The Male Gueuze

tl;dr The brewing industry continues to be sexist and it makes me sad. Title shamelessly plagiarized.

I’ve spent about a decade-and-a-half writing about the history of alcohol, generally from the perspective of the early modern transatlantic trade, and the transfer of cultural drinking traditions, as well as commerce in types of alcohol. I’ve been brewing beer, both as a homebrewer and occasional collaborator with professionals, for around 30 years. I’ve work with brewers and distillers on various projects, and started and run a university brewing program that oversaw the commercial production of a pretty decent beer. Students of mine (including women students) have served in internships as diverse as a brewer’s assistant to a quality control sensory analyst in a well-known bourbon distillery. Fair to say that while I am not in the industry, I do work closely with it.

So, stories of sexism and racism in the industry are not exactly new. And, unfortunately, not surprising. The craft beer culture that began in the 1970s but really grew up in the 1990s was very much a male-dominated thing, despite the craft of brewing having been an overwhelmingly woman-dominated field up through the 1300s (in the European “west”). The craft beer industry of the 1990s was a “bro” culture even at the most enlightened of breweries. The kind of casual sexism that goes on in so many workplaces (the off-color jokes, the posters and calendars, etc) found an “acceptable outlet” in beer advertising, which had long utilized images of scantily-clad women to sell its product. (There have been some notable, and pointed attempts to highlight this. Heineken was one such effort..)

By the 2000s, women had begun to enter the craft side of the industry in greater numbers, drawn by the same things men were—the craft, the artistry, the simple enjoyment of beer. But despite an outward acceptance by men, they faced hurdles. That is, there was very little outward talk of “this is a man’s job.” Rather the crude, sexist atmosphere in many breweries pushed them away or made their lives very hard. The first intern I ever sent out went to a tiny brewery on the east coast, run by a male friend of mine. He and I spoke extensively about “atmosphere” and expectations. He understood the “none of that shit” that I wanted, and she understood that being a brewery assistant mostly meant shit work cleaning the inside of boilers and fermenters. She reported a good experience, but even so it wasn’t without its moments. Again, crude jokes, light supposedly “good natured” teasing of a women in the brewery, and so forth.

In the 2000s women had also begun to organize. If you aren’t familiar with the Pink Boots Society, you should be. It’s a great organization dedicated to helping women succeed in the industry. (Interestingly, when a woman colleague tried to start a similar organization for distillers in the mid 2010s there was less-than-zero interest. Several prominent women distillers told her “I suffered through a lot of sexism in this industry, younger women have to learn the same lessons.” wtf)

Women had also begun to gain recognition. Kim Jordan at New Belgium might be the most famous example in craft brewing, but Jill Vaughn had been a brewmaster at Budweiser since the early 1990s and Patricia Henry was the first African-American women to run a major brewery (btw, I can change your mind that Coors and Coors Light are high-quality finely-crafted beers. That I don’t like the latter doesn’t change that). Over in England, my personal hero is Sara Barton, co-owner of Brewster’s Brewing in Gratham, Lincs. Aside from being a simply fantastic brewer, Sara has made it her personal mission to help women brewers in the UK, and her various series’ of women-themed beers are as interested as they are tasty. (Wicked Women in the 2010s was her first series, and she let my women students write the back story for the cans for a couple of them).

By the 2010s, it seemed, the industry had become only slightly more sensitive to problems of sexism in the breweries. Certainly not so sensitive as to be intolerant of breweries like Big Beaver Brewing which is about as disgusting a place as one can imagine. But the big brewers, one would hope, had become more sensitive, if only for marketing reasons. Or not, as this list of sexist labels shows.

Still, the #metoo movement helped. In England the Society of Independent Brewers in 2018 drew up guidelines to outlaw offensive marketing.

That’s why it was so, so disappointing to see the news from Cantillon Brewing in 2019. If you don’t know Cantillon, it’s a Belgian brewery located in Brussels that is legendary worldwide for its sour beers. Limited runs, finely crafted beers, an artistry combined with a deep knowledge of how yeasts work all work together to produce beers that are so highly regarded that people travel from around the world to have a beer onsite. Their yeast management, working on an “open fermentation” process, is so careful that when they opened a second brewery a decade or so ago, they brewed a batch of one of their red lambics and used it to fumigate the new brewery in order to have the correct yeasts in the atmosphere and “seed” the woodwork.

Every year Cantillon holds a Zwanze release party for one of its beers. It’s a huge party, attracting people from around the world. In 2018 Cantillon co-hosted it at Moeder Lambic and for whatever reason decided to open the festivities with a decidedly inappropriate burlesque show. You can read a write-up here, which is incidentally where I stole the most excellent article title. I hadn’t heard about the thing with Cantillon until today, for reasons not entirely clear to me. The US industry conference I usually attend was cancelled in 2020, but that’s US-focused and in 2019 there wasn’t any talk of it. A beer tweeter I sometimes see had it in the feed today, and the various beer tweeters are trying to highlight industry sexism this week.

It’s heavy lifting. The ongoing sexism is supported in a number of ways, tacit and less so. Nobody is calling out Big Beaver, and as the linked “Male Gueuze” article notes, attempts to call out places like Acoustic Ales in San Diego are met with derision. Just browse the comments.

I don’t really have a larger point here, to be honest. And this went on way longer than I intended. I don’t tweet, though I keep an eye on some feeds. I wanted to also highlight sexism in an industry about which I care deeply, and this seemed like a good place. This piece was also probably more therapeutic than anything. As someone who teaches the history of alcohol and sends students into the industry, I feel like the effort has to come at all levels, not just on the brewery floor or in the advertising room (though in small craft breweries these are one and the same). I also know that the history of the industry is one in which women were pushed out as soon as it became a profitable industry rather than a household chore that brought in extra income.

So, I suppose it should be any surprise that an industry literally founded on misogyny continues to have problems (including racism, and not just in the US). I’m just sad that the list of really excellent breweries at which I will no longer spend money continues to grow.


Fully understand the frustration. While I despise racism and sexism in any setting, when it arises in my own field it feels much for personally disgusting, almost as if they were a failure of my own, rather than systemic issues that predate me by a long way. Which is why I post about that with (alarming) frequency. So, yeah, understand. I guess, just keep up the good fight. I got nothing else.


Hmmmm . . . yeah, this resonates. Existential agnst.


Thank you for including the Founder’s racism suit in your links. It was so galling to hear about a black employee at their Detroit location being harassed so egregiously. Suffice it to say, my beer dollars go elsewhere until or unless they fix their culture. It’s not like we don’t have about 100 or so other options in Michigan.


Hm. Sort of tangential to this, in the work I’ve been doing lately, I see something very similar in punk circles in the late 70s (post 77) and 80s. The first wave punk scenes tended to have more women, LGBQT+, POC, etc than the second wave of hardcore that dominated the 80s. It’s very much a “bro” culture that made HC punk into a white male space. Of course, this created the riot grrl, queer core, and afro-punk backlashes…

I find what you’re saying interesting because these are evolving at a similar time and in some similar cultural spaces (bars and pubs are obviously important locations for building up a subcultural scene like punk rock, though punk-centric spaces become a bigger part of that in the 80s and 90s). One wonders what the overlapping historical forces are? This is post-civil rights and after the rise of the more vocal and corporate second wave which was focused on getting women into the work place more.

stephen colbert obama GIF by The Late Show With Stephen Colbert


Perhaps a reaction to 1970s feminism? Is that what you’re saying? Interesting. I know less-than-nothing about punk, except having enjoyed the music and slam-dancing when I was young. But my experience with the brewing industry has been that it’s a “assumed sexism” in the sense that the brewing space was “assumed” to be a male space, and that it always had been. And that beer was essentially a male drink. So, it was a product produced by males for males.* Women entering the brewery space was often a “welcome aboard little girl” kind of thing, coupled with “aren’t we so enlightened with our women brewers, look at us” misplaced pride. So it wasn’t overtly consciously unwelcoming, but it was unwelcoming nonetheless. Was it the same in the punk scene?

*[There’s some interesting chemical and biological studies on the effects of hops on the female palate, and the role of bitterness in evolutionary biology that suggests that women are biologically primed to be less receptive to hoppy beers].


I think it’s possible? Maybe it’s not on a conscious level, but a byproduct of spaces that were previously very male being “invaded” by women?

I’d say the same is true of the music industry more generally, where the women who are there are either superstars (mostly singers) or there at/for the pleasure of men. This was especially true of heavier music There were exceptions of course (Heart and Fanny are two that come to mind)… but the proto-punk and first wave punk scenes had Suzi Quattro, the Runaways, Patti Smith, Blondie, Jayne County (who transitioned during this period), the Slits, X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie, (plus fans like Jordan and Soo Catwoman) etc… all playing “male” music and participating not as tangential to the men but as members of the scene in their own right. But hardcore was harder, faster, and some real violent elements crept in - oi in the UK and the HC bands from Orange Co and South Bay, etc. Or the shift from pogoing to slamming… You start to see a little more objectification of women in some cases, too. But like with your example of the craft beer industry, I haven’t seen a ton of evidence that it is conscious action being taken (though it might be), but more of a certain idea about masculinity asserting itself.

So I do think it could be due to larger historical forces, such as 1970s feminism and more women in the work place, and starting to assert themselves in these cultural fields, too.


This sounds like it has interesting potential as a comparative exploration/analysis. Journal of Comparative Sociology, or maybe Comparative Cultural Studies or Journal of Pop Culture.

Seems like there’s definitely overlap in things like advertising [beer labels, album covers], ideas of “leadership” [head brewers, front-women] and other areas.


Re-reply . . .

Maybe it’s not on a conscious level, but a byproduct of spaces that were previously very male being “invaded” by women?

A lot of the people from the 1970s & 1980s are still around. Oral histories could be done as part of a study, I’d bet. I think you’re certainly on the mark with the idea of the “invasion.” It was pretty low-scale in the 1980s and early 1990s, so there was some novelty to offset the discomfort. But by the early-mid 00s the market had become competitive, which probably didn’t help things. So any latent sexism would probably have been exacerbated by that. I have no idea if this parallels what was happening in the punk world.


Yeah, could be… and oral history might help get at that narrative.

I think the competitive aspect would be very different. Most punk bands aren’t necessarily expecting the people who buy their albums to be entirely loyal customers in the same way a brewer might be, if that makes sense? In many punk scenes communal action is pretty highly prized, and the line between performer and fan is non-existent in many cases. Even people who are not in bands tend to be active in the scene in other ways. But all of this came from years of debate, discussion, and lived experience about what a punk scene should be.

I’ll have to think on this more!


Back in college I did a paper for one of german classes about the history of beer. I remember finding that it was “discovered” in three places at about the same time, I want to say maybe Egypt, somewhere in South America, and Belgium? I also recall that it was posited women “discovered” it, since they were probably the ones making bread…I’ve looked since then and can’t find where I found that. (It was the late ‘90s, early oughts, internet was new-ish, and I probably looked everything up on j-stor).
Anyway, writing here to ask if you can verify either of those, and also to point out the horrid injustice of women being “sexismed” out of the field they quite possibly invented.


You know a lot more about this then I do and this is maybe an unwelcome derailment, so I am hesitant to contradict you, but is that statement true in the context of brewers guilds in the German speaking countries from the late Middle Ages onwards?

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Both, yes. When hops were introduced, beer became more profitable. Guilds formed and began to exclude women. Guilds forced the passage of laws that made it very hard to legally make ale in your own home. This started in the 1300s and 1400s

Sumeria, China, Iran, for various definitions of “beer” as “intentionally-fermented grain-based beverage.” Around 5000+ years ago. Marijuana not long after.


jimmy fallon singing GIF by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon


An obvious analogy would be what happened after (gasp, horror) a Black man won the Presidency twice.


gasp GIF


It’s been in the news a bit recently. Here’s the first thing that came up, which gives a starting point:


It’s a logical conclusion, yes.


My wife enjoys beer, and does not wear skimpy swimsuits. She is also the sole bread- and beer-winner in our house.

Rock on dude, sexism sucks.


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