A Rich Malty Stout with a Hint of Sexism

Where pricey craft beer meets cheap gender stereotypes

This is not a dive bar.

This is where beer is served in a designated glass. Some beers are bottled or canned and have colorful labels and funny names. Some are on tap. All come from local breweries.

A woman is waiting at the counter. She knows what she wants.

“Are you SURE you want that beer?” the bartender asks.

He points to a chalkboard menu. “You’ll love this list,” he says and then, putting his hand on one of the taps, he adds: “This one tastes just likes pears!”

I don’t want to drink a fucking pear, the woman thinks. She smiles and repeats her order. She finally walks away with a glass of her favorite barrel-aged imperial stout.

In a different bar in a different part of the U.S., a man opens a tab. The bartender offers him an IPA. With its bitterness and a piney flavor that comes from certain American varieties of hops, an Indian Pale Ale is something the man would never drink.

Apparently bartenders think all guys like IPAs, he later types into an online questionnaire on craft beer consumption posted by a scientist named Maggie. I think they taste like a pinecone urinated in my water.



Is the art of drinking artisanal beer another way to reinforce gender stereotypes?

In the winter of 2016–2017, sociologist and craft beer lover Maggie Nanney and colleagues used an online questionnaire to collect responses from 1,102 American craft drinkers. The survey participants were mostly white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class, and 34-years-old on average. They were in committed relationships, worked full-time, and had at least a college degree. They identified as nonreligious and politically liberal. Women added up to 40 percent.

All these people were knowledgeable about craft beer – but only the women had to prove it.



People project gender onto pretty much anything, and beer is no exception. Fruity, sweet beers are feminine, dark or hoppy ones are masculine. A woman is expected not to forfeit her femininity by drinking porters, stouts, or IPAs. A man can drink something light and sweet if he compensates with stereotypically masculine behavior, and only in a craft beer bar. In a dive bar, even an IPA would mark him as potentially effeminate (and definitely pretentious).

Nanney and colleagues discovered that in public craft beer spaces such as bars and taprooms men not only consider themselves the “real” beer drinkers, but also gatekeep women from craft beer culture.

Male bartenders and patrons question women’s knowledge and offer unsolicited advice. They recommend stereotypically feminine beers to female customers. If a woman orders a masculine beer, she might be reprimanded or forced to drink several samples to confirm her choice. She might even get discouraged from drinking beer altogether.

“I’ve been told a beer was too ‘intense’ for me and been encouraged to order something with a milder flavor and lower alcohol content,” one woman said.

“At a bar, a male bartender once told me that it is unladylike to drink beer and should reconsider my choice,” another one recalled.

To be treated seriously, women craft drinkers use all sorts of techniques. They wear clothes associated with beer-drinking (flannel shirts, perhaps?), speak in technical terms, or prove their experience with check-in apps.

Women beer lovers are thus caught in a lose-lose situation. Either they conform to gender stereotypes, drink feminized beer, and lose credibility as connoisseurs or they transgress gender norms, drink masculinized beer, and fail as women. Being an “omnivorous” craft drinker is a privilege only a man can afford.



Nanney and colleagues also studied elite craft beer spaces such as bottle clubs and trading groups. In these insider-only spaces, both men and women are gatekept. Both must prove they not only drink beer, but also taste it, trade it, or even brew it. They have to distinguish themselves from inexperienced “noobs” who don’t know the trade, its jargon, and etiquette.

“Within the craft community there seems to be a perceived level of knowledge, one who doesn’t demonstrate a base level of knowledge might feel left out/behind,” a man remarked.

Elite craft beer drinkers can be hostile to noobs and to “snobs.” Elite drinkers perceive themselves as enthusiasts who care for their community. Oh, but the snobs are collectors. They display high social status by collecting “whales,” i.e., rare beers. There is nothing wrong with chasing whales like Captain Ahab chased Moby Dick but being a serial whale hunter is too extreme.

“People can start to be a bit elitist,” one person said. “Beer has just become another thing for people of means to flaunt as a status symbol. ‘Look I attended this expensive ultra-rare bottle share or I bought this 1,500 dollar bottle you’ll never taste.’”

“Snobby, elitist dicks are aplenty. They are becoming worse than wine snobs,” another craft beer enthusiast said.

Since craft beer culture is masculinized, elite consumption is still discussed as a boys’ playground.

“I’m a fairly hardcore beer geek, so I have to occasionally show my ‘beer dick’ is big enough to hang out with the big boys,” one respondent said. “Not in an intimidating way, but in a friendly competition way between friends.”

To be part of the gang, women also engage in this “dick swinging.”

“Being a woman, sometimes my showing off my beer knowledge puts me on an equal playing field with them. We then are able to talk about other items without them feeling as superior to me.”



Although 37 percent of craft drinkers in the United States are women, craft beer culture is still a (white) man’s domain.

To prove they belong in the craft beer world, women reject feminine norms and embrace masculine behaviors. Instead of undoing gender inequality, taprooms and breweries redo gender stereotypes – but at least when women transgress norms, they show that men are neither the sole nor the original proprietors of beer culture.

“I think it’s funny how from a beer history standpoint, women actually were the original beer brewers,” one woman observed.

“Yet today, it’s still a struggle to be taken seriously in the industry and sometimes even at the counter in your favorite brewery.”



Written by Adrianna Zabrzewska and based on Maggie Nanney, Nathaniel G. Chapman, J. Slade Lellock, and Julie Mikles-Schluterman’s article “Gendered Expectations, Gatekeeping, and Consumption in Craft Beer Spaces” published in Humanity and Society 44(4), 2020, pp. 449–468.

In the opening paragraph, I used quotes from Nanney et al.’s respondents to write a story that imagines what kind of real-life interactions and experiences in public craft beer spaces could have sparked those responses. The quotes are direct from the article, but the setting and the characters featured in the opening paragraph are my creation.

“Are you SURE…” – p. 460

“This one tastes just like pears!” and “I don’t want to drink a fucking pear” – p. 461

“Apparently bartenders think all guys …”  – p. 460

“I’ve been told a beer…” – p. 460

“At a bar, a male bartender…” – p. 460

“Within the craft community…” – p. 462

“People can start to be a bit elitist…” – p. 463–464

“Snobby, elitist dicks…” – p. 463

“I’m a fairly hardcore beer geek…” – p. 462

“Being a woman…” – pp. 462–463

“I think it’s funny…” – pp. 461–462

Dr Nanney and Dr Chapman talk about their research in American Sociological Association’s “Sociological Insights” series.

14 respondents in Nanney et al.’s study were trans and genderqueer persons, but their experiences are not discussed in the article.

Craft beer culture is not only gendered, but also racialized. In 2018, only 14.5% of craft drinkers in the U.S. were non-white. BIPOC craft beer enthusiasts are working to diversify the scene.

Copyright Adrianna Zabrzewska 2021: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND






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