Beer in 2020 is more than just an alcoholic beverage. What started out as a necessary food product (as it was safer to drink than water) later became the luxury product it still is today. Like any product it has gone through its own evolution in technology and societal status. In this century too a whole new subculture has evolved around it, and beer has gained a new meaning and message.
A few decades ago it was a singular product meant for the (mostly white) man and it was advertised as such. It is shaped by the times, but some changes – notably the changing role of women – it has been completely oblivious to.
Women for centuries were invisible in the beer world, if present at all. They were the brewers up to the late Middle Ages before the industry got more professional. If they were still brewing they likely inherited the brewery from their late husbands. Right until the 19th century they were often the people selling it in cafes. But the big brewers, the ones that got wealthy, were almost always men.
These days most brewers and brewery owners are still men. Even the specialty beer cafés and shops are often run by men. But I see more and more women finding a place in the world of beer. How they are treated in general here in the Netherlands is something I don’t know too much about. This is a better topic for a separate post in the future, but it is something not written about extensively yet.
What I do see are the pictures on bottles and the names of breweries and beers. And this is something that I want to address here, also because it still relatively unknown outside our borders.
Whenever I bring up the sexist language and imagery rife in beer marketing, an often heard reply is: yes, sex sells. And often with this line the conversation is over. It just is that way and it will always be so. This ‘let boys be boys’ mentality leads to inaction. Inaction leads to a sense that whatever you do or whatever objections you may raise, there won’t be a lot of backlash so let’s keep going. But what impact does this pervasive messaging have on women generally, and particularly on women in the beer industry?
Below are a few examples of names that I have come across lately that have sparked my interested. I do not mean this article as on all-encompassing deeply researched article into (sometimes unwitting and latent) sexism in beer, but with each new post on this issue I want to bring four examples. And today we have some cringey examples. These are the first four, but I will keep posting more.
Not even the name of a beer but of an entire contract brewery from Nijmegen. It is an utterly disgusting name for a brewery. The literal English translation is Manporridge, and is almost exclusively used in smutty porn magazines. It scores a double whammy for stupidity: on the one hand it is a sexist/pornographic name, and on the other hand it again reinforces that beer is somehow by and for men.
Mannenpap made a collaboration with Dutch Bargain a while back with the name Menage Sacch Trois… the name itself you can still consider tongue in cheek funny. But why is this label necessary?
Making beer together is an intimate moment, especially with three people. With a lot of sweat and grunting this collab with Mannenpap reaches a climax.
Beer for men
Another brewery that did not get the memo is a new brewery called Bier Door Mannen. The guys (did you really think otherwise?) were drinking beer but missed a ‘real man’s beer’. Whatever that means. And do you really feel so insecure? Their website even claims that it is brewed for men and call it the ultimate beer for men. What that is, is beyond me.
A brewery that otherwise has an overall decent and wholesome look did release a beer called Blonde Snol, translated best I guess as Blonde Bimbo. The label…. Well see for yourself.
And please scroll down for some more interesting labels.
“True love goes through the throat” is the tagline when you go to their website. One of the beers is called the Hitsig Hertje, the horny little deer. Is this for a David Attenborough nature documentary? No, the Hertje is slang for a female student in Leiden. “Enjoy and treat your tongue!” with this beer by student brewery Bracque.
If the brewers and breweries don’t decide to change these offensive names then it should be taken up a step. Distributors, cafés and shops can decide not to stock beers with offensive names. Better yet the consumer can decide not to buy this.
The Great British Beer Festival decided to ban bottles with sexist labels and names. The Dutch organization where most small craft breweries are combined (craftbrouwers.nl) has mentioned nothing about this. Sexist labels and names were still allowed to be judged in the Dutch Beer Challenge. In a reaction the Dutch Beer Challenge said: we didn’t see them this year, and besides we only judge beer. Bier door Mannen won a medal by the way, and winning a medal comes with extra publicity and sales.
The whole idea that beer is for men only, or that certain types of beer are perfect for women is an old fashioned, 20th century way of thinking. Fruit beers were once for women, but the recent sour movement has shown that sour and fruity appeals to everyone. If anything the lazy and backward marketing of the big brewers in the latter half of the 20th century has created a world where beer was for men and men alone.
I have seen discussions about this, and actual things being done in most of the English speaking world. Here it remains quiet. Too quiet. We can change this, let’s start with not buying beers with offensive names and offensive labels. Drinkers could let the breweries know that some names and labels are considered offensive. When I contacted CRAFT about this they only said they did not receive any complaints from their members, the smaller breweries in the country. Their American counterpart is lightyears ahead. They started talking about this at least two years ago. Here in Holland no one in the business is willing to take any action. But you as drinkers of beer can change things. Let them know, and let’s open the discussion.