11. Enough with the Tired Stereotypes of Who Drinks Craft Beer

Thoughts on why we need authentic representation in beer and how we get there; and a beer for when ~the veil between worlds~ is thin.

Craft Beer’s Reach Extends Way Past Any One Type of Person, So Let’s Act Like It

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the insidious stereotyping in craft beer that helps contribute to and/or foster the more urgently problematic atmosphere of exclusion and lack of visibility and representation. The way joking about neckbeards seems like lol another dumb trope to laugh about; maybe hold a little resentment toward; possibly make a pandering commercial including if you’re working on the Jim Beam ad account…but that in all actuality, the exasperatingly stubborn image of a straight white bearded guy still representing both craft beer professional and craft beer consumer in the eye of the general public helps keep women, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, indigenous, and differently abled people firmly out of frame.

Coming of age in another straight white (and really, mostly bearded, too) dude-dominated scene, metal, I always felt some level of suffocation from the rigidly formed roles I as a woman was expected to play. Just like in beer, there are absolutely many exceptions—many people and many entire social circles who don’t think this way at all. But by and large, I found women in metal to be sexualized and idealized, born to fulfill the dreams of avid Reddit users who smelled of Head & Shoulders and Lucky Strikes and who thought, that, ya know, other than the Nazi stuff, Varg Vikernes was a pretty cool guy. One of my Worst Boyfriends used the opener, “I never meet girls who look like you and listen to these kinds of bands!”; I was worthy because I was what he deemed attractive and like bands he deemed cool. Another time, I showed up to hang with a few friends on a random weeknight, and one guy, who I’d completely mistaken for a decent buddy I could be comfortable around, expressed his surprise and disappointment that I’d come sans makeup. He couldn’t believe how “boring” I turned out to look. Welp.

If it wasn’t Objectified Sex Goddess Who Exists To Reward Me For Pretending To Like Abruptum, there was the other role of Legitimately Cool Chick Who Knows Her Shit Enough For Me To Approve Of Rolling With My Crew, but that role is kind of a myth, because most men would never, ever get enough of quizzing you on music. As someone with a generally shitty memory and no real knack for memorizing track listings, liner notes, birth dates of session musicians who sat in for B-sides, etc., I often hesitated before wearing certain bands’ t-shirts because I knew it meant that I’d be expected to deliver a dissertation on their demo that only 16 people had ever actually heard.

As isolated incidents, this behavior from men always just seemed like something my female friends and I would laugh and roll our eyes at. It was that extremely toxic “boys will be boys” excuse we’re all expected to accept, the trade-off for being a part of the metal scene, blah blah blah. Only after I’d gotten some distance and done some growing up did I realize that that behavior was part of the foundation of an environment that allowed for too many of us to be mistreated, ostracized, harassed, abused, assaulted, disrespected, and generally left out.

With all that we’re trying to dismantle in beer, talking about image and stereotypes this way can feel trivial. But maybe this would actually contribute to better visibility and representation in a meaningful manner. It seems that tossing the current “white dude is beer” model that has come to sloppily sum up an entire industry is beneficial for moving forward under the knowledge that a beer drinker and a beer professional can be literally anyone. And it should be literally anyone.

I know that, when it comes to women in beer, the roles are too similar to those of the metal scene. Decades of sexist marketing has created the sexualized ideal: the subservient woman serving a man his beer is the ultimate dream. Busty lady plus beer? Now you’re talking. How many men’s entire personalities on social media are basically “I like boobs and beers, babyyy”?

Speaking of “boobs and beer,” too…gee whiz, I’m sure one day I will work up to devoting an issue to discussing this corner of Instagram, but so far, every time I’ve tried, I’ve gotten a headache. Maybe that’s a cop out, but it’s just so complicated. Because there are pockets within that pocket: some of those accounts represent the fact that women can and should post whatever the hell they please, and if that includes content that empowers them, fantastic. But of course there are other accounts that make me instantly uncomfortable, like they exist to cash in on the attention of the kind of men I just mentioned. One thing I know is that you just can’t paint this entire category of Instagram content with the same brush. And, okay, another thing I know is that whether intended or not—and therefore, too often unfairly so—these kinds of accounts only help cement the image of women in beer existing as sexual objects.

There are the other stereotypes…that if a woman is in a brewery, she’s lost, and she’s going to order the lightest, lowest-calorie, closest-to-wine thing on the tap list, and that if she works there, it’s because she’s a looker or her husband owns the place. She can’t know her shit, she can’t lift a keg, she does not belong. Add BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people into this scene, and the result is the same. Too many people can’t wrap their heads around it: but they don’t look like someone who likes craft beer??

This is how people get left behind, closed out, mistreated, discriminated against, abused.

One thing that truly everyone can easily do is lean on the ol’ visibility horn. Remember Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham’s #IAmCraftBeer movement? We need to flood the collective perception of today’s beer drinker and worker with the actual diversity that exists in the real world.

A lot of this is in the hands of writers and editors. We need to constantly be pushing out in all directions past the tired old trope of who has been the focus in craft beer for too long. Think outside the box. I’m not trying to suggest anything deeply bonkers—obviously the meat of craft beer content is brewing, ingredients, innovations in both areas…But what are other ways people interact with beer that maybe you never even stopped to think about?

There was a lot I loved about this piece by Jeff Alworth on Beervana, about how women have enriched beer. One key takeaway, that I related very much to, was how some women entered beer media feeling like outsiders, and actually used that to shape their impact on and interpretation of the industry. Listen, I’ve been obsessed with craft beer for 13 years; I’ve been writing about it professionally for about four; I passed the Certified Beer Server level of the Cicerone and I’ve been preparing for the next level a few times a week for about two years because I am exquisitely dreadful at studying—but I’m never going to be the beer writer talking to you about the nuances of different yeast strains. There are plenty of people who are too brilliant at that.

I write based on how I interact with beer, which is based on my interest in how others interact with it. That’s why I wrote a piece for October—RIP—about Instagrammers who used beer as a jumping-off point for elaborate makeup, nail art, and cosplay looks. And I’m so grateful to the editor at October who let me run with that, because lemme tell you, it’s been hard to get those kinds of stories green-lit. But that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Content creators, publishers, storytellers: give us the unconventional! Tell me the surprising and delightful and unique and novel ways you’ve discovered this person or that is innovating or celebrating beer. I’m almost definitely over-simplifying, and probably being a little overly optimistic, too, but I really believe that if we see a huge and lasting increase in these kinds of stories, it could help to open up the perception of who “belongs” in craft beer, and that could help toward making sure each and every one of those people actually feels welcome there.

Beer Tarot!

This week, I pulled the High Priestess.

The High Priestess represents intuition, wisdom, your spiritual side, and your relationship with yourself. She’s a total badass, basically.

According to tarot legend, the High Priestess appears when the veil between your soul and the spiritual world is at its thinnest, meaning she signals the perfect time to do some deep self-reflection. Take a beat, look inward. Get to know yourself. Address things for yourself you’ve been putting off, make changes you’ve been wanting to make, learn things you’ve been wanting to learn, and so on. Explore things you think will really get down in there and make your soul feel good. Additionally, it may help to keep this a sort of quiet time for you. The High Priestess is about privacy, secrets, and really turning inward, so even if you need to take a beat and step back for some alone time, don’t deprive yourself of that.

Perhaps this is too on the nose, but of course I immediately thought of The Veil when I pulled this card. The name and aesthetic of this dynamite Virginia brewery makes me think of all of this spiritual, other-worldly stuff, as a matter of fact. There happen to be several beers available for shipping to certain places on The Veil’s site right now that have names reminiscent of High Priestess vibes: Imaginary Hug, Heal Me, This World is Not Real, and Realizationz and Dreamz. I’m going with the latter because it uses very on-theme Enigma hops and because it is a spontaneously fermented reinvention of an IPA; in other words, the veil between wild and IPA here is quite thin.

This Week’s Boozy Reading Rec

We’re obviously in yet another new, challenging (maybe even more so??) stage of the pandemic, where it’s most certainly not over but the overall vibe that it is is more pervasive than ever, and that’s of course complicated and problematic for small business owners. The ways that breweries, bars, restaurants, shops, etc. have persevered throughout this time are incredible, and also shouldn’t in any way cast a shred of doubt on the businesses that did not make it, as they were failed by our government. While we’re still very much in this period of history and not comfortably looking back on it yet, it’s already fascinating to read about breweries who were able to open and do business during the pandemic.

That’s just what you can do with this piece for Imbibe Magazine, by Joshua M. Bernstein, a writer, author, consultant, tour guide, etc., etc.—including all-around incredibly nice person who has always been very giving with his time and wisdom, which I really appreciate especially considering how much I’ve long admired his work. Read about the obstacles faced by breweries from New York to Colorado and lots of places in between in “New Breweries Have Persevered to Open During A Difficult Year.

Until next week, here is Darby in her banana Hawaiian-style shirt, basking in the sunshine as we wait for flights and she waits for a snack at Wicked Weed in Asheville.