The first ever women’s-only craft beer festival was held in Toronto on April 1st. When tickets went on sale at the end of February, they sold out in the first 36 hours.
The event has been put on by the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies (SOBDL) a group that hosts a monthly women’s-only craft beer event. Four of the five founders of SOBDL work in the craft beer industry and they got together because they recognized the need for a safe and comfortable space for people who share their gender identity to explore their interest in craft beer.
“It’s not about no men. It’s about what women can do when they’re together,” co-founder Jaime Dobbs told me over a pint. “I would never go to a bar by myself, first of all, and if I did I’d never walk up to a group of four women that were having beers and just be like ‘hey I’m Jaime I’m drinking Canuck, what are you having?’ and just start up a friendship. But that’s what happens at these events.”
This got me thinking about how beer is such a strangely gendered thing, and about why a festival like this needs to exist.
A Man’s Drink
I was in Antwerp about five years ago. The beer selection, which is some of the best in the world, was at the time very strange and foreign to me. At a little bar on a cobblestone street, I ordered a kriek for no better reason than that I didn’t know what it was. The bartender paused, then said to me, “You know that’s a ladies beer, right?”
It turns out a kriek is a sour beer brewed with cherries (I ordered it anyway and it was delicious). So that explains the “ladies beer” thing, right? Because it has fruit in it?
This column is too short to dissect the long and strange history of why beer is such a gendered thing, but the Labatts and Molsons of the world have always worked under the assumption that women don’t drink beer, and for most of the last hundred years beer (mainly fizzy yellow lager) has been aggressively marketed specifically to men.
Now for the most part craft beer strives to be an inclusive space, but the male ownership over beer still rears its ugly head. Instead of blue-collar husbands coming home from work and ordering a beer from their housewife, now it’s bearded hipsters who know so much more about craft beer than you possibly could. Being “beer-splained” to (thanks Ben Johnson!) is not a problem exclusive to women, but it comes from an assumption of ignorance that disproportionately affects women.
“For all these years somebody just weirdly decided that it wasn’t for us,” Tish Gaudio, a long-time friend of SOBDL, told me. “So having all those women together in one space without the added male presence saying ‘let me talk down to you about that’ suddenly it’s this very empowering space.”
To me, the fact that today’s festival sold out so quickly, and that SOBDL is growing so popular, is proof that there is a need for spaces like this. And the fact that I’ve seen so much FOMO from dudes about this event is even more proof. Dudes are not used to having spaces like this off-limits to them, especially not when they’re related to beer.
“I think the guys who say ‘why do we need this’ are the guys who are creating the reasons for why we need this,” said Jaime. “Would anyone care if we were meeting like this and calling it a book club?”
When I first heard about this festival I thought it was a fantastic, original idea. Somehow it failed to occur to me at the time that some men would have a hard time wrapping their head around it. Women face sexual harassment and gender-based condescension all the time, and beer festivals are the perfect storm of being trendy, pertaining to a male-dominated subject, and containing too many drunk dudes. It’s no wonder the ladies SOBDL are sick of having to constantly have their guard up and saying “Fuck it, we’ll throw our own!”
“There’s nobody there hitting on you, and that’s really nice, because you just want to enjoy your day and not be objectified,” said Tish. “There was that time at Beau’s when that dude came up behind me and his friends had put him up to asking if he could grab my ass because he’s like ‘that’s funny we’re all drunk and outdoors and having fun right?’– no, you’re ruining my day is what you’re doing. So it’s really nice to not be at all worried about some drunk asshole coming up behind you to be like ‘hey you’re hot and I’m absolutely loaded’.
“Maybe in a number of years we won’t need to section off a safe space for this, but right now it needs to be done. We’re not quite there yet.”