Beer and Gender Equality: A Call To Action

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I’m currently on a beer review hiatus while I explore the magical world of home brewing (by ‘explore’ I actually mean jump into the deep end, up to my neck in sacks of grain, pounds of hops, several constantly bubbling fermenters, and a near-weekly fresh keg!) but I felt it necessary to address something I’ve been seeing and hearing more and more of late. And, I’ve been wanting to do some beer editorials for quite some time, so this might be a good kickstart for critical thinking issues in the beer universe that cross my mind.

Fair warning: I’m about to broach into a topic that some might find controversial. If you find this topic controversial, I encourage you to press on because you are likely one of the people that needs a wake-up call; a snap back to attention, and a realization that passion for beer is passion for people, and those people include both sexes and all races.

There are some people out there who use the term ‘chick beer’ as a descriptor when they talk about beer. Usually, ‘chick beer’ applies to brews that might have fruit in them, or have a fruity taste, or are a little sweet, or maybe the beer is low alcohol, or maybe it’s a lager, or maybe it’s too this and not enough that — in other words, a beer that isn’t hopped at a high rate, isn’t aged in a barrel, doesn’t come with an ‘Imperial’ rank to the style, and something a manly beer man would use to cleanse his palate in between sips of Double Extra Foreign Imperial Black Magic Coffee Cocoa Nib Bourbon Tequila Stave Stout and Double Extra American Imperial All El Dorado IPA aged in the socks of Ken Grossman. (Sorry, Mr. Grossman; you were the first big brewer I thought of. Your beer is excellent!)

Yesterday, I stumbled upon a very popular YouTube reviewer. He’s done over 1600 videos about beer, has thousands of subscribers, and sadly still cannot find words other than ‘chick beer’ to describe a beer inspired by Sticky Toffee Pudding, a classic British dessert. You might be saying to yourself “Ahh, ‘chick beer!’ That’s not offensive!” If you are, then you’re probably a dude. Read on.

Not only did this reviewer describe the beer as a ‘chick beer,’ he did it about four different times, each time in a disparaging way. And in several other videos about other beers. I noticed a pattern: any beer that HE didn’t like, that didn’t fit HIS parameters of what a beer ought to be (typically a super-hoppy IPA, a barrel-aged Imperial Stout, or anything below 7 percent ABV), well, that’s a ‘chick beer.’ That’s a beer ‘chicks’ will probably like; it’s not even really a beer; probably ought to come with a label on it so real men who can read know they aren’t getting a real beer. And perhaps the saddest part was when someone dared to challenge the ‘chick beer’ status in the comment section, the reviewer was defended as a “good-ol’ boy,” and the commenter, a female, was called a snob.

Hmm. I could connect that seemingly trite scenario to much bigger issues that have taken place in our society; both historical events, and ongoing struggles. But beer is supposed to be a fun thing in this life that should take us away, albeit probably only briefly, from our struggles as a people.

Attention white males (and yep, I’m one of them, with a beard and glasses): let me introduce you to a word. Privilege. The definition of privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” It’s easy to forget that word or not know what it is when you have it, pretty much 100% of the time. You never had to fight for a right to vote, or to get water from fountain, or to sit on a bus. But those are different topics for another article, one that doesn’t relate to beer.

I know it might be hard to understand how terming a beer ‘chick beer’ might be offensive, but put down that super-rare sour for a second and place yourself in the position of a woman who likes the beer you’re calling a ‘chick beer.’ Or a woman who likes the same beer you do. Tell me, are you going to tell Kim Jordan (co-founder of New Belgium Brewing) that a beer is a ‘chick beer?’ Do you have the balls to tell Laura Ulrich (brewer at Stone Brewing Co., creator of Stone Smoked Porter w/vanilla beans, and star of the photograph that began this article) she brews ‘chick beer?’ Probably not.

The good news is ‘chick beer’ is a fixable problem that can be changed by simply altering the way you think. Make the term ‘chick beer’ disappear from your vocabulary, forever. The cool thing about beer is that everyone has a voice, regardless of who you are; some folks have bigger voices than others, and it seems like the majority of those voices are white guys with beards. Nothing wrong with that, as I stated, I’m one of those dudes. But with that voice comes responsibility, and if we want to welcome as many ideas and even more voices to the table with us, we have to eliminate any type of ‘good-ol’ boy’ mentality. ‘Chick beer’ is as good a place to start as any.

I call on all those active in the beer community, especially white males, to follow these four simple points:

  1. Eliminate the term ‘chick beer’ from your vocabulary. Forever. Describe the beer for what it is. It’s okay to say a beer is sweet. It’s fine to say a beer has a light body or tastes crisp. It’s cool to note that the beer might be of a sessionable strength. It’s even okay to say you don’t particularly like the beer based on flavor preferences — but just because it falls into these categories (light, fruity, low alcohol, balanced) does NOT make it ok to say it’s a ‘chick beer’ because that’s a stereotype and that is wrong. By all means, please give a recommendation on who would enjoy the beer you’re talking about, but avoid doing so in a demeaning manner. You tell me the quote you’d rather have attributed to your name: “This pilsner is a chick beer!” or “This light-bodied, crisp pilsner would be perfect for a new beer drinker testing the waters beyond Miller Lite.”
  2. When you see gender discrimination, call it out for what it is. Let people know it’s not okay and that you won’t support it. If it’s a review, tell the reviewer that ‘chick beer’ isn’t a flavor nor an accurate description of a beer; it’s an antiquated mindset not appropriate for the 21st century. Most sane people should see the error of their ways when called out, but those who are still stubborn and insist on alienating a group of people for no reason other than a taste preference don’t deserve your attention. And that’s how you ultimately cast your vote.
  3. Stop ‘mansplaining’ beers to women. Don’t ‘mansplain’ beers to anyone, period. Mansplaining is when a man explains something to a woman in a manner that is condescending or patronizing. If you recommend what you consider a ‘chick beer’ to a woman just because she’s a woman, you’re not only an idiot, but you will make women feel like they’re not allowed to try this or that. If a woman asks you for a beer recommendation, or asks if you think she would like a particular beer, use flavor descriptors and try to help instead of automatically dismissing an option because you feel, in your delusional sage judgment that something is too bitter of full-bodied for a woman. Let her decide that — after all, science says she’s probably a much better taster than you, anyway (see link at end of article).
  4. Don’t support breweries that name beers or use label artwork that objectify women. While not as big of an issue as ‘chick beer,’ it is happening. (‘Double D Blonde Ale,’ ‘Panty Peeler Tripel,’ Donkey Punch Barleywine,’ ‘Busterhiman Cherry Ale,’ ‘Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout.’ All of these are made by big breweries.) If you see it, don’t support it. Let the brewery know you find it offensive, because your voice counts.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Classifying a beer as ‘chick beer’ is indeed a fool’s comment, one that lacks basic understanding of beer styles, and one that continues to keep sexism alive and well. Tell me, do you want to be the guy sitting at the table by himself deeming beers this or that, or would you like to have some other folks at the table for an intelligent discussion? Beer belongs to no one group of people more than any other. Welcome all. Use your voice for good! You never know who is listening.

FURTHER READING

How Craft Beer Fails Its Female Fan Base
Women and Beer: Stone Brewing Company’s Laura Ulrich
Why Are Women Better at Tasting Beer Than Men?
How Beer Is(n’t) Marketed To Women
Urban Dictionary: Chick Beer

Beer Review 0600: Boulevard Two Jokers Double-Witbier

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Boulevard Brewing Company started as a traditional Bavarian brewhouse on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City. The first beer made, in 1989, was Boulevard Pale Ale, and John McDonald, the founder, delivered the first keg of it to a local restaurant. Fast forward to 2006, when the brewery made major expansions, increasing from a modest 6,000 barrels to the aforementioned 600,000 barrels. Quite a jump!

In late 2013, Boulevard was purchased by Duvel Moortgat, a family-controlled Belgian brewery who also own Brewery Ommegang, another Belgian-inspired American beer maker.

In addition to a full regular line-up of beers, Boulevard makes a “Smokestack Series,” which are all intensely flavored beers in big, corked and caged bottles. Consider it the experimental side of Boulevard — new for the 2014 summer season is Two Jokers, and Boulevard are calling it a “Double-Witbier” because of the 8% ABV (alcohol by volume) strength. Brewed to be a revival of the classic Belgian Witbier, the beer is flavored with cardamom, coriander, orange peel, lavender, and grains of paradise. There’s lactic fermentation involved, too, which should lend some tartness.

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The bottle uncorked with a satisfying pop; in the glass, the beer produced an average size, bright white head that was frothy and rocky. The head disappeared quickly, leaving behind a thin coating atop a dark golden-orange beer which had a cloudy body. Although cloudy as a typical wheat beer should be, there weren’t any chunks of particles or sediment (the bottom of the bottle did contain a thin layer of yeast). I’d call it cloudy enough to be opaque; lacing on this beer didn’t happen, perhaps just a spare wisp here or there.

On the nose, the spices play off heavy, with big notes of lavender and coriander. There’s mild peppercorn along with some sweet orange peel; the actual beer aspect lies low in the background, providing scents of grainy wheat. There are some lactic notes from the yeast, and a dry, powdery, doughy aroma. Odd yet interesting; as it warms, it takes on more of a tea-like nose instead of a beer…

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A mild tartness greets the palate, and it quickly sees itself to the door thanks to a copious amount of spice. Lavender and sugary orange peel for the win — it intensifies as the tart fades, and the yeast brings on more of a traditional bubblegum, light clove, and banana ester. While quite strange at first, the drink opens up into less of a head-scratcher with a rush of wheat, and when combined with subtle tones of lemon and the aforementioned bubblegum is quite nice. The finish brings back a hint of the tartness, leaving the mouth dry, a touch powdery, and very lavender. Two Jokers is light-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.

I think this is a very polarizing beer that you’ll either dig or mildly appreciate without wanting a second glass. I find myself in the latter category; there’s just too much going on here. Some folks like all the spice and accouterment. Sometimes, I can go for that — but largely, I’m into the more traditional aspects of beer, and I think this Boulevard brew would be quite tasty without all the extras. Also, I’m not sure the lactic tartness plays well here — it’s nice on the finish, but the initial taste of the first sip is a mess. This beer has a lot going on but it gets dull fast.

Boulevard Two Jokers Double-Witbier, 83 points. Price: $8.99 US for one 750 ml. corked & caged bottle.

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Beer Review 0599: Stone Go To IPA

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With session IPA becoming a growing trend in craft beer, you had to know a low-alcohol hop-bomb made by the hop geniuses at Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, California) would soon be on the horizon. In March of this year, they released ‘Go To IPA,’ named such because many claimed this would be the beer they would most often reach for when session drinking.

Session beers often stir up a bit of controversy — what alcohol percentage do you define as “session?” For most, it seems around 4.5% or lower fits the bill. Stone’s version of an all-night pounder comes in right at 4.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is made using the “hop bursting” technique. Hop bursting is when the majority of the bitterness found in the beer (65 IBUs or International Bitterness Units, here) comes from late addition hops, typically added with 15 minutes or less to go in the boil.

Mitch Steele, Stone’s brewmaster, says there is a small bittering charge added just before the wort comes to a boil; the late additions are comprised of El Dorado, Mosaic, Citra, Cascade, and Sterling hops. The beer is finished with dry hops that are comprised of mostly the same additions used late in the boil.

The problem with most session IPA is that the low alcohol often makes the beer thin and lack mouthfeel, becoming more of a hoppy tea rather than a traditional beer. Let’s see if Stone has found balance that truly is a ‘Go To…’

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The pour issued up an average size, bright white head that was soapy and frothy in texture. It quickly diminished, leaving one finger of foam atop a golden beer that had just a hint of orange to it. The beer was brightly clear, free of particles and sediment, and lacing was excellent, leaving solid sheets of suds after each sip. It’s a very nice looking beer.

The nose is a knuckle sandwich of hops; we’ve got a big Mosaic presence — sweet melon is tackled by oranges, pine, and dankness. There’s some light grapefruit and lemon peel. Overall, I found the hop aroma to be sweet in nature, resinous, and completely covering any malt backing this beer might have. But…there probably isn’t much malt here to begin with; I detected perhaps some grainy sweetness. It’s clean, extremely hoppy, and just as advertised.

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Tasting brings on a light bitterness, reminiscent of grapefruit rind, then the middle of the taste explodes with all sorts of hop delight. Pine, melon, light tropical fruits, peaches, very fresh and clean. But things get a little muddy without a malt backbone — the hops fall apart some, and garlic/onion begin to take over the flavor profile. The bitterness, while only 65 IBU, is intense, especially with the lack of any sweetness and the bone dry finish. As it warms, the finish became more pleasant with dank notes of pine. Go To IPA is light-bodied, with a thin, drying mouthfeel. The bitterness, while heavy, isn’t too much, but it borders upon it.

Like many of its competitors, Stone’s Go To IPA lacks body and packs a heavy bitterness. It’s a nice beer, certainly drinkable with some interesting hops, but I’m not sure I could session this due to the hop tea thinness. I know Mitch Steele is a big fan of using 95-100% base malts in IPAs and (especially) Imperial IPAs, but I’m not sure that’s the right approach to take on a beer of this sort.

Stone Go To IPA, 84 points. Price: $1.79 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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Redux Review 0024: Founders Doom Imperial IPA

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What happens when you age a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial IPA in the best way possible? Today, we’re here to find out.

Without question, Founders (Grand Rapids, Michigan) Backstage Series brews are the hardest beers for me to obtain. Demand and hype are through the roof. Most shops only get one case, which in terms of the 750 ml servings these beers are doled out it, equals just twelve bottles per store. To make matters worse, these beers typically see release on a Monday, during what would traditionally be considered normal working hours. Last April, when Doom was released, I managed to snag two bottles. I immediately reviewed one while it was fresh, and scored it 94 points, one of the better Backstage Series beers that I’ve had.

I decided to squirrel one away, just to see what happens — and I aged it the best way possible; for one solid year, this bottle has remained in my fridge at a constant 38°F. With one year (and probably a few days), we’re going to crack the crown and see what we’ve got.

For those new to this beer, Doom is a bourbon-barrel aged version of Founders Double Trouble (rating: 93 points). It was previously known as “Hand of Doom” when served exclusively in their taproom; it was selected in 2013 to see a wide release in the Backstage Series.

My initial review went like this:

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Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 14 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 33 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 94 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.

So, what’s happened to this beer over the span of a year while stored in optimal conditions? Let’s see…

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The pour produced an average size, soapy head that diminished fairly quickly. There were lots of carbonation bubbles zooming to the top of the drink; the beer was golden in color and was brilliantly clear, with not even a hint of particles or sediment. Lacing was good, leaving weepy sheets of thin foam.

On the nose, not too much has changed since our initial visit — bourbon barrel collides with tropical fruit hops. We’ve got coconut, vanilla, and pineapple up front, with touches of grapefruit and orange peel. It’s almost like the barrel contributes some sweetness; there is a definite caramel malt backing, but the vanilla and somewhat woodsy/spicy barrel amplify the sweet level. As it warms, the vanilla and coconut notes show more, along with a dry twist of lemon peel.

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The age of this beer shows up on the taste; it’s not wholesale radically different but Doom is now drinking more like an American Barleywine instead of an Imperial IPA — up front, grapefruit, coconut, and pineapple. It’s initially sweet but turns moderately bitter after the first couple of swishes in the mouth; the bitterness is balanced by a solid note of caramel. The once-juicy fruits have turned dry, leaving only hints of faded pineapple, grapefruit, and spicy vanilla. The finish is warm, with a hit of the 10% alcohol, a nice layer of bitterness thanks to grapefruit rind and pine, and a layer of hot bourbon. This beer is medium-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.

This is still a very nice beer, and easily one of the better barrel-aged IPAs around… (barrels and IPA tend to rarely go together, in my opinion…) but as you might have expected, Doom was better fresh. I do think if you have a bottle of this and it hasn’t aged in a fridge, you will probably be in for worse results. While quite drinkable (and enjoyable!) you’ll find this is now more like a Barleywine than an IPA.

Founders Doom Imperial IPA, 89 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.

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Redux Review 0023: Dogfish Head Red & White Wheat Ale

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Dogfish Head’s (Milton, Delaware) Red & White, a high alcohol wheat beer that spends time aging on wood, is probably my favorite beer from the eccentric brewery. I reviewed it back on May 14, 2012, and awarded it 95 points, which is classic on my rating scale. At that time, I decided to squirrel away a few bottles and return periodically — two years later, we’re making that second trip, and it is the subject of this review.

Brewed only once each year, Red & White uses a Belgian yeast strain, and sees additions of coriander and orange peel. The beer is a blend — 11% of the final beer is aged in Pinot Noir barrels, while the other 89% rests on oak barrel staves. You could call this an Imperial Wheat, as it comes in at 10% ABV (alcohol by volume). Sam Calagione, Dogfish’s founder, came up with the idea while attending a wine dinner, where he departed wanting to make a beer that had vinous qualities.

My initial review went as follows:

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Appearance: 15 of 15 points
Aroma: 14 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 33 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 95 points, or classic on my rating scale.

With two years in the bottle, and without having been disturbed since I laid it to rest in 2012, let’s crack into it.

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Pouring makes for a small, soapy, bright white head that lasts atop a beautifully vivid golden-orange beer. The body is cloudy, as you might expect from a wheat beer; there were no particles or sediment, but there were plenty of yeast dregs at the bottom of the bottle. Lacing was pretty good for such a high alcohol beer; there was a respectable sudsy layer at the top of the glass before all the action tapered off.

Possibly the most disappointing aspect of this aged beer was the nose, which has taken a sharp decline in complexity. I remember this beer having hoppy notes, funky yeast, and a large spice presence — not today. There’s some general malt sweetness up front mixed with a bit of orange peel. The alcohol is heavy, almost boozy; there’s plenty of the oak barrel, and a slightly wine-like scent going on. Think woodsy, ashy oak and a bready sweetness. As it warms, some coriander starts to mingle. Sweet, plenty of alcohol, but dialed-down when it comes to the scents you’re here for.

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On the taste, it’s more of a return to form — orange peel, coriander, and sweet grain hit up front, with a touch of light caramel sweetness. Eventually, the sweetness starts to win out, and it’s more of a toffee/Tootsie Roll thing going on, which I find typical in some aged beers, especially Barleywines — but this drinks a lot like a Belgian Tripel, not so much in yeast flavor, but in how dry it is. There’s notes of grape skin and oak barrel that come through, and the finish is warm (not boozy!) with dry orange peel and very sweet bready yeast. Red & White is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

This beer has changed a lot, and I’m more inclined to like it fresh. There’s significantly more grape and wine-like flavors here than I remember, which I suppose is what Mr. Calagione was after; however, a fresh bottle is more beer-like and seems to be easier drinking. Perhaps my tastes have changed some. Drink it fresh if you want a beer with some wine qualities; try it aged for wine with beer qualities.

Dogfish Head Red & White Wheat Ale, 87 points. Price: $13.99 US for one 750 ml. bottle.

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