Thursday, October 26, 2006

Beercraft newspaper column #26: Women who love craft beer

What could be more of a guy thing than beer? Kicking back with a few brewskis is practically a ritual in the Cult of Guydom, along with belching and the scratching of one’s personal regions. Women go for froo-froo mixed drinks, alcopops (like Smirnoff Ice), or wine.

Actually, that’s not necessarily the case. Most women enjoy a cold one as much as any guy. And now, an increasing number of women are discovering, and brewing, craft beer. “Out of the 83 members of the Upstate New York Homebrewers’ Club, 8 are women,” says Kira Barnes, homebrewer and certified female.

Barnes, a cataloging librarian at RIT, brews beer and hard cider along with her husband, Thomas. The two of them are currently studying to become judges in the Beer Judge Certification Program. Upon completion of this surprisingly difficult course, Barnes will be sanctioned to judge beer competitions on a national level.

Not all female beer lovers aspire to such goals; a bunch of them, like Helen Bravenec of Austin, Texas, just like to swill beer. Bravenec, a violinist earning her Master’s Degree at Eastman, used to drink Miller Light, Coors Light, and other mass-market offerings. It was when she moved to Belgium that she started drinking the flavorful stuff.

Many women first develop a taste for lighter, sweeter beers. The fruit-flavored Belgian lambics are popular among the XX-chromosome set, as are witbeers like Hoegaarden and Blue Moon. But an increasing number like to delve into hoppier or more robust brews as well.

“I like my beers just slightly bitter,” Bravenec says, “but not over the top.” She lists Otter Creek Copper Ale, Pilsner Urquell, and good ol’ Saranac Pale Ale as some of her favorites.

Barnes prefers the more strongly and strangely flavored brews. Berliner Weisse, Okocim Baltic Porter, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, and the laughably strong EKU 28 all have a place in her pantry.

She points out that, like wine, a good beer appeals to more than one of the senses. “A beer has to be more than flavorful for me to like it,” Barnes explains. “If it's a style that's supposed to be clear, it should have good clarity; it should be pleasant to drink from the initial aroma to the aftertaste.”

So is craft beer finally getting its due with women? Barnes thinks so, and actively advocates for beer among her fellow females. “I was at a get-together in Kansas City with a woman who was drinking Michelob Ultra. She mentioned something about liking beer but having to stick to the low-cal stuff. I suggested she try New Belgium Skinny Dip, a summer seasonal brewed with coriander and lime leaves, which was only about 90 calories a bottle. She actually wrote it down, so I hope she followed up on it.”

In Other Beers:
The first, and hopefully not the last, Real Beer Expo took place on Alexander Street this past weekend. Festival organizer Joe McBane brought together what’s probably the largest sampling of cask-conditioned ale the area has ever seen. Altogether, 20 breweries had sampling tables.

Events like this are a perfect way to get your feet (and tonsils) wet if you wants to expand your range of tastes. They give you a little glass, and you just hold it out at each brewery table for them to fill. It’s kind of like…a beer buffet! Beerfet? Anyway, it’s a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and you learn a lot.

The fall season has brought with it the usual resurgence of pumpkin ales. These are brewed with actual pumpkin, and can be quite nice as a change of pace. The best ones, like Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, have a nice cinnamon-clove essence. The lesser examples taste like someone scraped a pumpkin pie plate into your beer. Still, for a once a year thing, we can deal with a bit of excess.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

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