a compilation of musings on one of the world's oldest beverages...and a few other topics.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No Beer For Me!

While at the delightful La Trappe, I picked up a copy of Beer West Magazine, on recommendation from the bartender.

Bartender: "Have you read 'Beer West' before? There are some great articles in there about the brewing community."
Bartender: "A beer magazine. Gratis. Just grab a copy."
(umpteenth reason why La Trappe is fantastic...they have copies of "Beer West" just lying around).

So I did pick up BW, and it's a great find. The magazine focuses in on bars, breweries, brewers, and beer news along the West Coast. Recently, they branched out the publication to encompass California (the BW used to be called "Beer Northwest"). In the most recent issue, the writers tackle New Orleans beer/breweries, Monterrey beer/breweries, the Portland food scene, the British Columbia beer scene, and the importance of cleaning tap lines, to name a few. Also of note was a question to "Beer Expert Annie Brewer" (see "The List", a regular column). Sam from Everett, WA, wrote, "My girlfriend says she doesn't like beer. Can you recommend a beer that will change her mind?"

We all know women who just don't enjoy beer (perhaps you are one). Their reasons vary- they don't like the taste, they don't like the fuller feeling that can come from drinking beer, they worry beer is "fattening" (more on that in a later blog). Perhaps they've only really tried baby beers.

I define baby beers as the American Beer Conglomerate "Lites" (Bud Lite, Coors Lite, Natty Lite, Miller Lite, Keystone Lite). And I used to be part of the baby beer crowd, too. For a couple reasons, like the fact that a) most college students are poor and can't just drop the cash down for a Chimay Reserve and b) along with that, most of the beer was free (thank you, Lehigh University frat houses), and c) I didn't know any better. At least not until a semester abroad in Freiburg, Germany , which basically changed everything.

I very distinctly remember the first time I realized that beer was something to be tremendously enjoyed and enjoyed slowly. It was during one of my first few trips to the Fierling. This quaint brewery/pub is an exceptionally good place to plop down with friends and imbibe. We never felt rushed, and the beers were- at least to young Americans previously acquainted with frat beer- exceptionally tasty. Who knows if I would LOVE their beer as much as I remember loving it- I have not been back since the spring of 2004. I'm enormously sentimental about the Fierling, but I'm also fairly sure there would be *something* to my considerable liking. It is GERMANY, after all.

What I do remember is hearing that the brewery specifically aimed to brew beers that women would enjoy. The Fierling Hefeweizen was a pretty big hit among ALL of us, both male and female. We would mutter "grosse hefe, bitte" and a couple minutes later a frothy golden glass would be plopped down on the table. It doesn't take a beer surgeon to figure out why the hefe is a hit. A hefeweizen typically contains very little hops (not everyone takes to the bitterness of hoppy beers- not by a long shot), and it often verges on the sweet side. A good hefeweizen is a very satisfying, very fresh, very drinkable beer. It's also typically not nearly as sedative as some hoppy beers, nor is the alcohol content as high.

This is a very smart marketing campaign, on Fierling's part. Capitalizing on the purchasing power of half the population is probably a good business decision.

But this raises a point: the Fierling Hefe was essentially my "Gateway Beer" (What was YOUR Gateway Beer?) It was an "easing into all different kinds of beers" beer. Of note is the fact that the first beer I truly loved was a wheat beer- not an extra-hoppy IPA. Beer Expert Annie touches on all of this:

"Women tend to be biologically more sensitive to bitter flavors. For some reason, when men try to turn women on to good beers, thinking that the way past her stalwart resistance to the stuff is vestigial distaste from early experiences with such beverages such as Old E, Hamm's, Keystone Light, and the Beast, they go straight to the IPA's and ales. This is like trying to disabuse someone of the notion they don't like sushi by planting them face-first in a plate of raw eel."

Annie goes on to recommend wheat beers, chocolatey stouts, and lambics. She also touches upon "gruit" beers in another column. Yarrow is a gruit herb, and according to BW, available at most homebrew shops. According to a brewer working at a Portland brewery, Yarrow "opens circulation and makes you feel really awake, really alive" (I would link to the article, but it's not publicly available on the BW website. If you get hold of the magazine, jump to "The Bitter End.") Gruits are traditionally made from a variety of herbs- yarrow being one of them- and gruit beers are, according to "The Bitter End," making a comeback. It's about time; hops have long replaced gruits as the beer ingredient of choice, but gruits have been around since the Middle Ages.

But, until women start purchasing as much beer as men, and go for as much variety as men, I'll remain a little frustrated. Why? Because, when I step into a bar OR a brewery and I want to talk beer or ask for a recommendation, 9 times out of 10 the bartender will recommend a "sweet" or very fruity beer with a low abv and little hops (and I'm not talking about going into a packed bar on a Friday night and expecting the bartender to explain each and every beer ingredient or provence. Bartenders, like everyone, need to make money, which means serving as many customers as possible). I don't particularly enjoy sweet and fruity beers and I do particularly enjoy hops. Assumptions make an ass out of u and me. But, by the same token, it's a very logical leap for a bartender to make; from listening to female friends talk about beer and observing people ordering beer and observing the LACK of women at beer tasting events (TBC tasting at City Beer, I'm referring to you), it's probably likely that a large part of the time, women will go for fruity and sweet (more pleasing to the taste buds) or "lite" (ah yes, that "fat" concern again). But, bartenders and brewers, if a girl comes into your pub or brewery, and she's open to suggestions, feel free to recommend beers of all stripes.

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