One of the great issues facing British brewers and beer marketers is how to get more women drinking real ale. This is happening gradually, but still the majority of beery types are men with beards who spend too much time indoors of an evening. Casting a glance down our BeerCast panellist mugshots does little to disprove this theory – only Jess (of Andy and Jess) represents the fairer sex – a paltry 7% of podcasters. We have had other lady guests in the past, but even so we’re unfortunately still following the stereotype.
On a wider scale, CAMRA have an annual FemAle Day as part of Cask Ale week, to attempt to entice more women into the real ale family. Brewers also have tried to direct styles or certain products at women. This is one of the holy grails of brewing marketing – if they can entice women away from wine and spirits then potentially there are huge sums to be made. Even the giant macro-producers are interested – SABMiller recently launched Essa in Russia – a premium lager flavoured with pineapple and grapefruit.
Rather than attempting desperate tactics, beer producers could do far worse than look at one country where female drinkers are respected, encouraged, and totally welcomed – Belgium. My girlfriend and I were there a few months ago, and both of us were struck by how different the drinking culture is there compared with the UK. Whilst having a late lunch in a bar in Brussels, we watched two young women sit down at a table outside for a chat and a cigarette. At the same time, they were both drinking beer – one Früli and one a Trappist.
Obviously two women in Brussels isn’t a representative sample, but there are several things about the way drinking is done in Belgium that clearly encourage female beer drinkers. Over a couple of hours in the fantastic Bierbrasserie Cambrinus in Bruges, we came up with a list – at the top of which is Atmosphere. There are far fewer stigmas attached to beer drinking in Belgium – it is part of the culture. Nobody looks at you differently, we always found a good atmosphere in the beer halls, and were never rushed into making a decision about what to drink.
Related to this are the wonderful Menus. They may be a touristy addition, but having a detailed list of types and styles that also lists the strengths really helps. So many times over here we’ve got to the bar and my parter has turned to me and said “What would I like?” or “Pick something for me!”. Having it all arranged by style made it much more likely for her to try something different, rather than taking a punt on a pint of Spoolman’s Old Skirtlifter, or whatever.
Leading on from that is the fact that size matters. I’m sure my girlfriend isn’t alone in preferring a 33cl bottle served in matching glassware over a soapy pint plonked onto the bar’s drip tray. Belgian bars may have the wide and interesting range of ales that encourage experimentation, but they also know how to serve the beer when it arrives. Bespoke glasses, seats and table service really make the difference. Admittedly that’s the norm for a ‘continental style’ establishment as opposed to the plasma-screen chips n’ music pub – but it definitely helps.
The final thing the Belgians do better – and all this is subjective of course – is the Beer. From the many fruit beers to the all-singing Trappist ales, there’s just so much choice there compared to here. Also, without wishing to be patronising – women also appreciate design more, so attractive bottles of beer stand out (before the emails start pouring in, my partner suggested most of the items for this post). If you want to encourage more women to drink beer, you need to start by making the experience better and the choice more interesting…