the big breweries.
I just started following your blog. This piece is great and needs to be shared far and wide. As a consumer, the images on the cans inform my decision-making as to where I am going to spend my money. I’m glad you shared women’s voices to the broader community, it made for a much stronger post. I’m all for guys supporting women in the quest for equality, but hearing from women directly makes a huge difference. I look forward to more posts!
Thoughts on Lumber Sexual from Covered Bridge Brewing Co. But thank you for Mansplanning how women consumers and industry insiders think. I agree with this article, but also think it’s been written by many Female Beer Bloggers
I really have to add to Jay Zee that the last time a guy told me to “take the compliment” he’d been putting his hands where they did not belong. Groping is not a compliment, it’s assault.
I stopped following this nonsense when I realized I made the mistake of presenting a Constitutional argument in what turned out to be a Canadian forum… My bad. That said, I had to respond to this latest fit of stupidity… Willfully conflating the existence of artwork with a situation where someone actually placed their hands on you is hysterical lunacy, nothing more. Side note: If you think yourself a bitch (as indicated by your moniker), how do you think that’s going to affect how others see you? Have some respect for yourself FIRST if you want others to follow suit.
uncontrollable laughter. It’s the only possible response to such a completely absurd set of statements. Please stop telling women what to think, how to behave and to respect themselves (by allowing sexism, because that’s clearly self-respect!). BTW, you’re still following this nonsense….
Yes, because laughing it off is certainly easier than presenting a reasoned account of how you can possibly assimilate the “assault” you apparently feel viewing someone’s artwork with a situation where someone allegedly put their hands on you. Not only is conflating the two stupid, it does a disservice to actual victims of sexual assault by minimizing their experience. I’m not telling anyone how to think or how to behave but then again, given your previous comments, more knee-jerk hysteria isn’t at all surprising. What is surprising is that apparently you expect strangers to hold you in a higher regard than you have for yourself. Good luck with that. It doesn’t matter what gender you are, self-identifying with pejoratives rarely creates positive outcomes for anyone.
Great article Ben, thanks for publishing it. Persephone Brewing is in complete agreement and in spite of the maligned market opportunity, given our name, we’ve deliberately chosen to stay away from any sexist branding. This issue in our industry has bothered me for years so appreciate people like you highlighting it.
I have heard through the grapevine that Whitewater will be changing the label on their Farmer’s Daughter can.
I found this article when it first came out but it came up in conversation yesterday and I’m really glad I found it again, re-read it and shared. Ben, this article is really well done. You’ve done a great job getting views from all sorts of people in and out of the industry. (Maybe the only potential viewpoint missing is women who don’t care about or aren’t bothered by this type of marketing, but I suspect they’re a bit hard to find.) I found Garnet’s story in particular really informative. I’m one of those feminists who often doesn’t pay attention to sexist marketing so I appreciate the wake up call. I’ve been avoiding sexist cans since this article originally came out and am still drinking lots of great beer. (Shout out to Collective Arts – those cans are beautiful.)
My friends and I were discussing this after doing a winery tour in Niagara and someone pointed out that Ontario wineries do not typically have sexist marketing (thought I’m sure there are some exceptions). Presumably because wine is more heavily marketed toward women than beer?
Nice article. This article blog is very genuine, usually, every 3rd women consume alcohol day by day but it’s not bad if it takes more it obvious not beneficial to health, Thanks for sharing this article. got some new sexist beer.
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Thank you for taking the time to write this. This is really important work! 👏
Thats a great piece on women loving craft beer. A point needed to be raised and makes so much sense. Thanks for writing it. cheers
Overly pc America strikes again.