A couple of years ago, a small, female-owned brewery in Maryland came up with the idea for a craft beer that could be marketed specifically to women. They dubbed it Chick Beer, and proclaimed its light, but (somehow) robust qualities. They designed the bottle labels to look like “little black dresses,” and touted the fact that each bottle contained less than 100 calories.
That Chick Beer is not among the myriad craft beers that have proliferated on Maine grocery store shelves in the past couple of years doesn’t surprise Cecily Charsky – and other craft beer-drinking females in Maine.
Charsky, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Portland, is the woman behind The Beer Babe, a blog devoted to informing people about the brewing and drinking of craft beers in Maine and New England. Of late, she’s made the promotion of women in the beer industry (and as beer drinkers) her cause ce?le?bre. Charsky says gimmicks such as Chick Beer don’t represent most women’s attitudes toward craft beer. She says women who try different styles of beer usually end up enjoying a range of microbrews as their palates expand and get used to different tastes.
“I was a novice a year ago,” she says. “My favorite beer now is a darker brew – a stout that looks dark but has a light feel in your mouth, maltier, fuller, with complex flavors.”
The making and drinking of craft beers – also known as microbrews – has traditionally been a man’s domain. But these days, the market for those microbrews is by no means exclusively male. An increasing number of women can tell an IPA from an oatmeal stout from a Hefeweizen. And some can tell you what foods are best with each beer and even how to cook with beer if you so desire.
Charsky, a former English teacher, began her blog about a year ago and writes about trends in the craft beer industry. She says food pairings are very popular right now, something that has taken the drinking of craft beer out of the realm of brewpubs and turned it into a social event that men and women enjoy together. There are websites that tell you which beers pair up with chocolate (think stouts), which ones work best with salads and seafood (Hefeweizen), and which ones work best with the widest range of foods (amber ales).
“Craft beer is going through what wine did maybe 10 years ago,” Charsky says, referring to both men’s and women’s interest in trying different styles of beer from different regions. Craft breweries have responded with an expanding list of craft beer choices, experimenting with different kinds of hops, malts and barrels in an effort to appeal to the expanding market – and to come up with the new-new thing.
“All these craft brewers are small businesses, owned by families,” says Heather Sanborn, co-owner of Rising Tide Brewery in Portland. “So women are taking a very active role.”
While Heather’s husband Nathan is the master brewer, Heather “dove in with both feet” when Nathan said he wanted to open a brewery in October 2010. Like a lot of women, she’d always ordered a glass of wine when she went out with friends. She started drinking different types and styles of craft beers so she would be able to handle the brewery’s marketing. Along the way, she developed a palate for craft beer. Now, she plays a role in the crafting of new beers, “learning from others’ styles and bending them into something unique.”
“I still have a full-time job, so I work on the marketing and finance,” she says. “But I’m also a sounding board and a taste tester.”
Sanborn doesn’t cook with beer, but she can share a recipe for an ice cream float: Mix a half bottle of Rising Tide Ursa Minor (their wheat stout) with a big scoop of Gifford’s French vanilla ice cream.
“It’s a neat afternoon treat,” she says.
Rising Tide Brewery has embarked upon a major expansion. Soon, its beermaking capacity will grow from 15 barrels to 120 barrels a month Sanborn says women beer drinkers are certainly helping to fuel the tremendous growth in the craft beer market. And since craft beer sales are only about 12 percent of overall beer sales in Maine, there’s plenty of room for growth.
“We’re years away from a saturation point,” she says.
Elise Loschiavo does the marketing for Sebago Brewing Co., based in Gorham. She thinks many women are just now developing a taste for craft beer. Previously, their only experience was with the lighter, lower-calorie beers marketers assumed they’d prefer. She doesn’t notice women preferring any Sebago brews over others.
“Honestly, women aren’t worried about calories when they drink beer,” she says. “It’s just a matter of preference.”
Sebago Brewing Co.’s website goes into great detail about its beer selections. The listings include suggestions for the kind of foods that go best with each one.
“IPAs are great with sharp cheeses and grilled meats,” Loschiavo says. “Stouts are great with dessert and steaks.”
Loschiavo says more and more people also are using craft beer as an ingredient in their food recipes. She has contributed several recipes to a comprehensive website called Craftbeer.com.
Loschiavo says Sebago Brewing doesn’t market any beers specifically to women. But the brewery has collaborated with Wilbur’s Chocolates of Freeport on some food pairings. They have also hosted beer dinners and would like to have some socials that would bring more women beer drinkers together.
“A lot of women are passionate about their beer,” she says. “It’s really shortsighted to ignore them.”
Heather Sanborn, co-owner of Rising Tide Brewery in Portland. “I’m a sounding board and a taste tester,” she says.
A daily newspaper reporter for many years, she is now well into her second career, English teacher at Bonny Eagle High School.