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Craft beer a man's game? Not so fast, say female brewers

Veronica Danko, flanked by Ryan Fouch? and Aaron Schaub, owns and operates The Independent in Tampa. She also is co-owner of the new Jug and Bottle Dept. in Seminole Heights.
Veronica Danko, flanked by Ryan Fouch? and Aaron Schaub, owns and operates The Independent in Tampa. She also is co-owner of the new Jug and Bottle Dept. in Seminole Heights.
Published Dec. 15, 2015

Here's how to annoy a beer expert. When she sits at the bar, offer her a blueberry wheat just because she's female.

"Some women like it and that's fine," says Jennifer Sedillo, a Ph.D. microbiologist who runs the lab at Green Bench Brewing Co. in St. Petersburg. "But women really like porters. They like sour beers because they're more like wine. They like all different styles."

You might stereotype a beer drinker as a white male, maybe thick around the middle, maybe with a TV remote. But the modern beer consumer is changing. Women are getting out of what Sedillo calls the "blueberry wheat ghetto." They're part of the exploding craft brewing scene, forming beer clubs and forging brewing careers.

Women have always accounted for less than 20 percent of American beer consumption. But last year that number, according to Nielsen research, jumped to 25 percent. In the craft beer category, women now consume 32 percent. With 111 craft breweries at last count and an economic impact of just over $2 billion, these shifting demographics are big news in Florida.

"Beer was a beverage marketed to young white males," says Julia Herz, the craft beer program director for the national Brewers Association. "Now we have a diverse beverage where flavor is top of mind, and flavor is not gender specific."

But in order to market effectively to this new demographic, breweries need to understand why women are going crazy over craft. And the why is complicated.

Julia Rosenthal, who with husband, Ken, owns Pair O' Dice Brewing Co. in Clearwater, says look to history. When Prohibition ended, men often swung by their local bar for a pint. Women who stayed at home didn't have that same access.

As a consequence, Anheuser-Busch and the other big breweries marketed their product only to men, which served to alienate women.

Leslie Shore, the production brewer at Darwin Brewing Co. in Sarasota, thinks contemporary advertising is less sexist and more politically correct. Budweiser's Super Bowl ad in 2015 had an adorable puppy journeying across the miles to reunite with his Clydesdale best friend.

"It's not Spuds MacKenzie and bikini bodies anymore," she says. "Advertising is approaching gender neutrality."

The power of social media should not be underestimated as a gateway for women. And, many local breweries, like Green Bench, have family-friendly, inclusive atmospheres.

"Everyone wants to eat local and drink local," Shore says. "If there's a beer made right down the street, why not take advantage of that?"

Some women are finding beer via social circles. Sharmi Duncan, the accounting manager for Cigar City Brewing, is starting a Florida Women in Brewing group in October. She also belongs to a national women's beer group called the Pink Boots Society.

"You fall in love with a company and you want to become a part of that," Duncan says.

Then, of course, there are Barley's Angels.

Lisa Colburn, who owns HiFi Home Brew and BBQ in Clearwater, runs a local chapter. The Bay Area Barley's Angels has 24 members, from craft beer newbies to professional brewers, and while she says brewing has been "a bit of a boys' club," if you look back far enough, XX chromosomes dominate.

"Going back to ancient times, women were the original brewers," she says. "In the Middle Ages, the alewives actually brewed the beer. Then the men took it over when they realized it could be profitable."

The increasing breadth of flavors has enticed women into the world of craft beer and a rejection of the "beer equals football on Sunday" stereotype, says Jennifer Sparacino, who has brewed more than 25 beers with her husband at their home in Apollo Beach.

At the new Jug and Bottle Dept. in Tampa's Seminole Heights, co-owner Veronica Danko, who also owns The Independent, sees both men and women's interest piqued by the availability of styles of beer beyond the traditional American light lager.

"Women have sophisticated palates," she says. "If women are already wine savvy, they can easily transfer that knowledge and ability to appreciate the nuances in beer."

There's a ways to go before gender parity. Joseph Tucker, founder of RateBeer.com, says his "geek site" has been consistently 22 percent female, although beer events tend to tip to 40 percent female. Still, he says, progress has been made.

"There was a time when a brewer not having a Northern European surname or not being male meant something to some people," he says. "Yes, really. I'm pretty sure most of us have put that behind us. There are so many female brewers and brewmasters now, and we finally have people of color making inroads as well."

Taylor Katz launched a craft beer marketing company called Cultured and Craft last month in Tampa. She has debuted a line of craft beer-themed women's clothing: hops-printed headbands, pillows and message T-shirts.

Is there a market for it? Tucker, certainly part of the male craft beer hegemony, is hopeful.

"As we see craft beer become a truly worldwide phenomenon, and as we distance ourselves from decades of misogynistic marketing practices … ," he says, "the natural balance is toward something more genuine, human and open-minded."

Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

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