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Monday, December 1, 2008

Why Don't You Drink Craft Beer?

I drink American "craft" beer most of the time when I drink beer. I'd say "almost every time," but I drink quite a bit of non-American craft beer, and I do occasionally wind up with something like a Michelob or a Guinness. But probably 70-80% of the beer I drink is brewed in America, and is not a mainstream-type lager.

I'm also a straight, white male; and I'm like a 0 on the Kinsey Scale straight, 100% German-Scots white. I am neither proud nor defensive about any of that, just laying it out because it's relevant in this context.

"This context" is the aggregate of craft beer drinkers, and if you haven't ever noticed before -- which would be tough, unless you're solidly non-self-aware -- the aggregate of craft beer drinkers is a white swordfight. It's guys, we're white, and we're straight: Straight White Males. The floor of a big fest, like the GABF, is thronged with them (this pic from the 2008 GABF shows about 12 women that I can see, I don't see any black folk, and, well, an Internet picture doesn't do gaydar). There are exceptions: plenty of women like craft beer, I know some black, Latino, and Asian folks that do, and I know a couple gay and lesbian craft drinkers (and yeah, there are probably more than I know). But work the numbers, and you're looking at a group that's almost 9 out of 10 white straight guys. (Craft brewers aren't too much different, looking at who was up on stage to accept GABF awards this year (and last year (and the year before...)))

How come? I know why I like the stuff -- no, wait...maybe I don't, but I for damn sure know I do like it, liked it from the first full beer I had, and liked craft beer almost as quickly. But I don't know why it's so exclusive to SWMs.

Thing is, with everything I drink -- wine, beer, liquor -- there are SWMs drinking "the good stuff," whether it's single malts, old growth zinfandels, craft beer, what have you. Without going into stereotyping, a lot more women drink good wine than drink good beer, gays and lesbians have similarly been known to enjoy good wine, and black folk have gone into cognac in a big way. My point: it's not a fear of flavor.

Is it us? Does the behavior, character, stereotypes of straight white men add up to something everyone else just doesn't want to be around? I do remember hanging with a black couple, friends of ours, at an Irish bar Cathy and I liked, and the guy asking, "What the hell is it with white folk, anyway? You get a couple Guinnesses in you, and you all start singing!" Is it that? (I'm pretty sure he was kidding...I am, mostly.) These days we all get along in the workplace -- pretty much -- so I'm guessing this isn't it, although interpersonal strain is a weird area.

Maybe it's something much simpler: nobody ever asked. A lot of conversation in craft beer aficionado circles (sounds so much better than "talk among the geeks") is about how to get other people to drink and like craft beer. They talk about it all the time over on BeerAdvocate. But it's always about "my brother" or "this guy at work." White guys talking to white guys.

I know I try to get women to drink craft beer, and I've had some success. But as for gays and African-Americans, these days, after doing this beer/booze gig full-time for 13 years...most of the gays and non-white-Americans I know, like most of everyone I know, already drink craft beer, and that's how I met them.

We need some diversity, for diverse reasons. First, it is always nice to get some variance of opinion and thought. As brilliantly illustrated here and here, and here, getting a view from somewhere other than SWM-ville is a good thing. The SWMs are cool, I love us, but we tend to group-think (as any other group does, and the more homogeneous the group, so goes the thinking). Break it up.

Second, different people bring different tastes, different desires. I've always said we need more kinds of brewpubs; we need more kinds of everything to do with beer. Bringing in new groups to drive that difference is good. Do I think that because someone is gay/female/black they would like something other than me? Not necessarily, but chances are better than zero that they might.

They're also more market. It is in every craft beer drinker's interest to get more people turned on to craft beer. (Well, except the snooty little snots who get off on liking something no one else 'gets' because it brings meaning to their life, and they can always worship some tiny output brewery, much like the cork dorks and their subscription-only grape juice.) The more folks who drink it, the more places they'll sell it, the fresher it will be, the better off and more stable the breweries will be -- kind of like we've been seeing in the past three years, only more so. Getting more people, more diverse people, turned on to great beer variety will help that process along immensely. challenge to craft brewers, to craft drinkers, to other beer bloggers. Think about how you can be more inclusive. Tweak your advertising? Recruit diversity? Get your SWM blinders off and realize that other people might like beer too? Get out into some places you haven't been before, and talk beer. You've got the SWMs, the people that put you in your comfort zone. Now stretch. Talk to people. It may not be easy, but it may not be as hard as you think. We've got an African-American president who likes beer, and drank craft beer, in a brewpub. Big wedge.

I'd love to see this happen. Because I really do believe beer will save the world -- not quite sure how, but it's got a lot of potential -- and the more people working with us, the better.


Anonymous said...

I think you're missing some of the big picture, Lew. Fact is, beer in North America is a white male thing, generally speaking. I worked with a lot of gay males during my hospitality industry days and they told me that most of their friends and lovers drank cocktails over beer, which might be why so many gay-marketed beer brands have failed. I've been to predominantly black clubs in the north and south, and except for the Caribbean places where loyalty to the national beer brands runs deep, it's mostly liquor and mixers on the tables. Latin clubs I can't comment on for lack of experience.

Fact is, the craft beer tent is more inclusive than the beer tent as a whole! Every, and I mean every, beer tasting or dinner I've ever hosted has been well attended by females, and for years I've been noticing a much stronger female presence at beer fests this side of the pond than at those in Europe. Drop in at any stylish beer bar after work and see how large the female contingent is; you'll see how inclusive it is gender-wise, at least.

Final point: Note that last sentence specified stylish. So many craft beer places are basically sports bars with better beer -- big screen televisions blaring; bad, deep-fried food on the menu; crap...err, memorabilia all over the walls. These are generally white man hang-outs, which is why they attract white men.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Stephen - stylish is an operative word here: we need more places like BeerBistro or Brasserie Beck to attract women and give beer sexier image.

Lew Bryson said...

Well...let's start with where we are in total congruence: the last thing you mention, the "(white) man cave" aspect of so many craft beer bars. Ain't that the truth? Why does it have to be dark, with overly loud sound system-barrages, and bad food choices? I know some people like that, but God, dare to be different; there are those of us who don't!

But there's plenty of light beer consumed at gay bars -- I've seen the dumpsters (in the name of research, of course) -- and cocktail and wine drinkers can be converted to craft. I don't think any ethnic or cultural group is incapable of changing tastes. We see Spaniards drinking single malts, Italians drinking beer; God help me, you were with me at that disturbing place in Düsseldorf where Germans were drinking bad sherry and, what Spanish beer was it, Damm? Can happen.

I think the gay-marketed (and black-marketed and woman-marketed) beers have failed because of their shallowness. They're usually labels slapped on pretty ordinary beer, a blatant "buy me because you're gay/black/Latino." Beer sells like mad in Africa; someone could leverage that with importing or licensing, maybe.

More inclusive? The numbers I've seen say women purchase about 25% of mainstream beer. Are women buying 25% of craft? No one knows -- tellingly -- but I'd bet against it.

That's part of the big picture, of course: it's anecdotal. We don't have numbers. All I have is my eyes, and my eyes don't see much except straight white guys. More women than ten years ago, for sure, but I don't think it's 25%.

Anonymous said...

Well, Lew, you know what they say about lies, damn lies and statistics. I wonder how much of that 25% of female beer buyers are buying beer because it's on the grocery list, seeing as women are still the primary food shoppers in our society,and how much of the remainder is shopping for alcopops. Because I'd bet that if the beer buying decisions for 25% of the market were really being made by women, we'd see a lot more female friendly beer advertising out there.

And honestly, I think you'd be surprised by just how much craft beer is consumed by women. Maybe not in the beer bars and perhaps not at the kind of places where ratebeerians and BAs gather, but in ordinary bars and restaurants and at home. Yes, anecdotal evidence is all I've got, but I know what I see as I travel around the continent.

Lew Bryson said...

Hmmm. I travel too, and I don't think I'd be surprised. Though the more "non-BA/ratebeer-frequented places" there are, likely the more women will buy craft beer, because I think the biggest thing holding back craft beer sales at this point is availability; it's not there to be bought.

I'd also question the "women buy 25% of the beer for their mens" line of thinking, though maybe that's because the women I grew up with all drank beer. German-heritage area, granted.

But...more anecdotes, not so? I know craft beer drinkers who are dead certain that craft is more than 4% of sales in the U.S. and the big brewers are -- somehow -- suppressing the facts, because everyone they know drinks craft beer. We see what we see.

What I saw that set off this post is this: Beermapping's map of Philly. There is a great chunk of beer bars and brewpubs around Center City, and in North Philly, the Northeast, South Philly, West Philly, out Germantown Ave., to nothing. The map's not wholly up to date, but there are huge swathes where there's nothing craft going on, and I can verify that. (For the record, there are large beer-desert swathes of Portland, San Francisco, and Denver, too; I checked.) And that's when I started thinking, what's the next thing to do? Sell these areas on the idea of craft beer. Because as you know, craft isn't that much more expensive, and it's often local.

There's a lot that can be done, though. I don't think there's anything that prevents women from drinking beer, and...were I a woman I'd be looking for a beer that respected me a bit more than the marketing of mainstream seems to do. Opportunity. Blacks drink beer in Africa, lots of it, Asians drink beer in copious amounts. Find the key for craft.

Anonymous said...

Interesting points, and I appreciate your desire to make your hobby/passion more inclusive. I think anecdotal observations are inconclusive at best. Just because you do not see many African Americans at craft beer festivals does not mean they are not drinking craft beer. I do not go to those things either and I drink plenty of craft beer at home, in bars, restaurants etc. Also how do you know that gay guys are not going to craft festivals? It is not like they are wearing rainbow flags or pink triangles on their chests. Maybe you have some market data to support your observations, I am not saying they are wrong, but I think you need more concrete data to draw those kinds of conclusions.

Jeff Linkous said...


From the blogging perspective ...

I come from a news reporting background, and diversity is a mantra when sourcing stories: cast a wide net, many voices, include the underrepresented demographics, don't just round up the usual suspects.

With the beer videos I've shot, I've tried to follow that model. Sometimes it works, especially at festivals, almost too easy (hope you don't mind links):

It's not always easy. Things I've done outside of festivals, where I've looked for a traditional source to comment, it's been guys, as you yourself can attest:

Lew Bryson said...

I acknowledged the "visibility" issue with gays in the original post, and I'm not limiting my observations to beer festivals: I too drink beer in bars and restaurants, at sports arenas, and I buy it in stores...and I'll stick by my characterization. There are demographic studies that pretty much back it up as well; I've seen them, but don't have them to hand. You don't say anything about women; willing to concede that one?

Lew Bryson said...

Hey, Jeff,

You found some women, I'll grant, and I've seen more women at fests recently (last five years), but...still pretty white, no?

Anonymous said...

I am not disagreeing with you, just hard to draw conclusions from anecdotal observations of a professional beer enthusiast/crtic/writer who is more than likely going to places where other beer enthusiasts go. I like steak, but I do not go to steak festivals and very rarely do I go to “steak” restaurants. See my point. You can drink craft beer and not have it as a hobby or a passion. If you have access to demographic studies that support your assumption why not reference it. Anyway good for you for being inclusive need more of that going around

Anonymous said...

I agree with JP in that anecdotal evidence is largely useless in proper debate. But this is a blog, not proper debate, and so I'll still maintain that craft beer at least mimics, if not exceeds, the inclusiveness, or lack thereof, of the overall beer market.

Just to play devil's advocate, why is inclusiveness such a big deal anyway? The craft beer market is growing at a pace that's only barely maintainable already, so why the need to draw from a bigger swath of the public? I don't see death metal bands reaching out to females or pasta makers bemoaning the fact that they don't market enough to Latinos.

Lew Bryson said...

Very good question, Steve: why? Couple things. First, if the economy continues to quiver and quaver, craft will likely need all the help it can get. Second, I think craft potentially has a much broader appeal than where it is now, and I'd love to see that happen (for variety/diversity of customers and of people to drink with). It works other ways. We (my family) aren't Italian or Latino, yet we love the food; I'm not a European aristocrat, but I enjoy listening to classical music. Oh, and it's a bigger audience for you and me.

Anonymous said...

Tend to agree with Steve the devil. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect (aren't we all anytime we mention race?) if you look at society and entertainment in general we are not very integrated. I mean, I can go to a PSU game with 110,000 folks and there are NOT 10-12% black in attendance. I can go to a baseball game and it is not 10-12% black. I can go to restaurants and bars and it’s NOT 10-12% black. Ditto for churches

Conversely, you can go to certain high school basketball games, churches, concerts or bars and you will find 90% black.

Same often goes for what people eat, drink, watch and how they spend their money.

Bill said...

I lived in San Jose, CA for eight years, and in the South Bay brewpubs, you'd see lots of folks of Indian and Chinese and Korean and Japanese ancestry. I lived in Chicago's "boystown" for two years, and there were a lot of gay men drinking a lot of craft beer. My many trips to San Francisco -- a lot of gay men drinking a lot of craft beer. In all these places, women drank craft beer. In places with money and decent craft availability, craft isn't a straight white male phenomenon!

Having said that, Lew still could be right overall. I dunno. The only major fest I've been to is Madison's Great Taste of the Midwest -- lots of women there. Not 50-50, but I'd bet more than 25%.

I'm unclear as to the marketing aspect Lew's calling for -- other than Boston Beer and New Belgium, what breweries are putting ads in anything but beer mags/papers? If breweries had the resources to segment their marketing, they would... but all but a handful don't, so...

brewess 99 said...

When I first read the article, I had two thoughts enter my head. First was: Two craft brewers who belong to three of the groups discussed. Garrett Oliver brewmaster for Brooklyn Brewery and Barbara Groom of Lost Coast Brewery. Second thought: I remember the Pink Triangle beer (PT) which was specifically marketed to the gay population. A portion of the sales of the PT were to go to AIDS charities. Not that I would call the PT beer, craft but it wasn't brewed by the big 3.

I am not sure there is a direct answer as to how to increase the broad spectrum consumption of craft beer amongst women or other groups. I am female and do a fair job of making decisions as to what I drink. Yes, I also have a group of friends who probably drink more craft beer because of prodding from me.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting points. Might be somewhat true, at least enough to make one pause for a second and think about this.

Perhaps its just in your part of the country or perhaps your point of reference? I have a little skewed point of reference due to the demographics of where I live. Lots of technology companies and lots of universities, means lots of "diversity" of cultures. I've seen many ethnicities at the homebrew shop and the tap rooms around here. One of the brewpubs here in NC just opening up has a woman head brewer(and I know many female craft beer enthusiasts). We even allow "Yankees" into my homebrew club ;-)

Fact is I never really paid that much attention since they are all just beer people to me. But maybe in other parts of the country things are different?

Unknown said...

Lew, you may want to see this subgroup of the Aleuminati social network -- a group of women who love craft beer. Women Who Love Beer on Aleuminati

The American Don said...

Good post. Rather philosophical.

I am of the AA persuasion and went to a college that is 85% black. I did not see so much as a Miller Lite at a house party, football game, tailgate, or any other social gathering. I then went to a majority white grad school and there was so much beer you could swim in it, and we did. I didn't drink beer until I got to grad school (all that lost time).

I say it's just a cultural thing. I am one of the few brothas I know that are heavy into craft beer, and yet I convert a lot of other folks to craft beer all the time, it ain't the flavor. Big winners are Hoegaarden, the Ciders, Frambozen for the ladies, and double IPAs (go figure).

Like almost any other genre that starts up primarily in one culture, craft beer has not crossed over yet. If there is any group that is not exclusionary, it's craft beer drinking community. So I wouldn't get too worked up about it.

...or you could just put some craft beer in a Jay-Z video and your good to go.

RICH said...

I've been to 4 GABFs and 2 Oregon Brewers Festivals, and what a contrast! At GABF, as Lew notes, predominently male, but with soem very enthusiastic female drinkers. Beer friend Frank E. and I used to comment that we'd hear more than a few women speaking to their husbands/boyfriends: "Honey, you've gotta taste this one, really nicely hopped," words we had only ever HOPED to hear from our significant others. "Cmon, Richie," Frank would say, "I'm gettin depressed."
AT the OBF however, I found the crowds there much closer to 60/40 male to female, with the frequent sighting of groups of females enjoying the variety of beers together. After 4 visits to GABF, OBF was an eye-opener.

Kevin said...

Not doing any research on the subject, I would have to say culture is the major factor. The predominate beer (as we know it today) cultures are predominately European/White. I am Irish and there was always irish beer, whiskey, music, and food. I am sure German, Czech, Belgian families are similar. I would say that Carribean families would lean toward rum or beer (from the country that occupied them in colonial times).

Now women I don't know. Though I see more and more women drinking beer.

Matt said...

Changing the subject slightly, I thought of one way beer can help to change the world.

I heard this morning that, as part of their bid to Congress for a bailout, the big three auto manufacturers need to submit two proposals. One that is short and available to the public, and one that is longer and includes ways they plan to innovate new cars in regards to fuel efficiency and the like. Those are being kept private due to competitive reasons.

My feeling is, sharing the information would result in collaborations that could yield further innovation that would benefit consumers and the companies.

This is what I've seen the craft beer industry doing; sharing methods and resources (as evidenced by Boston Beer Company selling smaller breweries hops at cost). This has benefited everyone involved.

If more industries were to act in a community rather than an individually minded way, the world would be a better place.

MyBeer Buzz said...

Lew...Mrs beerbuzz & I are both employed in academia (yes I have a real job). Diversity is huge on both campuses. Inclusiveness is also huge. In academia we strive to build community, all inclusive community, and all accepting community. We do it because it is our mission BUT we also do it because it is our marketing. I suspect the beer world is no different....perhaps just a few years behind in defining their mission. The world is no longer all WASP in cas ethey didn't notice.

Now I'll admit the places I frequent for a beer are fairly diverse in their customers, at least as diverse as our area as a whole may allow...but I do see a difference over even 10 years ago, in a good way. I like to attribute this difference to the people that own these bars and the people that are 'friends of the bar' in these places.

To answer your question I think it's very much the same as academia. Create a welcoming, accepting and all encompassing beer community and they will come. (They of course being meant to include anyone of any background, orientation, gender or culture.) But do we??

I've been 'pining on my blog about beer reviews and I think it's a similar problem. The people I see who are turned off by a beer bar are turned off by the people, not the beer. Too often I see the snobby, country-club beer mentality in action, and too often I see someone turned away that we should be including.

Why do we look down our noses at people who'd simply prefer a fruity-wheat beer or god forbid a Bud Light? Shouldn't we welcome them and open the doors to somthing more instead of poo-poo-ing their choice and driving them away?

This snobbery doesn't look welcoming and it doesn't feel welcoming...and the result is that most people (of any background) are alientated....but Why?

I asked this as I asked why we review beers. Why must we attempt to quantify something subjective? Shouldn't the love of beer be shared? Shouldn't we want more beer lovers regardless of their background OR beverage choice? Hell many of my current beer loving friends starting loving beers not because of the beer, but because of the company and conversation that revolved around the beer...

Create that accepting environment, and project the love of the beer and people of all backgrounds will join in.

Brian P said...

This subject hits home with me in a big way. I am craft beer drinker, I write a beer blog and I am black. The lack of minorities at beer events is all too obvious. Before going to a festival my wife and I always guess how many other faces of color we will see that day. Sadly there are times when we are the only ones. I think much of it is cultural. Overall beer just isn't a big part of black culture. Germans, Czechs, Belgians, the British and the Irish all have primarily white populations and a strong beer past. There just isn't a long beer history in the black population. I attribute my craft beer interest to an unsheltered past. I grew up in a fairly diverse family in a predominately white neighborhood. In college, as it is now, my friends were culturally and racially diverse. Having that exposure to other people and cultures opened me up to experiences that I may have missed if I lived a more secluded life. The joy of craft beer is just a small part of what I've learned to appreciate in life.

Brooke said...

i will add my experiences:
i am a woman. i am white. my white husband and i love craft beer...BUT i have 4 gay friends- 3 men & 1 woman who are not huge beer drinkers in that they are not big drinkers OR beer isn't their number one drink of choice. yet when they do go for a beer, it is almost always a locally brewed craft (they all live in the city) or a belgian. this evening while shopping at a local (s. jersey) beer spot, the owner, a male of south asian descent, commented on our founders purchase. with this post in mind said to my husband: "i know he stocks good beer, but i didn't realize that he drank it." he told me that he and the owner always talk about beer. so there you have it. 2 woman, 4 gays and one indian man- all craft beer drinkers. then again, we're in the philly area. we are the greatest craft beer drinkers in the world, right?

oh and you must be aware of the Ladies In Pursuit of Ale in philly??

Anonymous said...

Interesting seemed to hit on every possible factor of the predominant "straight white male" phenomenon with the exception of a,economics, and age. At least in my beery travels around the country a high percentage of the SWM craft beer drinkers are college educated and are typically middle or upper middle class in their backgrounds.....and under 40.

Of course there are craft drinkers that have less formal education and grew up economically disadvantaged and I'm not trying to make any sweeping generalization but I've seen what I've seen. Of course you can't tell someone's education or economics on sight so my anecdotal evidence is from meeting and talking to folks....I'm 48 and guys my age and older are a definite minority....part of it may be when you're older you're home with the family more than out at beer bars or fests......but for the most part the craft beer revolution missed my generation.

Anonymous said...

The BEARD demographic: I attend many beer festivals, and spend as much time as I can in bars that carry good beer. My wife - who likes beer - attends very few festivals, but the last time she went to one she said, "It's all white guys with beards." (She may have also mumbled something about their girth.)
Footnote one: I've had a beard for the last 15 years, until I shaved this spring.
Footnote two: Lew, your beard is excellent.

RunawayJim said...

Just thought I'd throw in this little anecdote.

At the beer store where I shop most frequently, I have seen an increase in the number of females attending free tastings and purchasing craft beer over the past year. Since I generally only go there once a week and spend a couple hours there (lots of friends hanging out drinking beer), I don't see how often it really is that females drink and buy craft beer.

There is a fairly good sized group of females that hang out at the local craft beer bar, and it's definitely not "stylish".

Anonymous said...

At this year's Kennett Beerfest [October], I did encounter a much more diverse, and saavier group of festgoers than at last years' Kennett. Actually there was more diversity at 2008 than at any other major SEPA beerfest I have attended within the last two years, including the city Craft Beer Fest during Philly beer week.

Maybe its just taken time to catch on to everyone.

Unknown said...

At the risk of sounding ignorant or stereotypical, I really think it does boil down to culture, and cultural acceptance. I got into craft beer almost by accident, because of where I live, the people I hang out with, and probably my German-Irish ancestry, which makes me genetically predisposed to such things.

When I was in college, I was the lone white guy living with mostly Hispanic/Latino guys; they were not into beer at all. When they would talk about "getting drunk" (it was never drinking for pleasure back then) it was about what Biggie was drinking (this was 10 years ago). So that meant it was Alize, Cristal and Remy Martin, to name just a couple.

I think we underestimate our cultural identification with drinking and our choice of drinks. I have a friend of Latino origin, and he seems to always gravitate toward the Coronas and Negro Modelos (when he's not drinking liquor) because he seems to identify with them; he knows they are not better than American beers but he always goes toward that side of the shelf.

I think if Jay-Z or Li'l Wayne put out a song extolling the virtues of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Three Floyd's Dreadnaught IPA, you can bet your ass those two drinks would immediately start flying off the shelves, and that is because there would be a cultural reference point or touchstone to which that culture can connect. It's the same reason that the sales of Pinot Noir skyrocketed after the movie "Sideways" came out: it gave people a reference point upon which to latch on to.

We say it's all about our taste buds, but if it has a cool label or comes from our hometown or is something our fathers drank, we generally will have a softspot for it. It's the same thing across cultural boundaries, writ large.