During this political season leading up to Election Day, many of the news networks were commenting on a “war on women.” They were referring to the Republican Party’s initiatives to restrict women’s rights but, in my opinion, the real war on women is the condescending move of so-called beer companies to develop light, low calorie, pink concoctions and market them to our meek dispositions and lower intelligence. Stereotypes (perpetuated by extensive marketing campaigns) abound of guys guzzling light lager and watching football so it’s no wonder that these marketing geniuses and entrepreneurs thought that all they needed to do to attract the untapped market of women beer drinkers was make it pretty and low calorie. Well, I have a news flash for you: women are turning to craft beer in record numbers thanks, in part, to female-focused craft beer groups that provide a safe, encouraging environment to learn about and share craft beer.
Chicago is lucky enough to have three of these groups. The Association of Beer Vixens and Chicago Girls’ Pint Out have been around for a little while but a chapter of Barley’s Angels just formed, headed up by Chicagoist beer writer and Local Option bier-slinger Lorna Juett. (If you haven’t read Ms. Juett’s article in the Chicagoist regarding Chick Beer, then do yourself a favor and read it now. Well, wait until after you’ve read my post but then go and read it.) Barley’s Angels is a growing collection of individual chapters around the world that work with craft beer focused breweries, brewpubs, restaurants, alehouses and other establishments to advance the female consumer craft beer enthusiast. And there are some super fun events coming up in the near future.
The next meeting of these Angels is a chocolate and beer tasting (Yes! Chocolate and beer!) at Katherine Anne Confections, a locally focused chocolatier, and will feature Colorado-brewed beers with a variety of chocolate truffles. Tickets are $35 and include five beer and chocolate pairings, as well as some savory nibbles from Beurrage to balance out all of the sweetness. I was interested to learn why Juett decided to found a chapter of Barley’s Angels in Chicago and what we can expect from this group in the future. Continue reading for an awesome interview with Ms. Juett.
GirlsLikeBeerToo: How did you hear about Barley’s Angels? Why did you decide to start a chapter here in Chicago?
Lorna Juett: I had just decided to pursue a beer-related career by accepting a bartending job at Local Option, leaving behind a comfortable desk job in corporate sales for FIG Catering. I hadn’t told my current employers yet, and I was lying awake in bed trying to figure out how to break the news, and while I wasn’t second-guessing the career move, I was thinking about the best way to focus my passion for beer into my new opportunity. One thing led to another, and I found myself up on my computer at 3 a.m. searching for women-related beer, brewing, and spirits organizations. I came across Barley’s Angels, and the mission of the organization just clicked for me. I thought for certain that there would be a Chicago chapter already that I could join, and when I realized there was not, I immediately whipped out my credit card to pay the dues to start the chapter.
I didn’t quite know where I wanted Barley’s Angels to go, or where it could lead me, but I knew that between my new job writing about beer for the Chicagoist, and my upcoming beer bartending gig, I was jumping headlong into a culture that I only peripherally understood. I am by no means a beer expert and I am learning so much every day. I wanted the opportunity to share what I did know and to brainstorm with other women about what they knew, and make new relationships. It seemed like being involved in Barley’s Angels could allow me to do all those things. The group is still so new, but I’ve already learned and met so many nice women in the process, I’m glad to have started this.
What drew me to start a chapter of Barley’s Angels instead of joining an established group here in Chicago, was that you have the support of a national organization to push you along and help you when you need assistance through promotion and answering questions. I’ve had a lot of people I’ve never met before find our chapter on the website, and a couple of them were at the first meeting. It’s been great hearing from interested women all over the city, including transplants from chapters in other cities.
GirlsLikeBeerToo: What do you hope Barley’s Angels will do for the Chicago craft beer community?
LJ: Strange as it may sound, given the exclusionary nature of this group, but I would like Barley’s Angels to unite the community, and give women the vocabulary to voice what they like in a beer without having to turn to their male friends for guidance. This makes for more adventurous and informed female consumers, who will then educate their friends, and perhaps choose the neighborhood beer bar over the cocktail lounge for a girl’s night out. This can only expand the market for breweries and brew pubs, which I think we can all agree is a good thing for the Chicago craft beer community.
GirlsLikeBeerToo: What types of events can we expect from the group? How do you get ideas for the events? How did you come up with the chocolate and beer tasting taking place on Nov 14th?
LJ: The chocolate and beer pairing came from a conversation with a guest at the first meeting. She’d been an active member of another chapter, and mentioned that her favorite event was one that paired chocolate and beer. Another guest mentioned a mutual friend, Katherine Duncan, and her shop, Katherine Anne Confections, and it seemed like a no-brainer to put the two together as soon as possible.
That was a bit of serendipity, but I get the feeling not all of them will come together so easily! In the future, I would like to do some brewery tours, perhaps some multi-course beer dinners, a lesson in off-flavors, and maybe even some homebrew sessions. As more folks get involved and bring their connections to the table, there will be endless opportunities to collaborate and come up with fresh ideas.
GirlsLikeBeerToo: Why do you think it is important for female craft beer groups to exist?
LJ: Have you heard of the term, “mansplain?” I assume you have, but if not, you can reference the term here. This type of behavior happens to me occasionally when I’m serving guys at the Local Option. It happens when they ask me about a particular beer and then don’t listen to the answer, and ask questions I’ve already answered (this happens on the first beer, and the subsequent ones, so I don’t chalk it up entirely to drunkeness). This happens when a fella’s girlfriend asks me about a beer, and her man says immediately “you won’t like it” without listening to my answer.
Now, I’m not saying that these men aren’t knowledgeable about beer, many of them are! But in many of these circumstances my knowledge trumps theirs by sheer exposure to the specific products we carry, the fact that I taste all the new beers, and I learn about their ingredients, where they come from, and how they’re brewed. Having an all-women group can cut down on these kinds of interjections, and just seems to make for a more comfortable place to make mistakes, try new things, and talk about what you’re tasting.
GirlsLikeBeerToo: In addition to groups like Girls Pint Out and Barley’s Angels, many craft beer bars around the area have started independent female craft beer groups. Why do you think there is this recent interest in supporting women consumers of craft beer?
LJ: The days of big, bearded, potbellied men as the norm at a beer bar are over! As the “foodie” movement has expanded, those interested in culinary experiences tried all matter of foods, moved on to wine, then to the $16 cocktail, and naturally the seemingly final frontier is craft beer. And as we know, the “foodies” do not skew heavily toward one gender or the other, and I think it’s important that as ladies move toward this natural progression, spaces in the boy’s club are carved out for them, both for the beer industry and for the enjoyment of the consumer.