Brewing up barley girls

By Alex Stedman

In a 2003 Miller Lite commercial, two women in low-cut shirts argue about their favorite characteristics of the beer, which eventually leads to a hot and heavy lingerie catfight, the two splashing about in a fountain. Many people had problems with the commercial, and it triggered a backlash for blatantly catering  to men.

To be fair, Miller Brewing Company is hardly the first beer company to use such marketing tactics. Consumers are used to seeing groups of men pounding pints at a pub or raising their cups in a toast after their favorite team scores a touchdown, making it easy to assume that only men are serious about beer. However, a group called Barley’s Angels is trying to show that mainstream companies should focus on other consumers—namely, women.

Barley’s Angels is an organization with chapters worldwide that hold female-only meetings to encourage women to be more educated about craft beer and the role of the female craft beer connoisseur. According to an August 2012 Gallup poll, 23 percent of women prefer beer over wine and other liquor, up 3 percent from 2007. But even with the increase in women who prefer beer, the industry is still a man’s world, according to bartender Lorna Juett, head of the Chicago chapter of Barley’s Angels, founded Oct. 17.

“When I first started drinking craft beer in the city, I got ‘duded’ out,” Juett said. “I got basically told I didn’t know s–t about beer. I didn’t belong there.”

That exclusivity attracted her to the idea of an all-female group of beer drinkers and inspired her to start the Chicago chapter of Barley’s Angels. She was shocked there wasn’t already a Chicago group and started the chapter because she wanted to meet other female beer drinkers after she quit her 9-to-5 catering job to bartend.

At chapter meetings, which are usually held once a month, hosts are required to provide food pairings with the beer they chose to highlight. Kelsi Moffitt, an affiliate of the Twin Cities Barley’s Angels chapter and 2003 Columbia alumna, said the organization gives women a comfortable platform from which to express their passion for beer.

“We’ve been so socially and culturally trained to think that men spend all this time sitting around drinking beer and [that] they somehow know more,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is show that women can be a part of this industry, both as consumers and employees.”

Barley’s Angels started as an offshoot of the Pink Boots Society, a nonprofit that brings together women in the beer industry and focuses on education. Pink Boots created Barley’s Angels so it would be able to continue focusing exclusively on women in the industry, according to Teri Fahrendorf, president and founder of Pink Boots.

Fahrendorf got the idea for Pink Boots in 2007 when, after working as a brewmaster for 19 years, she quit her job to go on a five-month cross-country road trip. She called herself “The Road Brewer” and blogged about her experience.

Fahrendorf said that during her travels she worked with other female brewers who were often shocked to discover that there were other females in the industry. Intrigued, she started keeping a list of female brewers she met and uploaded it online in the hopes that female beer professionals could use it as a networking tool. The list now has more than 800 women.

Fahrendorf said Pink Boots had its first official meeting in April 2008 at the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego. She said she declined requests from male journalists to cover the event, though not for malicious reasons.

“The men always dominate at all the beer industry meetings, so we just wanted to see what it feels like to have only estrogen in the room,” she said.

At the meeting, attendees voted to become an actual organization. Fahrendorf then narrowed the group’s goals to education and filed for tax exemption to earn scholarships for members who wanted to take classes to further their careers. Fahrendorf accepted brewers and other female beer professionals into the society on the condition that they were currently making money in the beer industry.

Fahrendorf said the first step in drawing professional women to the industry is to pique their interest in the beverage.

“Before we have any women [who] are passionate about beer careers, we have to make them into beer drinkers,” she said. “Probably every guy who wants to drink beer is currently drinking beer. Some [women] may not know they want to drink beer.”

Fahrendorf said an all-female group allows women to ask questions they might be embarrassed to ask men. She said one pregnant woman posted on Pink Boots’ online forum asking how brewhouse chemicals could affect her pregnancy and received feedback she most likely would not have found on a regular brewer’s forum.

Jessica Murphy, a local beer blogger at, said it’s sad that women need their own groups and societies, though she believes they serve a great purpose. She said the men’s overwhelming presence at industry events sometimes makes her question her own knowledge.

“I still do feel like the only girl sometimes,” she said. “It’s difficult to speak up when these guys keep talking. I start questioning whether or not I know what I’m talking about.”

Despite the disproportionate number of male and female beer connoisseurs, some beer companies have begun to market to women. Chick Beer, a Wisconsin-based beer company, did just that when it launched in 2010. The company’s beer bottle sports a pink label with an image of a little black dress, and its six-pack case is shaped like a purse. The company website boasts a “soft, smooth and full-bodied” light beer that is “crafted for the female palate.”

“Chick is a brand that is about strong, independent women,”said Chick Beer Chief Operating Officer Dave Lewis in a statement. “We have seized the

pejorative term ‘chick,’ and we are turning it around as a statement on the strength of women. The same holds true for the pink packaging and the over-the-top feminine font.”

The company states on its website that most beer is targeted to men, and it’s time to have a brand for women.

Juett strongly disagrees with Chick Beer’s marketing tactics because she feels they patronize female drinkers.

She added that she disliked the brand because it advertises that it is tweaked for a women’s taste buds.

“Put a light beer in a pink bottle, shape it like a purse, but make it a stout,” she said. “Make it even just a wheat beer that’s slightly sweeter. It would have felt less patronizing.”

Jason Alvey, owner of The Four Firkins specialty liquor store in Minnesota, shares Juett’s stance on the issue, calling the marketing an “absolute tragedy.” He said he believes women don’t need to be targeted in beer campaigns because approximately 40 percent of his customer base is female.

He said the marketing of bigger domestic brands neglects female interests.

“Women aren’t going to be excited to try a beer that is described as smooth-tasting, and the guy drinking it on the commercial is surrounded by other women,” he said. “That is so outdated and ineffective. I find it absolutely staggering that the big beer marketing teams think that works.”

Ginger Johnson, founder of Women Enjoying Beer, an education-based company that also helps beer professionals market to women, said her work exploring the relationship between women and beer is unique. She said she looks at female beer drinkers as she does other beer drinkers but recognizes that they have been largely ignored by the

beer industry.

“Nobody expressly studied beer in the modern age, and that’s one thing I find remarkable,” Johnson said. “I’m still the only one doing this in an independent fashion.”

Alvey said it is fascinating that beer companies neglect women’s interests because they have been an important part in the industry’s history and have been brewing for centuries.

Despite this, Moffitt said beer’s complicated history also negatively affects the perception of women’s relationship with beer and explains why many believe it is not a woman’s drink.

“Back in the ’20s, there were a lot of men who were going to work [and] getting drunk, and they were coming back and beating their wives,” she said. “The women were really against alcohol, and I think [the stereotype is] really a hangover

from Prohibition.”

It isn’t all bad news for women in the beer industry. Juett said being a female bartender and beer expert has helped her stand out, especially at industry events.

Though she described herself as the “token woman” at many professional events, she said she enjoys the opportunity to enlighten others in the male-dominated industry.

“Being a woman and pouring beer at large events has only been an advantage,” she said. “I have an opportunity to add another element, another nuance to it.”

Murphy said the beer industry is interesting because drinking beer is different for everyone, male and female.

“People pick out different flavors and everybody’s tastes are different,” she said. “That’s the thing that I love about beer. It evokes an emotion from everybody.”