Beer and Boobs

This is what I look like.* I’m male, white, thirty-one years old, wear glasses, and have a big bushy mass of facial hair. On any given day I’m generally wearing a pair of jeans and a brewery T-shirt. I am the very image of what generally comes to mind when you hear the words “beer nerd.”

And god, do I ever find it disappointing how many other beer nerds pretty much look exactly like me.

I caught this on BeerPulse (formerly BeerNews) this morning:

On a day-to-day basis my gender rarely crosses my mind when I’m working. If I’m judging a beer competition for example, I’m not relegated to fruit beers and low-alcohol products lest I am over-challenged — and I am generally on the top-flight panels because, quite simply, I’ve earned my right to be there by being good at what I do.

So writes renowned UK beer writer and enthusiast Melissa Cole in a recent op-ed. In the piece, she briefly sketches some of the problems she has had in being taken seriously in the world of beer as a woman — men relegating her opinions as being somehow lesser, making hasty assumptions about her sexual preferences, making bawdy jokes about her appearance, et cetera. She goes on to bring up how similar issues plague the world of journalism in general (this is far from an issue solely relevant to the world of craft beer), and finishes thusly:

All I can ask is that the media takes a long hard look at its role in portraying women and, also, to advocate that more women stand up and say “judge me on my abilities, not on my boobs” then maybe, just maybe, we will have a slightly better world for the next generation of budding professionals.

To expand on Cole’s point, we’re really talking about privilege. Male privilege, and (though she doesn’t get in to it), white male privilege. If I’m walking around a beer fest or go into a brewery, tasting room, or bar, my white skin and flowing beard give me an automatic “one of us” identification card: just look at that guy! Of course he knows his beer. And I certainly do — I’ve worked very hard over the years to develop my palate and knowledge to the point that I have, and I certainly spend a great deal of time, energy, and no small amount of money on this hobby.

But because of how I look, I’m pretty much automatically going to get to be one of the in-crowd. I can sit down, mention a couple of hop varieties and I’m instantly taken seriously by the large craft beer community (both online and off) that pretty much looks exactly like me. Not so for women and people of color, who often understandably feel left out of the very homogeneous beer nerd groups. How many times have I been to a homebrew club meeting or a craft beer event with only a handful (or less!) of token female faces, and with nary the sight of a person whose face would be darker than about 5 Lovibond on the color scale? It’s not that the craft beer community at large is sexist and racist (at least, no more so than the societies in which it is embedded), but that the attitudes and perspectives of many in that community prove to be hurdles to getting those outside the narrow confines to join us.

How many beer geeks think nothing of making racially-charged jokes about the drinkers of malt liquor, for instance? Or Corona, Tecate, and other Mexican lagers? How many times have I heard a less-than-stellar brew (usually one with fruit) referred to as “chick beer,” or a “panty dropper” by some white guy in his twenties with a scruffy piece of face fuzz? I’ve even seen beers referred to as “faggy,” which just makes me want to punch the jerkwad saying it. This stuff hurts those to whom the insulting names are targeted, and it just makes us look like xenophobic jerks.

Not only does it hurt women and minorities, but it also hurts us, the straight white guys who are already in the “in” crowd. It hurts us because we’re sidelining perspectives and attitudes that can provide information and knowledge we don’t already have. Everyone’s palate is different, and getting the widest possible array of perspectives is the best way of really understanding a beer — I was once reviewing a beer with Shana, and until she mentioned that she was getting dried apricots on the aroma, I wasn’t getting it at all. Once she mentioned it, it was not only present but overwhelming. A wider range of palates and food histories allows a broader conversation that helps us all in our love and appreciation of fermented barley and hops.

So what’s the take-away here? Simple: stop exerting your privilege when you think you’re in the in-crowd. It’s not okay to refer to malt liquor drinkers as being “from the hood.” It’s not funny to talk about how “gay” a beer is if you don’t like it.

And it’s really not a good idea to greet a woman talking about craft beer with a comment on how attractive she is, rather than on how good her palate is or anything else about the actual topic at hand. Talking about a female beer geek’s appearance is a way of belittling her opinions and experience in lieu of her appearance — it diminishes her words and makes her less likely to join us in conversation. Don’t believe me? Imagine if every time you tried to talk about how great the tripel you’re drinking is, you got back a pair of sultry eyes and were told what a “tall drink of water” you are, without actually having your opinions taken seriously.

Guys, we’re better than this. And I think it’s damn time we started acting like it.

*Apologies for the low-resolution image, by the way. I’m using the webcam on my laptop and typing this in the morning while my fiancee sleeps next to me. Hence the low light.


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About danieleharper

Chemist, rationalist, skeptic, feminist, and deeply humanist. Podcasts about Doctor Who and social justice at

5 responses to “Beer and Boobs”

  1. David Ivey says :

    Daniel, that title should get some people’s attention.

    Your article states very well a problem that needs to be addressed and fixed, not just in the craft beer community, but many other areas as well. As you know, craft beer is generally a malt liquor. Its primary source of fermentable sugars being malted barley. Some people and their ignorance…

    Hopefully the community will grow up. I do see many ladies involved and more becoming interested in craft beer. We need to encourage all to join in and not be exclusive in our attitudes.

    David Ivey
    Black Bucket Brew Inbox Magazine Editor

  2. Steve from Rockford (815sox) says :

    Great article as always. I think we would see eye to eye on many things. I must admit then when I recommend beers for my female friends I tend to recommend beers with clove, vanilla and citrus… I automatically assume they do not like hops which is obviously based on personal bias

  3. Carlitos says :

    Maybe it has to do more about money rather than it being it a race issue. Minorities don’t have much income and so maybe that’s why you don’t see many craft beer drinkers other than white folks. I’m a minority and am also not wealthy, so it is difficult for me to drink a lot of craft beer. Single 12oz bottles cost between $1.50-$2.00, so I’d rather limit what I drink or not drink at all. I suspect other people would just rather buy the mainstream beer because it’s more affordable. I also don’t know if many minorities even know about craft beer or if they can find them. The only store near me that has a decent selection is 6 miles away but after that, every store is like +15 miles away. That’s why I’m in awe when I see you guys review so much craft beer. I always think “damn they either only eat beer or they have some serious cash.”

    So I don’t think it has to do with the attitudes of your fellow beer geeks. It’s just that there might not be a lot of us there to begin with. Also, I don’t know how many minorities live around your area, so maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe you can talk about that with Ryan and see how diverse the crowd is in the San Diego beer community as compared to where you live.

    And maybe there aren’t a lot of craft beer drinking women because of social norms. You know, drinking beer is not lady like and that sort. I don’t, but anyway, cool article.

    • danieleharper says :

      Certainly price is an issue, and I wouldn’t want to impose my own white male privilege into this discussion in that way. I’m far from wealthy but do well enough to spend a considerable portion of my “hobby” income on beer. The trade off is that there are plenty of other things that I can then not afford to buy.

      Anyway, certainly social norms are part of the battle here, as culturally-defined drinking norms are very powerful. That’s part of the issue, and it’s one I’d like to do more to combat. My focus in this post, though, was that there’s plenty that those of us on the other side of the divide to that keeps those who are “othered” from wanting to be a part of the community that excludes them in one way or another. If those of us who are straight, white, male, and (mostly) hairy are less than welcoming even to those from other groups who would like to approach us, then we have a problem aside from the social stigma problems you mention.

      Thanks very much for your two cents, and please let me know if I step all over my white privilege again. Cheers!

      • Carlitos says :

        Yeah, I misinterpreted your argument, sorry about that. But yeah racist and sexist remarks would alienate the nontraditional beer enthusiast.

        Anyway, I enjoy your video reviews. It would be cool if you were to meet up with your friends again, like last year when you went to San Diego. It was great seeing the different breweries, the bottle sharing and just the interaction you guys had with each other.

        I also like watching your videos because I like hearing your accent. I know that might be weird but I like the different accents that other people have, like the beer reviewers from Denmark, Louisiana and England.

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