Suds with Sophie

Sophie Nelson believes there’s a beer for everyone, so even though she can’t tell you which beer to give your mom for Mother’s Day, maybe just try asking your mother what she wants.

Here I am, sitting at my desk, trying to think of a good Mother’s Day-themed beer article, and let me tell you: It’s not very easy. Although I’m a huge fan of learning and talking about historical women in the beer field, it gets a bit difficult when talking about modern-day gender influences. 

Beer has long been viewed as the drink of men. Marketing campaigns for breweries mostly feature men, with maybe a token woman in the background. Recently, however, I saw my first beer commercial that was aimed, unmistakably, at women. 

It was an advertisement for Coors Light, featuring a woman arriving home, grabbing a beer and (fully) relaxing on the couch. Then, to seal the deal, it ended with the words, “The Official Beer of Being Done Wearing a Bra.” Wow. 

It really struck me to see that commercial and read those words on the screen. I realized that, although I’m a woman working in beer and have experienced a wide variety of assumptions about my qualifications based on my gender, I hadn’t really expected things to change. 

I can share the history of beer and how it really was a women-centric practice until beer became industrialized. I can tell the tale of how the ale wives – who brewed first for their families and eventually to make extra income – were the driving forces of beer in England. I can mention that the ancient Sumerians worshipped a goddess of beer, but none of that changes the perception of beer in our eyes today. That commercial really got me thinking about my own experiences, and those of many women when it comes to beer. 

I can’t tell you the number of times a woman has come up to me when I’m working, tells me she doesn’t like beer and asks what I can give her instead. Usually – with a little persuasion – they allow me to give samples or talk through a few options that might fit their tastes. Although I’m not always successful, I can usually find something that they’ll enjoy at least for the duration of the glass. 

My favorite experiences are when I can see the shock on their face as they’re thinking, “Wow! I might actually like this stuff! I didn’t know beer could taste like this!” 

I think women get overlooked so often when it comes to beer nowadays for a few reasons, and among them is the IPA craze of a few years ago. That was tied to the rise of craft brewing, which meant that while beer varieties were becoming more interesting and accessible, they were also becoming significantly more bitter, without a concern for balance. Women are generally more sensitive to certain tastes, many of which are found in beer. In fact, a 1995 Yale study found that women have more taste buds on their tongues and are more likely to be “supertasters,” meaning that they perceive many tastes – and especially bitter tastes – more strongly than men. 

Give a bunch of supertaster women an unbalanced, insanely hopped IPA, and of course they’re going to think they don’t like beer. Although breweries have calmed down on the unbalanced hop additions recently, IPAs do still rule the market. 

I know that every person has very distinct taste preferences when it comes to all sorts of beverages, including beer, but I truly believe there’s a beer for everyone, whether it’s crazy-bitter IPAs; sour and funky Belgian farmhouse ales; dark, malty stouts; or light, crisp lagers. So even though I have given you absolutely no information about which beer to give your mom for Mother’s Day, maybe just try asking her what she wants.