Scent of a Brewer

What do women craft brewers want? Flavor, variety, class and less skin.


AUSTIN, Texas — Never mind Miller, Bud and Coors’ foam-soaked fantasies. Jenny Talley is a craft brewer who doesn’t squirm when sex sells suds.

“We have a sexy girl on the bottle,” said Talley, a 38-year-old blonde from Utah, who bears an outdoorsy dream-girl resemblence to the midriff-revealing Provo Girl on the label of her award-winning pilsner.

Though decidedly G-rated like the Provo Girl, (Talley brews 4 percent ABV in Utah, after all), Talley is pictured on Squatter’s Pub’s Web site with two gold medals she won at Great American Beer Festivals; the awards plunge down the T-shirt that clings to her taught torso.

“The Great American Beer Festival was founded on scantily dressed women trying to get you to vote for someone’s beer,” Talley said. “If a woman wants to use her body to sell beer, she has every right. If it works and it sells beer, I’m OK with it.”

Natalie Cilurzo, general manager of Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, isn’t OK with it. Aside from free-flowing beverages and the occasional kilt, the Craft Brewers Conference was a buttoned-up affair. (“We like it classier,” Cilurzo said.) One vendor’s scantily clad model stood out at the trade show.

“I was very uncomfortable for her because that’s not what we’re about,” Cilurzo said. “She’s not going to help that guy sell more tanks. I don’t want to do business with him because I don’t like his marketing. Can you believe this guy?”

The comley model stirred Cilurzo’s incredulity kettle. She recalled a radio advertisement for a Sonoma County beer festival that she and her brewmaster husband, Vinnie, sponsored in March.

“I told Vinnie: I’m offended by this commercial,” she said. “The whole commercial was just about people being totally disgusting and drunk. And then the guys says, ‘Hey, babe, you bring the beer, I’ll bring the condoms.’ Vinnie said, ‘We’re pulling out.'”

As interviews with a dozen women brewers and brewery executives at the Craft Brewers Conference here in April revealed, figuring out what women want — both in beers and their marketing — is obvious and impossible.

“Marketing with women has always been part of beer’s culture,” said Denise Jones, brewmaster (I’m nobody’s mistress.”) at Moylen’s Brewery and Restaurant in Novato. “Old Anheuser-Busch, old Coors, they all have beautiful women in their marketing. In Europe, it’s still tradition to vote for the beautiful hops queens and princesses. Why can’t sex sell craft beer?”

Go ahead and guess at the obvious.

“‘If I drink this beer, I’ll get laid.’ There is some aspirational nature to the way the Big Three market industrial light lagers,” said Kim Jordan, co-founder and CEO of the nation’s third largest craft brewery, New Belgium Brewing Company of Fort Collins, Colo. “Insulting is too strong of a word, but maybe that goes with beers that are also less sophisticated. I don’t know how you resonate with half the population when your advertising is all about guys lying to women so they can go play. Nothing makes a woman, in my experience, madder than a man who acts like he has to have permission to get what he wants otherwise Big Mama will keep him chained to the door.”

Noting that “we wore men’s jeans for a long time because they didn’t make women’s jeans,” Jordan said, “It’s amazing that 37 percent of women like any kind of beer given those kind of ads. They just don’t speak to me.”

The beer-drinking figure Jordan spoke of comes from a 2006 Morgan Stanley Research survey, cited by conference organizers, which said 37 percent of women ages 21 to 27 and 31 percent of women ages 35 to 44 drink craft beer weekly.

“I don’t know about the statistics about women drinking beer,” said Maggie Fuller, a 29-year-old New Yorker who graduated from the master brewing program at the University of California, Davis, in June. “But I know my friends, and a lot of them don’t drink beer. One of the problems is that they associate beer with the whole bikinis and frat-party marketing thing.”

Fuller stands 5 feet, 4 inches tall. She weighs barely more than two 50-pound bags of grain. She likes big beers.

“My friends associate it with beer guts and getting fat,” Fuller said. “But they don’t know that a pint of Guinness has just as many calories and is lower in alcohol than a lot of beers. They just don’t have the knowledge or exposure.”

Teri Fahrendorf, a pixie-faced systems analyst turned brewmaster, was quite a catch for Steelhead Brewery in Eugene, Ore., in 1991. The brewery soon showed off Fahrendorf in local television commercials.

“If I was the owner of a brewery and I had a woman brewer, I would promote that,” said Fahrendorf, who recently quit her job at Steelhead after 16 years to take a cross-country road trip in search of new brewing horizons at age 47. “A lot of wineries did that in the ’80: This is why our wines taste so good. And here’s this picture of a good-looking woman. I suspect that there are more women beer drinkers in Eugene because I was there in that window.”

Jordan recalled an old family photograph: Women, wearing 1950s dresses and smiles, stand in a back yard with beers in hands.

“It’s a stretch to say women don’t like beer,” Jordan said. “I think beer is just not marketed to women.”

Carol Stout remembers when bars were closed to women.

“Even though beer’s a drink of moderation, it still has a negative connotation,” said Stoudt, a former Pennsylvania elementary school teacher and mother of five who opened her family’s eponymous craft brewery in 1987. “The way we talk about craft beer, it’s about the flavor and the quality. I don’t want to see a naked cowboy on a craft beer commercial either.”

Which leads to the impossible: What do women want?

Listening like Oprah as women discussed their passions that brew deep inside them — port-wine notes of cask-conditioned ales, banana and clove in estery hefeweizens, chocolately ripples in porters, the coffee kisses in stouts, even the dimethyl sulfide skunk in Rolling Rock — was more revealing than a case of light beer commercials: Yes, Spuds Mackenzie, there’s no such thing as “girl’s beer.”

“Pink cans? That would be horrible,” Jordan said. “I think the real strategy is offering yummy, delicious breaths of styles.”

Stoudt swooned over a precise pilsner.

“I fell in love in the Brick Brewery in Kitchner, Canada,” she said of the beer that inspired her to learn how to brew. “I thought it was the best pilsner this side of the ocean.”

Talley was moonstruck by a bottle of oatmeal stout.

“I got turned on to beer-drinking at 17,” Talley said. “I was a Deadhead. Everytime I came out of a concert there’d be these guys selling ice chests full of Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout. There was something about it that just hit. I fell in love with beer like that.”

Jones’ introduction to “light phenol sweetness” came at the hands of an older man.

“My dad was a Coors man. He let me drink beer,” Jones said, noting that she was served in bathroom-sized Dixie cups.

Fuller’s fermented flings evolved the old-fasioned way. “In college, I drank the cheapest beer I could find,” Fuller said. “I went through a big stout phase this winter. Then I went through a brown ale phase. I love a good, highly hopped double IPA. You might be on the floor in 15 minutes, but it goes down pretty smooth. Anyone can do a big, strong beer, but if you can do it in a way where people can actualy drink it without coughing it up, that’s talent.”

Fahrendorf doesn’t remember when she didn’t drink beer. She described a typical family beer and pizza night growing up.

“We went to Santorini’s Pizza in Milwaukee,” Fahrendorf recalled. “My father says to the waitress, ‘Bring a pitcher and six glasses.’ And the lady goes, ‘Six glasses? They’re kids.’ So he goes, ‘Either bring six glasses or bring two glasses and they’ll drink our of the adults’ glasses.”

Six glasses arrived.

“When I was in Girl Scouts, we went on two tours that year,” Fahrendorf said. “To McDonald’s and Miller Brewing. Guess which one I was more interested in?”

Even though her troop was served root beer, Fahrendorf was hooked on brewing.

“There are a couple of reasons there are fewer women beer drinkers,” Fahrendorf said. “One of them is that women are more sensitive to the taste of bitter. The balance of beer is sweet-bitter, whereas the balance of wine is sweet-tart. So women who are sensitive to bitter are going to lean more toward wine.

“I personally prefer ale because I like the fruity character more than the sulphury yeast character that you often get in a national-brand American lager,” Fahrendorf said. “I think that’s what a lot of women have a problem with is that sulphur, but they just don’t know that’s the problem.”

Fahrendorf gave her girlfriends the lowdown on sulpher. She flipped them.

“I’ve turned several girlfriends who said they only like wines onto dark beers,” Fahrendorf said. “They’ll drink a porter or a stout now but they won’t have anything else. It suits their tastebuds better.”

Posted in Food and Beer, Industry Issues

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