In December of 2018, Boise beer shop Hops & Bottles advertised its Ladies Who Love Beer event on Facebook with this message: "Come down to celebrate all things beer and learn more about your favorite drink that hipster men seem to mansplain about." That rhetoric might have rubbed some readers the wrong way, but Hops & Bottles Owner/Operator Mark Sieber wasn't too worried about it—he said it was "all in good fun," and while men weren't the target audience, they weren't excluded, either.
"Our goal was to just kind of engage women in beer, and get them in a place where they could feel comfortable talking about beer and asking questions," said Sieber. "... We didn't turn any guys away. We didn't have a single guy say, 'What? This is ladies only?'"
More than 75 women showed up for the event, including female reps from Georgetown Brewing, Alaskan Brewing, Woodland Empire, Firestone Brewing, Boston Brewing and Sockeye Brewing. Sieber said the idea to host it came in part because he'd found data showing that women make 80 percent of buying decisions in the household. That means they're often the ones putting beer in their grocery carts even though, he thinks, they don't always know what they're buying.
- Courtesy Hops & Bottles
"They buy the beer for their boyfriends, husbands, significant others, whatever it is, but they don't know anything about the beer, they just know 'Oh, they like that style of beer, I'm getting that beer,'" Sieber said, adding that that he had hoped a night of education and comradery would help demystify craft beer for those buyers.
Yet, there are more than a few Boise women who are already well aware of what's in their bottles. Among them are the members of Boise Girls Pint Out, a local women's beer-drinking group that's a branch of the national Girls Pint Out nonprofit. The 4-year-old local collective has more than 1,000 followers on Facebook, and throws beer-related events around Boise generally attended by 12-60 people. Kristin Montgomery, a co-founder, is an interior designer by day and a beer enthusiast when she's off the clock. She called Boise Girls Pint Out "a safe place" for women to get together, network and enjoy craft beer, whether they're drinking while carving pumpkins for Halloween, touring a new brewery, brewing their own beer or curating an all-women panel of craft beer experts for Alefort.
"I have a husband that's in his own beer club, so I guess I wanted to have my own outlet to go and be able to explore beer and to be able to share my love of it with other women," Montgomery said. She added that sometimes the group runs into stereotypes, like servers who assume they'd all prefer to drink Pilsners.
- Courtesy Hops & Bottles
"All women don't necessarily drink the same thing, we all have different tastes just like everybody else," she said.
Beth Bechtel, the brewer/owner of local craft beer hub Bear Island Brewing, said assumptions like those extend behind the bar, too.
"I get a lot of people that come into our taproom who have asked, 'Are you going to have cider or wine, you know, for the women?' Because they think that maybe women don't drink beer, but obviously they do," she said. "I had kind of a snotty guy come in and when my employee pointed out that I'm the brewer, that I invent all the beers, he didn't believe him. He said, 'No, she couldn't, she's a woman.'"
Bechtel sees two big ironies in that attitude: Pointing to a copy of The Oxford Companion to Beer that she keeps in her taproom, she noted that its chapter "Women and Brewing" gives women credit for being the first brewers, back when ale was seen as a source of nutrition and a safer alternative to water. Plus, she said, women have more sensitive palates, and take longer to adjust to bitter beers like IPAs for that reason. Studies conducted by Rutgers University on smell, which is closely linked to taste, back that up; research published in Nature Neuroscience revealed women of reproductive age were up to five times more sensitive to odors than men.
- Courtesy Boise Girls Pint Out
Still, women in Boise are pushing past that sensitivity and exploring beer in all of its forms, a process Bechtel likened to transitioning from drinking lattes to swilling black coffee. Kerry Caldwell, the quality assurance manager at Mother Earth Brew Co. in Nampa and a past head brewer at Boise's Edge Brewing, said she prefers IPAs. She added that she thinks people aren't as quick to make assumptions about women in beer as they once were, at least out loud.
"I think it's become a little bit more taboo to go, 'Oh, a girl in the beer industry, huh?' Even if people think it, they aren't so comfortable saying it anymore," she said.
While all of the women BW spoke to said they feel like minorities in Boise's beer scene, they nevertheless pointed to other inspiring women in the industry—like Barbarian Brewing co-owner Bre Hovley, and sisters Andrea, Diane and Michelle Gooding, who operate the Gooding Farms hop-growing operation—and noted that the presence of women seems to be rising in both the brewery and the taproom.
"It's really neat when we do run into [each other], because it's just kind of exciting that you're not all alone," said Bechtel.
For women looking to build their own beer communities there are plenty of options coming up, from another Ladies Who Love Beer event at Hops & Bottles slated for late April to a Boise Girls Pint out beer trivia night and fundraiser at Clairvoyant Brewing Company on Sunday, April 28.