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So, do we need a ladies’ beer?

  • Is a pink, sweet or fruity beer targeted at women more inclusive?
  • Gimmicks and overt signalling by alco-bev companies and bars often end up as mere tokenism

Women do drink beer. Yet this premise has been questioned over the years by alco-bev companies and their advertisers who have regarded men as their target consumers. In recent times, breweries have tried to widen the demographic, and for some this meant launching beers specifically designed for women. However, the problem with forgoing a gender-neutral approach to beer is that the gimmickry ends up implying sexism instead.

Gurugram-based brewpub Ardor 29 was at the centre of a recent brouhaha on Twitter after it launched a cocktail described as “India’s first female beer". Several women responded with a combination of outrage and wit; the response from the bar, however, was far from adequate. When food blogger Monika Manchanda said it was better to drink juice instead of a “non-strong, non-bitter beer", the Ardor29’s spokesperson responded with, “I am sure you can figure out that it (Summer Beer) is a little sweeter, little more smoother than normal slightly bitter beer and also more delicate, hence the term Female which marks a sign of respect and not embodiment of a female’s physical characteristics." The “beer" is, in fact, a cocktail made with wheat beer, vodka, cranberry and lime juice and served in a glass that unfortunately resembles a menstrual cup. The overall flavour profile is more akin to that of a cough syrup than a breezy summer drink.

This somewhat misplaced attempt reminds one of the backlash against Scottish brewery BrewDog, which rebranded its Punk IPA as Pink IPA on the occasion of Women’s Day last year as an overt parody of sexist marketing. The attempt didn’t go down well. US brewing giant Molson Coors’ launch of Animée, a trio of beers in rose and citrus flavours targeted at women, met with a similar response and had to be pulled from the market in less than a year.

For a long time, beer fell firmly in the male camp due to its sociocultural associations, largely due to gendered marketing and positioning. Commercially produced bottled lagers were advertised with a certain bent towards testosterone and toughness. From boys to men, beer was the lubricant driving college bonhomie, post-work drinks with colleagues or a football match on TV. Sample tag lines like “He who thinks Australian, drinks Australian. Foster’s. Australian for beer". Innovations over the past two decades to appeal to the female market have been perceived as little more than tokenism, and often end up reinforcing stereotypes. Ginger Johnson, author and the woman behind Women Enjoying Beer, an independent firm focused on marketing beer to women, writes: “There is no such thing as a women’s beer. Everyone wants the opportunity for flavor, whatever form that may be, and everyone wants to be treated and invited to the product with respect and in a genuine manner."

For Navin Mittal, founder of Mumbai-based craft brewery Gateway Brewing Co., it is variety and complex flavour profiles, rather than a specific target audience, that form the basis of every new beer.

Their latest beer is an India Pale Ale (IPA) called the Mosaic, and, there is something about its sweetness and fruity notes that could appeal to a first time beer drinker—male or female. Mittal posits that the Mosaic is just an IPA variant. “The IPA style can be interpreted in various ways. I haven’t designed this because I have a particular age or gender or a locality in mind but because we found it interesting and wanted to introduce it to our market," says Mittal.

“In general, when we talk of craft beers, we talk about beers which are very different from the mainstream, that use local produce, are unpasteurized and without chemicals and additives.... Our goal is to showcase what beer can truly be and the range of choice we can bring to our consumers across gender and other demographics," adds Mittal.

As the aftertaste of guava settles on my tongue, I realize this IPA makes for a perfect post-work tipple for the summer, taking its cues from the season’s bounty. And this is the true heart of a good brew, much more effective than tacky proclamations of girl power.

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