I know the differences between a stout and a porter. I know which beers don't belong in a pint glass. I know that I love the way a hop-forward IPA has a nose that burns in a good way. I know what a whale is and I maintain a catalog of their names in my memory, always on alert for when they might surface. And I know the joyful feeling of cracking open a cellared barrel-aged bomber to find it so perfectly mellow in the front and boozy in the back that worth the wait can't even begin to describe the treasure that is time.
I'm a craft beer lover.
And, what's more, I'm a girl.
I'm a girl who delights in sidling up to the bar knowing exactly what she wants, shattering many a bartender's expectations when her drink of choice is neither a perky, sweet cider or an oh-so-drinkable zinfandel.
That fact doesn't intimidate me. I rarely give it a second thought, really. But it's my hope that the - at least for now - uneven population won't intimidate other women who might like to expand their drinking.
The good news is that this gender issue has not simply been swept under the fermenter. Groups such as Pink Boots Society and St. Louis' own Femme Ferment have formed to represent and encourage women working in the industry. It's a topic that has been called out in various media outlets and, most recently, one featured at the Henry Herbst Memorial Craft Beer Symposium during St. Louis Craft Beer Week.
I quite unfortunately missed this year's week-long festival due to travel, and was forced to follow the events by tracking tweets from afar. Fortunately, the St. Louis beer community is skilled at both tweeting and boozing (and only sometimes both at once).
The conversation surrounding "Women in Craft Beer," - the session's title - carries many of the same notes as does talk about the place of women in the professional kitchen: why are there no great women chefs?
The debates about women in these two industries are not infrequent and are quite predictable, following a similar narrative that is easy to rehearse. First, cooking and brewing are described as once domestic duties that women performed for little praise and as part of the mundane chores of homemaking. Then, the professionalization of cooking and brewing will be marked as bringing those tasks to the male domain where mundanity somehow magically becomes transformed into award-worthy. And then ultimately we're left with an invocation to do something, anything, to increase the visibility and efficaciousness of women in these industries.
Now I cannot, in light of historical narratives, disagree with the logic of these arguments. And I certainly don't believe these conversations to be of little value. I do, however, have some concerns about how this predictable narrative of women's exclusion will shape our efforts to celebrate their inclusion.
I worry that if we give too much energy over to drinking's perceived inequalities that we'll miss out on seeing it instead as the rich diversity women and men offer craft beer. Let us not, I say, risk throwing the proverbial wort out with the grain by critiquing the place of women but instead encourage all beer enthusiasts to love what they love, drink what they drink, and be intimidated only by the vast possibilities for enjoying craft beer.
My call differs from that of those where-my-ladies-at? narratives I've referenced, and asks those of us who know how good beer can be to invite more people to the tasting table no matter who they are. Let's do away with self-consciousness surrounding beer drinking - which, as most of us know, is largely about lowering inhibitions anyway - and agree that the best policy is to simply do what you do.
Cheers to St. Louis and its beer community for embracing and encouraging that mantra throughout dedicated beer weeks and all the weeks in between.