Let's do a bit of word association here. When I say the word 'beer', close your eyes and what immediately springs to mind? Let me have a guess. Pint glasses? Beer bellies? Pubs? Foaming liquid? Blokes? In any of the mental images which sprung to mind, was there a woman featured - or was it all men? I guarantee no one reading this pictured a lady imbibing a beer. Take a moment and think about that. Beer is a man's drink. Full stop.
And yet beer is the world's most consumed alcoholic beverage. It's the most popular drink in the world behind water and tea. It outsells wine in every country in the world other than France, Italy and Bulgaria.
Surely it's not all being consumed by men? Interesting then that we have ALL been conditioned to associate it with men.
At this point I'll come clean. I've worked in the beer industry for over 20 years. I started out pulling pints at a back street boozer, progressed to training people how to pour a pint of the Black Stuff correctly (yes, it was a proper job and it lasted for 5 years). I went on to become the UK's first female beer inspector and finally ended up being a Beer Sommelier. Which I do for a living. Yet without fail, every day of the week I'm told "I could do your job" (always by some bloke who's had one too many sherbets). This is usually followed by a nudge nudge wink wink question: "But you don't really drink beer, do you?"
It's not sexist, it's really not. Most people are surprised that one, there are women who drink beer quite happily and two, there are lots of women working in the beer industry. We don't have beards, we don't have pot bellies and we actually like dressing up and looking feminine.
Right up until the 1700's over three quarters of brewers were - you've guessed it - women. It was women's work to brew the nutritious refreshing liquid which slaked the thirst of the farm workers and labourers who toiled in the field. When they had their fill, the women would drink the second weaker brew, and then the children would drink the weakest solution. Safer than water, you see.
A massive change in the UK's landscape caused brewing to go from an artisan, cottage industry to mass scale production to satisfy the needs of the huge towns and cities which emerged as the country became an industrial nation. All of a sudden it was the premise of men to brew beer, sell beer and drink beer (let's face it, women's toilets were only introduced into pubs in the 1930s).
At every beer industry event I went to there were plenty of women. Over a couple of beers, four of us put our heads together and had a natter about why so many women had disowned beer. We formed a gang (in a good way) and called ourselves Dea Latis. Dea Latis was the Celtic Goddess of Beer and Water. Our motto was "It's far too good to be enjoyed ONLY by men".
We set about communicating with as many women in the beer industry as we could (whilst doing our day jobs). Brewers, publicans, consultants, sales reps, and technicians and in numbers we grew in strength. Did we go out tub thumping and burning our bras? No, we were a bit more civilised and organised events up and down the UK to re-educate and re-introduce beer into a female's repertoire of drinks. To get women to rethink beer as a drink of choice. We found the most popular way of doing this was by holding foodie events: Beer with Cheese, Beer with Chocolate, Beer with Fine Dining - and our most popular event - Beer with Breakfast. Yes, you read that right. These events gave women a chance to explore different beer styles with some great food thrown in. Our mission was not to demand more women should drink beer, we just wanted more women to feel they had a choice without being judged. At our gatherings, Dea Latis gained valuable insights into why women fell out of love with beer.
Image was a big one, the association with lairy, shouty blokes. Unsophisticated and inelegant glassware, ugly pint pots and handle jugs. The lifestyle connected with beer drinkers, the misconception that beer is fattening (it's not: it's 95% water, has no fat, no cholesterol and ml per ml is the least calorific alcoholic drink you can order across a bar). The biggest barrier to women drinking beer was 'conditioning'. By that I mean being brainwashed from all quarters that beer is DRUNK BY MEN. To quote Al Murray, "Pint for the gentleman, glass of white wine or fruit-based beverage for the lady".
Ultimately, Dea Latis was set up to celebrate the sociability of beer. A drink to be enjoyed by all, without prejudice, and in many ways the social glue which holds many societies together. So back to that word association. I'll say beer, and you just might think differently.