Dear Gentlemen Who Work in Beer Stores,
Hello! I am a woman! And I have just returned from purchasing beer in a store very much like yours. In fact, perhaps it was yours.
My shopping experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth — and by bad taste I do not mean bitter, smoky, or sour. Because I am a woman, it does not mean I do not like beer. It also does not mean I know nothing about it. In fact, I may know a lot. It doesn’t really matter, because buying beer is fun. It is not a test of intelligence, coolness, or any other particular character trait.
It may be true I have not shopped at your beer store before. This does not mean I have never shopped at any beer store and do not understand how one might operate or be organized. The fact that I am a woman does not mean that I want cider (although cider can be great). The fact that I am a woman does not mean that I want fruit in my beer (although that has its moments).
When I enter your store and you ask if you can help me and I ask if there’s anything your staff is drinking right now and particularly enjoying, do not answer: “Well, the cider is over here. And these beers are made with blueberry.”
I might want to drink a stout. I might want to drink something so hoppy my eyeballs fall out. I can drink both of these things without a beard or even a trace of one, and drinking said beers also will not cause a beard to grow. (I have never craved beer more than I did when I was pregnant.) If my question has befuddled you, a helpful follow-up might be: “What kind of beer do you tend to like?” (Note to bartenders selling beer to women: This holds true for you, too.)
When the fellow who enters your store after me asks for suggestions, do not then give him an exhaustive tour of the same case, in front of me, with very specific descriptions of specific beers in specific categories.
You know that person you see in the museum, following around a group and trying to eavesdrop on its guide, hoping to cadge a few words of wisdom? (Disclosure: That person is me, because I am cheap, which is why I will not be purchasing that $24 saison aged in French wine barrels today, although I’m sure I would enjoy it.) I don’t want to have to feel like that person in your store.
Please do not make me feel like I need to reference hop varieties or otherwise talk like a beer bro to be taken seriously. You know who has a long history of making beer? Women. “Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt in a jar / The waves rise, the waves fall,” reads a poem addressed to the Sumerian goddess of brewing and beer. It was written around 1800 BC. Maybe I think Citra and Brett are the latest celebrity couple. No matter! Beer shopping is not a competitive sport. Please do not make me wonder what I’m doing wrong — until I realize it’s not me, it’s you.
But if you won’t listen to me, listen to Suzanne Schalow, cofounder with partner Kate Baker of Craft Beer Cellar. Their Belmont flagship has now spawned an empire of 32 stores, with nine more in the works, in states from Maine to California . So: Serious beer-geek cred.
“Hospitality is about listening and assessing a customer’s interest or need or desire,” she says.
Even when a customer is shopping for beer while female, yeah? “Why has beer got to be about gender?” Schalow asks. “Does a Pilsner have a gender? Does an IPA have a gender? It is 2018, people, what are we smoking? Beer is not gendered.”
Well, that’s not so hard.
It is true that, according to data-analytics company Nielsen’s 2016 numbers, men still account for nearly two-thirds of overall beer consumption. On the other hand, that means one out of three potential customers is a woman. Tracking Craft Beer Cellar’s social media since the Belmont store opened in 2010, its audience has shifted from 85 to 90 percent male to about 60 percent, Schalow says. So helping me shop for beer I actually want to drink? That’s good business, my friend.
Ginger Johnson is the author of How to Market Beer to Women and the founder of a firm that does just that. When she worked in the hardware industry, she noticed a line of hammers made for women. They were pink. They were also of poor quality, too small to do the job well. “Don’t sell me a pink hammer,” she says in a 2015 TEDx talk. “It’s OK to like pink. It’s wrong to market crap to women with that color.”
So don’t sell me Doritos with a “lady-friendly” crunch that come in a tiny package to fit in the handbag I don’t carry. Don’t sell me Jane Walker whiskey.
And, for the love of God, don’t sell me blueberry beer. I do not like it.Devra First is the Boston Globe’s restaurant critic and food reporter. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.