The gateway to beer: Braggots (oh how I love them)

Elspeth enjoying a glass of wine after a hard evening's illumination

It’s a pretty well known phenomenon.  There is far more out there asking whether women can like beer than there is about beer for women.  There are more women who brew beer and blog about beer than ever before, and we get a lot of attention from beer-loving men (there’s even an informal association for women who  make their living from beer, the Pink Boots Society) –  but we are still a noticeable minority.  There are plenty of women who learn to drink beer as a social nicety – we’re like that, wanting to fit in and all.  And there are plenty of women who just won’t drink beer at all.

Why don’t a lot of women  like beer?  Women are much more sensitive to bitter flavors than men are – I run into this  when I’m judging regularly – and we don’t seem to be programmed to enjoy them much.  What’s bitter about beer?  Hops.  Lovely, aromatic, complex little bitterness bombs, particularly as brewed by many in the U.S. where anything worth doing is worth overdoing.  Hops have lots of functions in beer – a natural preservative, for one – but in the U.S. right now the race is on to see how bitter we can make it.  A double IPA?   Imperial?  You seriously think your girlfriend is going to like that?  Really? Some women can develop an appreciation for uber-bitterness, but most of us will never really like it.

All the marketing in the world has failed to move womens’ opinion-meter much.  Never mind the overtly sexist and often juvenile advertising, guaranteed to turn a girl off – and you know how long we remember things – putting bitter beer in a pink can rather misses the point.  Pink camo isn’t any better.  (News flash: some of us girls never much cared for pink, and only wear it to support breast cancer awareness or other feminist statement*.  I for one wouldn’t be caught dead in it otherwise.  I bet some guy invented the “pink is for girls” meme.)

What do women tend to like before they like beer?  Wine is easier to drink socially than cocktails (usually cheaper, too).  What’s wine (or a cocktail) got that beer doesn’t?  Sweet, and no bitterness.  What beers do women tend to like first?  Belgian lambics, trappist ales, brews that are fruity, rich in malt and have very low IBU counts.  (Personally, I liked a couple of stouts and porters first.)  When Esquire magazine did an article on the three best cross-over beers for wine-loving women , here’s what they chose : A Belgian ale made in Chardonnay casks, a Flanders red ale called the “Burgundy of Belgium”, and a Belgian quadruple made with raisins.  Are ya seein’ the trend here?

I think there’s another easy answer to introducing women to beer they might like.  Braggots.  I love braggots.  The perfect blend of malt and honey fermented together, with far fewer hops than your average beer.  They’re the gateway brew for women, in my not-so-humble opinion.  They’re available commercially – there aren’t a ton of them, but they’re out there.  They’re easy to make, and judging by the number of hits my braggot recipes get on this blog, there’s some definite interest.

If all you’re doing is trying to convince your girlfriend she can like beer, I wouldn’t play the historical card until later in most cases – that’s not usually enough to get a woman to contemplate actually liking one – but braggots go way back,  and have very old Welsh and Breton ties, which is kind of cool.

Nowadays, what I love most about beer is often what hops bring – NOT the bitterness, sometimes I am such a girl, but the citrus, floral, enticingly complex flavors hops can bring to a brew.  Sun King’s Octoberfest fresh from the brewery at the Indiana Craft Beer Festival last year – an utterly memorable moment of dappled sunlight and  this clean, clear, bright combination of hop flavors that triggered the attention of every tastebud on my tongue.  It’s not a very hoppy beer at 22 IBUs.  If I’d had that when I was in college I wouldn’t have been one of those whiny girls who kept saying she didn’t like beer, buy valium real, as yet anther frat boy tried to get her drunk.  That Sun King taster was a defining moment for me – truly fresh, beautifully hop-balanced; what a beer that was.

So go forth and find or make ye some braggots.  They’re good beer, and your girlfriend might want one.

* I have a pink archery hoodie made in honor of a team that kicked butt on novelty shoots at in Invitational – if it moved, blinked, swung, bounced, or glowed, they shot it.  My hoodies says, in Gothic letters over the heart, “Why yes, I do shoot like a girl.”

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