Whose Brews?   Our Brews!

A place for musings, sharing stories, trying new things, and exploring the intersections of beer, social justice, and privilege.

On "Non-beer Drinkers and Women"

As part of my own self-education program about beer, I've committed to reading Important Books About Beer, starting with....hell yeah, all the free ones at my local library!

I use the term "all" pretty loosely. Even though I live in a big beer drinking town, there are racks and racks of books at the library about wine and racks about spirits and maybe, I dunno, half a shelf about beer? Folks have been writing about wine for decades, but beer in the US has only been considered cultured or important enough to write about for about ten years. And, of course, the people who are considered cultured and important enough to write about how cultured and important beer is are by and large all white men.

I just finished Joshua Bernstein's The Complete Beer Course, which was sweetly dorky. Bernstein uses a lot of similes with Dan Rather-level silliness, and one of my favorite parts is how he gushes over the top five beers that sustained him through the book writing process (Victory Prima Pils, Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin', Troegs Perpetual IPA, Sierra Nevada Kellerweis, and Allagash White). Bernstein hypes the Prima Pils so much that I, no lie, went and bought one to see if I had missed out on the remarkableness of a beer I had taken for granted. 

In some ways, it's amazing how much beer has changed since the book was published in 2013 - for example, Bernstein implies that gose is not common enough of a style for him to recommend ones that you can easily find. (Probably every brewery was making their 2014 gose release while this book was coming off the press...sorry, Bernstein.)

One thing that hasn't changed through this period: people who are not male and not white brewing and drinking beer. Bernstein includes a special "Women in Brewing" insert after pages and pages of highlighting breweries owned by white men, and I guess I'm supposed to be grateful that? (I'm not.) And all the women he notes are, to my knowledge, also white. There is no "People of Color in Brewing" insert - not like this is something POCs should be clamoring for, but to say that if white women are 2% visible, people of color of all genders are 100% invisible. You'd think we'd be long past the also-some-white-women-did-this-good-for-you! honorable mention foolishness, but, alas, here we are.

On the very next - the very next! - page, Bernstein includes a two-page feature on Crooked Stave, including a conversation with founder Chad Yakobson. They start talking about a special beer, as you do:

The unfiltered Orange was a witbier riff spiced with coriander, Minneola tangelos, and bitter orange peel, a combination that, much to Yakobson's surprise, had universal appeal.
"This was the ultimate beer-geek beer, but non-beer drinkers and women were telling me how approachable and delicate it was," he says.

Wait, what? Did he say "non-beer drinkers and women?!"

Because beer-geeks equals "men who drink beer," and non-drinkers equal "men who do not drink beer," and women equals "gosh, I know nothing about those people."

It is not surprising to me that Yakobson said this. It is not surprising to me that Bernstein didn't check Yakobson when he said this. It is not surprising to me that it didn't get edited out through rounds of reviews at the publishing house. It is not surprising that the irony of printing this comment immediately following the "Women in Brewing" insert was lost on everyone who okayed this book.

It's not surprising to any woman who has spent any time in the brewing industry. This thinking is widespread and patterned; in fact, "women" are named as a population group that is separate from "beer drinkers" in pretty much every beer book I've read so far (promise I'll tell you about the one that doesn't do this). 

In this beer education process, I am reading the texts by the people who have set the framework, the expectations, the measurements, the standards, and the terms. They are not necessarily the first to drink beer or brew beer, but right now they can front like they are because their version is the loudest. In reading them, I am better understanding the rules of the game and how we got to where we are. 

And in this education, I return again and again to this core true: we need more than an insert in a 320 page book. We need to author our own stories.

Anne Sloan

Anne Sloan

Anna K

Anna K