The Brewers Association, the national trade organization for craft beer, regularly touts a statistic that female beer drinkers make up only a quarter of craft beer consumers.
According to a new study that looked at 200,000 responses from June 2016 to November 2017, it looks like this is changing for the better. In the nationwide results, craft beer drinkers were 68.9 percent male and 31.1 percent female, on average. What’s more interesting is that this isn’t constant across all markets. The same study found that some regions had a nearly even split. In Portland, Oregon, researchers found that 52.7 percent of craft beer drinkers were female. Though our Portland wasn’t in the study, other parts of New England (Providence, Rhode Island/New Bedford, Massachusetts) had 52.6 percent female craft drinkers.
These changes are fantastic news for equality, but even better for a brewery’s bottom line, and not just because of the expansion to a new group of customers.
A secret-shopper business that focuses on craft beer, Secret Hopper, recently revealed that women as a demographic group spent more money in a tasting room or brewery visit than men did. By tracking the purchases of 2,200 patrons that were evenly split, Secret Hopper found that women spent almost 7 percent more in brewery visits. If you break the demographics down further, the category that spent the most overall were women between the ages of 41 and 45.
So, here’s my question back to the tasting room managers and breweries-to-be out there in Maine: Craft brewers have done a good job of convincing new customers to try beer – by diversifying their beer lineups, embracing novel ingredients, etc. – but have they done enough to look at the experience of their tasting rooms to examine how they could be better for the growing numbers of women and families that are visiting?
In tasting rooms across the state, it feels like there are only two main principles for design: either a minimalist, industrial, metal-and-concrete theme with naked exposed-filament light bulbs and those identical metal stools, or rustic touches that use weathered wood and iron and, in some way, lean on the agricultural themes of the industry. The industrial theme, in particular, is trendy but hard-edged and can feel cold, rather than the open and inviting spaces they could be. Perhaps with the growing and changing demographics of beer fans, we could try something new?
Yes, these tasting rooms are usually attached – literally – to their production facilities, so it makes sense not to stray too far from the sterile, factory feel. But as tasting rooms fill in the niche of a community meeting place, perhaps a few creature comforts are in order. I’d like to call on breweries to consider a few key elements: sound and comfort.
Sound is challenging, and there’s been controversy in the restaurant world about spaces that are too noisy. I would never expect brewery tasting rooms to be like libraries, but visitors have told me they would enjoy the experience more if the server could hear their order and if it were possible to have a conversation across a table with a friend. That might mean turning the music down a touch, but sound can be mitigated in other ways. Dampening can be accomplished through the use of fabric. I can’t think of a single tasting room that employs curtains or any fabric as a primary part of their décor. Soften up the space, and you deaden some sound (and change the atmosphere). Yes, they would take extra work to clean, but the experience for customers would be cozier, and in the case of some of the drafty mill buildings, warmer.
Brewery tasting rooms have become a new public space. You can come down, have a pint, grab a small snack or bite to eat and discuss things with friends, neighbors, strangers. But the hard, ubiquitous metal stools and even the unforgiving picnic table can be uncomfortable for more than a brief chat. My dad, who loves accompanying me to breweries when he visits, can’t get in and out of a picnic table due to some limited mobility in his knees. Encourage patrons to stay longer by providing more seating options, including some softer choices. Some things are obvious. Changing tables in the restrooms (both men’s and women’s) would make life easier for families. Purse hooks and coat racks would help reduce clutter around chairs and be more welcoming to women.
I would argue, anecdotally from the many tasting rooms that I have visited, that here in Portland, we are probably close to 60 percent male and 40 percent female customers – but it does depend on the brewery and the tasting room environment. I do love that there seems to be a never-ending queue of breweries in planning in Maine, and I hope that we’ll begin to see as much diversity in the feel of their tasting room spaces as we do in the beer that they serve.