by Melissa Cole Beer writer, sommALEier & Certified Cicerone 20 February 2021
How to dodge the beer "know-it-alls"
Melissa Cole takes the intimidation out of ordering craft beer
There’s no getting around it: beer is still a male dominated world. But as women come more and more to the fore in beer brewing, writing and broadcasting, we got one of the pioneers of female beer writing, Melissa Cole, to give us her thoughts on how best to take some of the intimidation out of ordering an IPA or stumping up for a stout.
There are certain elements of the beer industry I can’t sugar coat, for example, I can’t tell you how rich I’d be if I had a pound for every time a man had tried to explain beer to me over the last two decades, and only slightly less well off when they’d explained it incorrectly, and with the amount of ‘well actually’ moments I’ve experienced, it’s also kind of a miracle I haven’t drowned.
However, it is getting better out there, with more women brewers visible starting their own businesses or, taking the reins at historic breweries like Fuller’s and, according to research by the female-led industry group Dea Latin, more women than ever consuming beer as their first choice of alcoholic drink - in fact, the only downside to all this is that I now have to queue for the toilets whilst at beer festivals!
And whilst it has undoubtedly improved at a soaring rate for the last five years, there is still a section of society that seems to think that us ‘little ladies’ need to have our delicate selves dictated to, but I’m here this International Women’s Day to say enough!
I say it’s time to throw off the tyranny of pinkness and blandness, to feel ok to loudly say ‘yes, I do like bitterness in my beer’ or ‘bring me my pastry stout in a pint’ and ensure that the mansplainers of the beer world get told where to go. So here are my five top tips on how to start.
Your palate is yours and yours alone, you taste what you taste and you smell what you smell - even if your brain is saying ‘it’s like rainbow unicorn farts with a hint of celery salt’ - that’s what you’re getting and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Flavour characteristics in everything from your food to your beer are going to have some common threads. Do you like endive and revel in its biting bitterness? Or are you more interested in softer flavours like an aged Gouda? Or is ice cream your thing? If you think about all the things you love to eat and drink already, then you’re already halfway to understanding what beers you’ll like.
You taste what you taste and you smell what you smell - even if your brain is saying ‘it’s like rainbow unicorn farts with a hint of celery salt’ - that’s what you’re getting and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Try different beers - it’s not the hardest homework you’ve ever been given if we’re being honest here! But do try them at home, get your confidence up, don’t have some hairy dude leaning over your shoulder telling you something is ‘overrated, I don’t know what people are talking about’ or ‘a classic and if you don’t like it you just don’t get beer’, that way you’ll get to make up your own mind. It’s so simple to order a mixed case of beers, and Beerwulf has some great ones to start out with!
When at a bar or a beer festival, don’t be put off asking for samples. Not only is it part of your beer journey but, at the end of the day, it’s your money and you should get to choose how you spend it. Also it’ll make you better at figuring out what it is that you actually like and, more importantly, what you don’t like and maybe you’d like to seek out some breweries headed up by women or known to be supportive of female brewers like Jopen, Magic Rock, Fuller’s or Orval.
Beer is, after all, a social lubricant, it’s been fostering human relations for thousands of years, so why not let it help you foster some more? Honestly, I can name at least five different tribes of beer lovers that I will hang out with at any given time: the real ale purists, the craft keg seekers, the whale hunters, the cool kids and the old lags and all of them make my life better, so why not find yours?