Craft beers have a penchant for colorful names, and it’s no secret that sometimes, those names go too far. Take, for instance, Flying Dog’s “Raging Bitch” IPA, or Clown Shoes’ “Tramp Stamp” Belgian IPA. Both men and women have called out craft brewing’s immature sense of humor on the internet. But within the industry, there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of soul-searching or pushback.
Jim Caruso, CEO of Flying Dog, defended the name “Raging Bitch” at an event in November by pointing out that they use El Diablo yeast to make the beer. “It’s a raging yeast,” he explained. “It ferments very aggressively. Bitch is a dog. Raging Bitch.”
That Caruso would defend the name is unsurprising. “We don’t want to look like we’re getting boring,” he explained at the event about the art for the beer. But his defensiveness continued — and expanded. “Yes, we know there’s other connotations,” he went on, “but we chose that name and all of the ladies at Flying Dog voted unanimously to do this beer with that name.”
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His claim — that women in the industry don’t seem much bothered by the rather explicit titles of craft beers — seems to be true. In a 2015 story on craftbeer.com, Julia Herz, program director of the Brewer’s Association, wrote that sexist labels are “just rare bad examples in a much larger sea of good.” Beer has no gender, writes Herz, and “the controversy over sexism in beer advertising is isolated to just a few offenders.” As of 2014, women consumed 32 percent of craft beer produced in the U.S., Herz writes.
But as of 2016, only 25 percent of craft beer drinkers were women, according to the Brewers Association. And it’s at least possible that that has something to do with the fact that no one in the industry seems invested in a craft beer revolution for women. The opposite, in fact. The women I spoke to in the beer industry explicitly shied away from marketing beer to women as women.
Take, for example, New Belgium Brewing cofounder Kim Jordan. “Honestly, we never thought about designing the labels for women,” Jordan tells me. Instead, NBB’s labels promote a more gender-neutral value: sustainability. Their environmentally conscious approach is not at all designed to attract women or targeted at them, Jordan says. “It is an opportunity to reach drinkers to whom sustainability and a healthy environment matter.”
Or take Penny Pink of Portneuf Valley Brewing. Pink tells me that marketing to women never really crossed her mind. And she knows why, too: “male-dominated careers for over 40 years.”
Obviously, these women who have achieved leadership positions in the world of beer should be lauded, and their marketing no doubt reflects the needs of their products and consumers. Herz says the focus on values rather than identity or gender is common in the craft beer scene. “With so much beer variety available today, beer lovers and retailers can afford to be choosy, and many beer lovers prioritize supporting breweries whose ideals and ethics mirror their own,” she says. And evidence backs up her claim that in beer, values have become more important than identity when it comes to connecting with brands.
But over in Australia, things are different, like at Sparkke Change Beverage Company. Sparkke’s parent company, The Inklusion Company, was born out of a desire to create new brands and products that “genuinely practice inclusivity,” coupled with a plan to “disrupt the stereotypes that dominate many industry segments,” Sparkke representative Kari Allen tells me.
Taking on the “totally male, pale, and stale” Aussie beer industry was a top priority for Sparkke. The creation of Sparkke flipped the switch on discrimination by “positively discriminat[ing] for diversity.”
The women at Sparkke aren’t afraid to broadcast their values, either. They make cider, hard lemonade, beer, and wine in clean white cans sporting statements like, “Consent Can’t Come After You Do” and “Nipples Are Nipples.” And while millennial feminists would line up for that kind of in-your-face marketing, Allen told me they’ve had globally famous advertising men try to “soften up” their blatant messaging by adding “dumbed down” graphic elements to the cans to take away from the statement text. Allen says the brands of those types of men are exactly what Sparkke wants to disrupt — so Sparkke has stuck by its guns.
“We dream that Beyonce will discover our Nipples Are Nipples hard lemonade and sync it with her new album Lemonade, which celebrates feminism,” Allen mused.
Sparkke’s marketing campaign is not only socially conscious, it’s good marketing. Sticking to their guns was a good call, proven by their recent crowdfunding success, which has a 1.5 to 1 ratio of female to male supporters.
But their work explicitly marketing beer to women isn’t replicated in the U.S. Ginger Johnson seems to be one of very few people concerned with marketing beer to women. Johnson has pioneered a revolution called Women Enjoying Beer. “It’s time for beer makers to retire the old sexist and juvenile jokes and get serious about beer and women,” she says.
She’s upset that the work is still necessary. “I’d like to work myself out of a job,” Johnson tells me. “I shouldn’t have to have this company.”
But aside from Johnson’s work, making beer attractive to women — as attractive as, for example, wine — doesn’t seem to be anyone’s priority. Where’s the revolution to place a bottle of boysenberry berliner-weisse into women’s hands instead of rosé?
“It’s not about pinkifying,” Johnson writes in her book, “How to Market Beer to Women.” “It’s about acknowledging with full respect that you want female beer drinkers to be your customers.”
Those same women who work at Flying Dog and signed off on “Raging Bitch” recently put on pink boots to make an “Alternative Facts” beer. If pink boots are a female brewer’s version of a pussy hat, Flying Dog could be trying to change the conversation about women and their beer. And it’s about time someone did.