Craft beer, as an industry and as a community, does tend to try its hardest to be a welcoming place for all genders. It’s something of an uphill battle, as the macro beer market in particular was male-dominated for so long that there was a time when a woman ordering even a domestic light lager was met with raised eyebrows. The vast majority of craft breweries, meanwhile, recognize that they can’t exactly afford to turn down the business of the rapidly growing female craft beer segment via sexist marketing. After all, women consumed 33% of all craft beer in the U.S. back in 2014 (the most recent statistic), and that number has only risen since. Within a few years, the craft customer base will be truly egalitarian, right around 50/50. And at the same time, more craft breweries owned or operated by women come online every day.
Which is why it’s so sad—and let’s face it, funny, in a pathetic sort of way—when craft beer and cider companies still occasionally struggle with displaying overt sexism in their marketing materials. Sometimes it’s in the use of sexuality via beer labels, which is something I’ve written about in detail before. And other times, it’s much more blatant and direct. This is one of those times.
The other week, I received a press release from a hard cider producer in Boonville, CA called Bite Hard. I didn’t really think anything of it at first, unwrapping a few bottles of dry and semi-sweet cider, of the sort Paste receives multiple boxes of on any given day. But then I got around to actually reading the press release. Here’s a single paragraph of that release.
The craft cider movement was originally created for—and driven by—the girlfriends of craft beer drinkers. Men and women’s palates and taste preferences differ … in large part because women have more taste buds than men, making females anatomically superior tasters. Men who like craft beer tend to prefer “hoppy” tastes. The craft beer drinker’s girlfriend was seeking an alternative.
Yikes. Reading it, I couldn’t help but shake my head and laugh. I’ve read a lot of weird stuff in press releases, but I can’t remember the last time I read something so blatantly, cluelessly sexist. In only a few sentences, they make so many assumptions, generalizations and oversimplifications, both positive and negative. And the cherry on top is that it seems to be written with a goal of accomplishing nothing. There’s no outcome that could come out of any of that text that would possibly be desired. So let’s dive into each incredibly misguided bit in greater detail.
Bite Hard implies that the entire cider industry sprang up to serve the girlfriends of craft beer drinkers who were too intimidated by the flavors of beer and needed a product they could call their own. Note also that it’s “the girlfriends of craft beer drinkers” and not women in general. They imply that the only women drinking craft cider are those women who have been introduced into the craft alcohol segment by their craft beer-loving boyfriends, because obviously a woman can’t discover any of these things on her own. And naturally, the only women mentioned in the press release are simply defined as “the girlfriends” of (obviously male) craft beer drinkers, because in what other context could a woman possibly exist? As an independent being? Pshhhhhhhhhhh, yeah right. As one of my Facebook friends quipped when I posted the quote, “Why would women even bother existing, outside the role of being someone’s girlfriend,” right?
Moreover, why would you turn away all the potential business of MALE cider drinkers by implying that Bite Hard is a brand targeted only at “their girlfriends”? Do they not see that a sexist piece of marketing copy designating the company as being for beer-hating women also has the simultaneous effect of making the product less desirable to the same group of men they represent? When you say “women don’t like craft beer, they like this cider,” it doesn’t exactly make the average male consumer say “I’m so happy to have a feminine palate, given that I like this cider too.”
“Give your girlfriend a shiny apple today. It will keep her coat glossy and lustrous.”
It’s a bit of a stretch to act as if the anatomical differences mean that the majority of women or men are predisposed to like a certain type of flavor or product, but at the very least, the bit about the taste buds is scientifically accurate. What isn’t accurate is to take that information and come to the conclusion of “women are less likely to enjoy craft beer” because they’re cursed with a pox of supertasting. Do these guys (the company is operated by five white guys, naturally) never set foot in any of the taprooms of the hundreds of California craft breweries that surround them? Have they not noticed the growing parity, every single year in craft beer between the number of men and the number of women in those taprooms? Do they not see which way this industry is moving? How could you possibly miss it, when you’re operating an alcohol company? It seems impossible.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that someone on the PR team at Bite Hard did notice that the rest of this paragraph might draw some sort of allegations of sexism, and thus inserted this bit as a way of protecting the company from it. “If we’re complimenting their anatomical prowess, it can’t be sexist,” you can hear that person saying in your mind. “Sure, we’re implying that their palates aren’t configured correctly for beer tasting, but they won’t mind that.”
Calling women “anatomically superior tasters” who are predisposed to preferring ciders is more or less like calling your Asian friend a “mathematically superior thinker” or your black friend an “anatomically superior runner” and expecting them to say “Hey thanks man, I appreciate that.”
Honestly. What is the point of making such a sweeping generalization statement? Even if IPA is the most popular style of craft beer in the U.S.A. (which it is), what is there to be gained by making an ignorant statement that half of your audience will automatically disagree with? Isn’t that like PR 101? I can’t understand why you would do it, when there’s no positives that can come of it, and the only comment on it will invariably be a negative one.
Because trust me, those hop-haters are certainly out there. Anytime IPA comes into discussion—as in the 247 American IPAs we just blind-tasted and ranked—there emerges that vocal underbelly of craft beer fans who hate how much IPA and other hoppy styles have come to dominate the marketplace. And guess what? Most of those detractors are men, and they hate breweries acting as if every one of their drinkers wants nothing but a constant stream of hoppy beer. And the irony is that it’s these hop-averse men who would probably be natural cider drinkers!
But more than that, people (both male and female) just don’t like being told what they’re supposed to like and dislike. That’s why you don’t tell people what they like in advertising, you tell them about how great your product is and invite them to try it.
Given that this restates the first sentence, I’ll just let two of my female craft beer geek friends who responded on Facebook quip at it.
Friend 1: “I hope they launch a line of women’s shirts that just say “CRAFT BEER DRINKER’S GIRLFRIEND.””
Friend 2: “Whom are they trying to appeal to? Are they telling men it’s OK to drink cider because people with superior taste buds like cider? Are they trying to flatter women? Have I been wasting my superior taste buds every time I drink beer? Do I need to have manly taste buds to truly appreciate hops?!”
These are the voices of real women, and they are average craft beer consumers in 2016. These women are not a novelty or an unusual sight at the local craft brewer’s taproom. They drink the same beer styles that men drink, in the same way that men drink them. They’re completely unexceptional in this community, because craft beer has come a long way to make that the case. When these women walk into a brewery, it isn’t assumed they’re just following their knowledgeable, beard-wearing boyfriend who is meting out the secret arcana of craft beer to a willing supplicant with two X chromosomes.
EXTRA: I hadn’t even thought to look on YouTube for anything else from the company, but lo and behold, they have a YouTube account with a single video, and it spouts off THE SAME SEXIST LINES! I thought for sure this was going to be a one-time thing, but now we’ve also got a video with the founder explaining (at 1:42) that craft cider is popular because “the girlfriend of the guy in the bar needed something to drink.” Unreal, folks. Naturally, in the photo I grabbed from said video at the top of this page, all the men have beer glasses and all the women have wine glasses … for their ciders.
And so, our thesis is this: There’s just no place for sexist language like this in craft beer and craft cider, and these guys should have known better. It’s unfortunate, because I sincerely feel like whoever wrote this press release probably did so with absolutely no malice in mind, but the alternative is a shocking amount of ignorance for PR work in particular. But I think we can say with some certainty that this thing would not have been written this way if it was a woman writing it.
A final, amusing note: Bite Hard is a product of the small city of Boonville, CA, which is famous for its mostly extinct folk language, “Boontling,” which arose in the 19th century and enjoyed a certain pop culture consciousness in the ‘70s via a Boontling speaker who would appear on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The language consists of more than a thousand unique words and phrases to describe people and things, including the following one, which may explain how women and cider apparently became so conflated there:
Applehead (noun): A young girl; girlfriend or wife.
Seriously. That’s a Boontling word, in the town where this press release came from. You can’t make this shit up.
An unrelated note on Bite Hard’s ciders
Because it seems unfair to simply target this company for a few badly (very badly) chosen sentences in a press release without writing anything about their product, I also tasted the two ciders sent to Paste. They’re actually both quite solid, and I imagine that both of them would have performed well in our March blind-tasting of 82 hard ciders, had they been part of the field.
Bite Hard Dry Apple Cider
This is presumably the lower-selling of the two brands, because when they say “dry,” they mean it, unlike some cider producers. It’s an elegant, spritzy cider with very little residual sugar, featuring restrained tart apple flavors and a good dose of slightly earthy, funky character that is integral to the style in traditional English dry ciders. Even to dry cider drinkers, it might be surprisingly dry, but that also means it’s ultra-quaffable, while leaning on more subtle flavors. It hides its 6.9% ABV extremely well. A nice balance of drinkability and wine-like esters and flourishes.
Bite Hard Semi-Sweet Apple Cider
Much more of a crowd-pleaser, and much closer to what the average consumer is probably picturing when they hear the words “hard cider,” the semi-sweet offering also does a nice job of standing up to its own claim. Many ciders packaged as “semi-sweet” simply use those words to offer a guilt-free sugar bomb to the cider drinker that doesn’t want to admit they want sweet cider, but Bite Hard’s is nicely judicious in its residual sweetness. The flavor is naturally more juicy and instantly approachable, with less white winey influence/comparison than the dry cider—i.e. this is closer to the flavor of pure apple juice than the former, which is undoubtedly what many consumers want. Both are solid examples of their respective styles, and I’d happily drink either of them if put in front of me.
But wait, I’m a guy, so I should be drinking a hop-forward beer. I’ll just get my girlfriend to drink them—she doesn’t like beer, because her taste buds are different. She’s going to be thrilled that someone finally made a beverage for her.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more craft beer/cider/whiskey content, including Paste’s blind tasting series.