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Britain’s Real Ale Industry Can’t Deal with Women Beer Drinkers

From porno pump clips to beers named “Knicker-Mocha-Muffdive,” the world of British real ale is a depressing place for the female beer lover.
Photo via Flickr user Anders Adermark

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't particularly like my beer with a side of bare vagina.

But then I'm not the kind of person who thinks its totally fine to name a beer 'Leg Spreader,' as Indiana brewery Route 2 Brews did when christening their Extra Special Bitter. The saddest part about the cartoon-muff-accompanied beverage is probably the fact that it was only launched last November.

While sexism has roamed the beer realm like a slobbering velociraptor since year dot, thanks to misogynistic marketing campaigns and patronising attitudes, today's beer world seems to show little signs of progress. The number of female beer drinkers is on the rise, and yet established beer companies still seem to think the way to lure XX-chromosomed customers is with beers coloured like fairy piss.


READ MORE: Brewing Beer Has Always Been a Women's Game

The other end of the spectrum is the beer marketers seeing all men as TOTAL FUCKING GEEZAS, who just want to get shit-faced and have a night off from the missus. Even the independent craft breweries serving triple-hopped, craft IPA have been known to bestow their creations with such delightful names as 'Raging Bitch' and 'Mouth Raper.'

But the trickiest stumbling block in overcoming beer sexism is the traditional British real ale industry.

Pumpclip Parade is a website exposing the "cringe-inducing beer names, woeful artwork and generally execrable branding" bestowing the handles of Britain's beer taps. Founded by former craft beer bar owner Jeff Pickthall, its more excruciating finds include bare breasts, 'naughty nuns,' and a beer called the 'Knicker-Mocha-Muffdive.'


"The received wisdom in the world of real ale is that young people and all women are largely resistant to its charms," says Pickthall. "The Pumpclip Parade view is that the world of real ale is just doing it wrong."

While the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) regularly comments on the economic problems facing the UK beer industry, their track record for attracting a diverse range of new members is shaky.

Last year, the organisation produced a flyer depicting women in low-cut corsets as an attempt to convince young people of the joys to be had from real ale. Their campaign backfired when hundreds signed a petition to protest the flyer's "insult to the intelligence and taste of ANYONE [who] has fought hard to stop 'beer sexism'."


CAMRA later withdrew the flyer but made no formal apology for the images.

For Melissa Cole, author of Let Me Tell You About Beer: A Beginner's Guide to All Things Brewed, this type of misogyny is a depressing workplace hazard.

"From being groped at beer festivals to being told I wasn't a very helpful PR rep on a press trip otherwise made up of men (because I couldn't possibly be a beer writer with boobs), it goes on and on," says Cole. "People being vocal about how unacceptable sexism is is always going to be the first step."

Cole endorses the work of Robbie Pickering, who last month drafted a motion for CAMRA's annual meeting urging the organisation to take the lead in stamping out beer sexism.

According to his motion, "time and again we hear from women who say they are not comfortable drinking beer in pubs […] This is not CAMRA's fault, but CAMRA needs to step up and show through action that it is on the side of equality."

From being groped at beer festivals to being told I wasn't a very helpful PR rep on a press trip otherwise made up of men (because I couldn't possibly be a beer writer with boobs), it goes on and on. People being vocal about how unacceptable sexism is is always going to be the first step.

CAMRA has shown willingness to respond to some of the issues raised by Pickering and last year drafted an equal opportunity charter put forward by beer doyenne Christine Cryne—the first woman to run the organisation's Great British Beer Festival in the 90s.


"People just kept asking me whether I drank pints or halves—even the broadsheets," she says of the publicity trail. But would a woman still have to prove herself as a festival organiser?

"Yes, sadly I think so," says Cryne. "A lot of it is generational and we still have a long way to go."

But there are revolutionary waves rippling around the edges of the real ale industry. A recent Christmas-themed pump clip featuring topless women in Santa hats from Yorkshire's Elland Brewery was criticised for being 'sexist and outdated.' The brewery has since rebranded with a new range of minimalist, font-only pumpclips.

"I'm aware of some people's attitude towards it, but it's not something the brewery will be doing under my management," Elland Brewery brewing manager, Mike Hiscock, explains. "It's something that happened in the past, although I personally don't find it offensive. It was meant to be lighthearted."

READ MORE: We're Not 'Female Chefs,' Just Chefs

With some backwards breweries at least attempting to change their ways and female drinkers becoming less of an enigma, women are gradually gaining key roles in the beer industry.

"There's an undercurrent of women working in the brewing industry—we don't really make a big deal of it," says Doreen Barber at Hackney microbrewery, The Five Points Brewing Company. "Additionally, there are women whose standpoints on feminism are different—like the all-female Swedish brewery—but we're all fighting the same battle because there's shit we can unite over. Personally, I just want people to stop treating me like a token and get out of the way between me and the bar."

Cheers to that.

Of course there are a myriad of other gender equality causes that need to be fought for, and it's easy to dismiss patronising men with beer bellies as a minor inconvenience.

"It's all very well saying, it's only beer, it doesn't matter," says Erica Horton, who runs Norwich's FEM.ALE, a festival celebrating women in the brewing industry. "But the image of women in beer adverts and pub culture is representative of and reproduces the idea that there are appropriate behaviours for men and women, and that they're fundamentally different."

It may only be beer, but by disrupting ingrained ideas about who should be drinking what—and the colour it should be—we may stand a better chance of upsetting other outdated ideas about gender.