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"Chick Beer": A Lady Beer Nerd's Rant

By Lorna Juett in Food on Oct 3, 2012 8:40PM

2012_10_3_ChickBeer.jpg On Saturday, October 6, the Chicago Beer Festival will take over the Grand Hall at Union Station. As we discussed in the spring when the inaugural festival was held, it’s hard to say if this event caters to the true beer nerds here in Chicago, or to those who just want to drink a lot of beer of any kind for $40. The festival does not bill itself as an event just for craft beer lovers, so we can’t fault the mix of craft brews and mainstream choices too much. But this writer can’t help but take exception to the inclusion of Chick Beer.

Chick Beer bills itself as the only American beer marketed specifically to women. Independently women-owned and brewed in Wisconsin, this light beer supposedly doesn’t taste like one, boasting full-bodied softness and smoothness, or to quote the Chick Beer web site, “the taste that more women prefer.”

Based on an overly defensive FAQ on their web site, including an admission that women will purchase this beer based on its packaging and marketing alone (the bottle is reminiscent of a little black dress, features lots of pink, and the six pack holder is shaped like a purse), it’s clear that I’m not the only person, female or male, to express a backlash against this product.

“What’s so wrong with this?” You might ask. “Let the ladies have their light, low-cal, less-bloaty, pretty beer!”

Well, here’s my beef: dumbing women drinkers down to the lowest common beer denominator does not legitimize our presence in the marketplace. Marketing beer specifically to women hurts women just as much as the sexist, male-focused advertising of the big brands. And if we buy this product, it makes women look just as foolish and blind as men who drink a certain beer because the ads communicate that beer makes them manly, will get them laid, or just that they think talking frogs are funny.

The Chick Beer web site does draw attention to the fact that only about 25 percent of the beer drinking population is women. But why is this the case? I believe that women are pigeonholed through many channels into thinking they won’t like beer, and when they venture out of their comfort zones, are intimidated by the male-dominated beer culture. As a lady beer nerd, I’ve been dismissed by bartenders at the craft beer bars in Chicago so many times it’s comical.

Unfortunately it’s not just the men who have treated me as a know-nothing. As a bartender at a weird and wonderful local beer bar, I’ve been dismissed both by men and by my fellow female imbibers. One lady even told me I should just ask “one of the guys” when my answer to a question wasn’t deemed sufficient. By the way, asking “one of the guys” didn’t change the answer. I do know my stuff well enough to pour you something you’ll like.

I really don’t know how to fix this issue, but I know that marketing a light beer to women probably isn’t the solution. I suggest that women interested in brew should get out and taste lots of beer, ask questions, and find what they like. As our presence and spending at bars, restaurants and liquor stores grows, so will our legitimacy.

So, where do you get started? Even though I don’t think Chick Beer can act as a stepping-stone for otherwise intimidated female consumers, there is one thing Chick Beer got (sort of) right. The name Chick Beer reveals a larger issue, but doesn't quite offer a solution. The founder overheard that mainstream light beers were referred to as “chick beers,” recognized that the phrase was designed to put down men by feminizing them. She decided to reverse the spin and reclaim the phrase.

While the tactic harkens back to the way that one section of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues attempted to reclaim a certain other NSFW word, I just think the execution is all wrong. Perhaps if this beer weren’t light, which implies that it’s not challenging to the palate, or the packaging art wasn’t so obviously pandering, the ploy would seem a little more positive, even empowering, instead of demeaning. Also, what's so wrong with drinking what the men drink? Why must we classify that this beer is for girls, and all that other beer is for the guys?

In the interest of full-disclosure, I haven’t actually tried this beer. Perhaps you’ll find me leaning up against the Chick Beer table at the Chicago Beer Festival, tapping my pink lacquered fingernails against a slender bottle, freshly swathed in a little black dress, perhaps while taking my tasting notes with a Bic “For Her” Pen, a convert to the whole concept. With so many other great beers at this festival, drinkable by men or women, I doubt it.