As the craft beer market soars, female beer drinkers are finding sisterhood. We hung out with a Tucson social group with one important mission: enjoying a good pint. By Gillian Drummond.
Sarah Ritchie’s first pint was enviable: a cool Guinness in a pub in Dublin.
She was 17 and taking advantage of Ireland’s relatively lax drinking laws. In Europe, the legal drinking age is 18. In Sarah’s native USA, it’s 21.
“I loved it,” says Sarah, and she has enjoyed a good pint ever since. Sarah is not only a beer afficionado, she makes her living from it. She quit her job working for a mattress firm to become a rep for Pitcher of Nectar Distributing, a wholesale distribution company of ‘craft’ beers and spirits. She is on the board of Craft Tucson, an educational and awareness-raising craft beer group. And a year ago she co-founded the Tucson chapter of Girls’ Pint Out, a national organization with a mission to create a community of women who love craft beer – that’s beer that’s brewed traditionally by small, independent breweries.
Sarah’s co-founder, Victoria Parridgen, is a manager at a Jo-Ann’s fabric store during the day. By night she’s partial to an IPA or a stout. She has her dad to thank for getting her into craft beer. A drinker of “cheap party beer” in her youth, Victoria took his advice and tried Fat Tire and Moose Drool. She hasn’t touched a Coors or a Budweiser since.
The pair call themselves “beer geeks”. Says Sarah (Twitter handle: CraftBeerBetty): “It’s something we have a passion for and we’re not afraid to fly the flag and unashamedly get excited about it.”
Once they decided to launch Girls’ Pint Out in October 2013, it grew quickly. Sarah networked at events around town and with bars, restaurants and stores that sell craft beer. A year on, 18 to 40 people, female and male, turn up for the bi-monthly meetings at bars and restaurants around Tucson. Realizing the dollar and marketing potential of a group of dedicated craft beer drinkers, most of them women, these venues were soon seeking them out, says Sarah.
The Tucson GPO rules are loose. There are two monthly meetings, one open to all, the other women only. There are no dues (the minimal marketing costs the group has are picked up by Sarah and Victoria). Membership is easy. “It’s just showing up and having a beer with us,” says Sarah.
The same informality goes for the national Girls’ Pint Out organization. It started casually in 2010, by a group of craft beer-loving women in Indianapolis who were getting together for a ladies’ night. Now there are more than 50 chapters in 30-plus states and Puerto Rico, with Tampa, Florida and Vermont coming soon.
And as its members grow, so does the craft beer market (see stats below). “Women are a key demographic for craft beer sales. Girls’ Pint Out and the craft beer industry have a mutually beneficial relationship,” says Amanda Wishin, director of Girls’ Pint Out.
At Tucson Girls’ Pint Out’s recent first anniversary event at Tucson’s Tap & Bottle, visitors are gathered at the back of the bar, in front of the rows of refrigerators that hold hundreds of different beers to go. Which is handy, since when this wine-loving journalist questions some of the beer terms being bandied around, the women can easily explain by pointing to the bottles behind the glass.
It’s Linda Deters’ first time here, although she once made the 200-mile round trip to Phoenix to visit a GPO meeting there. That’s how much she likes her beer. She’s grateful not just for this new group, but for an ever growing craft beer market that appears to be making beer drinking more acceptable for women.
“I used to feel a lot more uncomfortable in a restaurant. Typically all the other women order wine and I’ll drink beer. I felt like a truck driver. Not so much now, especially in places that have craft beers. Now it’s more acceptable to have beer with your meal. You’re not looked down upon,” says Linda, who drinks Hefeweizen, a German style of wheat beer, in the summer and stouts in the winter.
Kelly Rose is here for the third time. Like Linda, she is visiting GPO alone. “I want to go drink a beer but not necessarily sit at a bar myself, although I have done that many times,” says Kelly, who favors dark beers, Guinness and Hefeweizens. She’s also getting into sours, a low-hop craft beer that appeals to wine drinkers.
Amanda Porter, another newbie to the group, likes wheat beers. But what she drinks depends on how close she is to payday. If it’s the end of the month and she doesn’t have much money, it might be a can of Coors, says Amanda.
Amanda was recruited to the group after Sarah Ritchie approached her here at Tap & Bottle. Sarah does that – walking up to women drinking craft beer. It’s part of her personal guerilla marketing technique, one that has helped grow the group and expand its events. Tonight, for example, Tap & Bottle is selling an apple pie flavored beer, made from apples picked by GPO members and pies baked by them too. The night is also a fundraiser for the family of Gavin Hillman, born in July with serious health complications. Monies from some of the kegs are helping to pay for his medical treatment.
But while the women get together to drink beer, they are sedate about it. Tucson GPO’s organizers encourage sensible drinking, and practice it too. “We like good beer, but it’s quality over quantity,” says Victoria.
For anyone who does want to over-indulge, there’s a special Tucson GPO discount code set up with ride sharing service Uber.
Amanda has a cheaper way of curbing her beer enthusiasm. “I bring [a limited amount of] cash and leave my plastic at home.”
* Contact Tucson Girls’ Pint Out through its Facebook page.
Craft beer and how it’s growing
- Craft beer is defined as small (the brewery must distribute no more than six million barrels a year), independent (less than 25% of the brewery is owned by a non-craft beer brewery), and traditional (its flavor derives from traditional or innovative ingredients).
- U.S. craft beer sales rose 20% in 2013 to $14.3 billion.
- Craft beer rose 17.2% by volume in 2013 in the USA.
- U.S. beer fell 1.9% by volume last year.
Source: Brewers Association