THE question of how to make beer more attractive to women has exercised the minds of brewers and landlords, marketeers and pub corporations for generations.
The male-female divide is pretty staggering. Just 13 per cent of UK beer sales are drunk by women – less than in the US, less than in Europe.
The 20th century gradually gave women equality in all areas, from the polling booth to the divorce courts, the boardroom to the bedroom. Yet there is still a vestige of taboo which clings to the woman nursing a pint of bitter. For all kinds of reasons – peer pressure, fears for their waistline, outmoded images of femininity – women are socially-conditioned towards drinking wines or spirits or soft drinks. For some it’s simply habit.
Genes might be playing a part too. In prehistoric times, when the men were out hunting, it was up to the women to feed the children. They had to be sure that what they were eating was safe – and bitter tastes would often indicate poison. This would explain why women typically have an intolerance for bitter tastes – rendering undrinkable those hoppy beers which are perfectly palatable to men.
Only this week a female colleague (let’s call her Jill, which conveniently happens to be her real name) told me: “I just don’t like beer.” On closer investigation, it turned out she had only ever tried lager, and a Canadian one at that. It’s like saying you don’t like foreign travel on the basis of a day trip to Calais.
I have now taken personal responsibility for showing Jill the wonderful world of beer that exists beyond Coors Lite and Labatts. And I know how rewarding for both parties such a journey can be. Yet though I may have converted my wife and one or two female friends – and I’ll give it my best shot with Jill – providing this valuable service to the entire opposite sex is probably beyond me, given the limited time available.
Enter Dea Latis, a bunch of women who work in the male-dominated beer industry and who are keen to breach the gaps in taste, knowledge and understanding of many of their gender – and get across the message across that beer is not just for men.
They’re led by Horbury’s very own female beer evangelist Annabel Smith, who went to the same school as me (some years apart, more’s the pity) and is one of Britain’s foremost beer experts, an accredited sommelier and full-time beer assessor with real ale accreditation group Cask Marque.
She’s actually a national treasure, and when I heard that she would be spending an evening in Leeds sharing some of her expertise with an (ahem) all-female audience, I was quick to sign up.
Dea Latis is named after the Celtic goddess of beer and after holding tastings in London and Brighton this is their first to be held north of the capital. As Annabel says: “It’s great to move Dea Latis north of London and start involving women in other parts of the country. We chose Leeds because it has such a wonderful, thriving brewing scene and the Brewery Tap was the perfect venue for us.”
They have used the pulling power of chocolate to get the females through the door. “Beer and chocolate are perfect partners. They are both a balance of sweetness and bitterness, so when consumed together, the tastes and textures complement each other.” I’m sure even Jill would try a few beers if she thought there were a couple of creme eggs being thrown in, too.
It isn’t totally “hen” as it turns out, though the small smattering of chaps around the room are heavily outnumbered.
First up for beer and chocolate matching event is the 5.9% ABV Jacobsen Velvet Ale from Denmark whose heady white wine aroma, dry taste and crabonation sit beautifully with champagne truffles, creating a combination which would make for a splendid aperitif for guests arriving at a posh wedding.
The next chocolate is a dark and bitter Venezuelan blend made specially by Ye Olde Sun Inn at Colton. It has been paired with mild and dry Yorkshire Gold (4% ABV) from Leeds Brewery – and though both are good, the chocolate is too rich, too dominant, the match an uneven one.
For years, the fad has been to serve Denver’s clovely, cloudy, coriander-accented Blue Moon (5.4% ABV) with a slice of orange jammed into the neck. And though the brewery has now said this was never their intention, the combination has become a familiar one, so matching it with sweet and milky chocolate orange is an obvious move.
Big tasting Boilermaker (6.5% ABV) from Brains Brewery in Cardiff is next up, but this time it proves too good for the confectionery – a lemon and dark chocolate parfait, no less – to really assert itself.
And though I have often enjoyed Ossett Brewery’s rich and dark treacle stout (5% ABV) – see Beer of the Week, opposite – the women in my group label it “unsubtle”. Annabel has found it a decent partner in the Dark Chocolate Caramels made by Bon Bons of Leeds, but most drinkers seem happy to move on.
Good thing too, because Dea Latis have certainly saved the best for last, pairing Ilkley Brewery’s chilli-accented The Mayan Chocolate Chipotle Stout (5.3% ABV), with chocolate-coated Turkish delight. On the face of it, it’s an odd match, a beer influenced by native America with a chocolate from the cusp of Asia. Turkish delight is one of those “love them or hate them” foods, the idea of chillis in beer is also not an easy concept to grasp.
And yet together, they have something magical going on, and at the end of the evening, when Annabel and her team tot up the scores, it’s this combination which comes out on top, just ahead of the Jacobson-truffles pairing. It’s a quite neat result, The Mayan was the only beer of the evening to be brewed by a female, Ilkley’s Harriet Marks.
For news of upcoming Dea Latis events, visit www.dealatis.org or follow them on Twitter @Dealatis or Facebook.
Beer of the Week
Dark beers are often described as “treacly”, the adjective being loosely used to cover the colour, aroma and texture of wintry, bonfirey beers. But Ossett Treacle Stout is the real deal, rich black treacle actually being poured into the brew as it’s made – as its label neatly illustrates.
If you failed to miss those fairly obvious signposts, then the beer itself might take you by surprise, with its sloe-black colour, sweet aroma and gloopy mouthfeel. Then that big blast of treacle toffee on the palate, its sweetness offset by a little woodsmoke and bitterness.
I tried it out on some unsuspecting tasters at another event in Leeds, where comments included: “burnt chippings and creme caramel”, “like a cross between dark lager and Guinness” and “complex, liquoricey comfort.”
It may not have been a winner alongside chocolate, but on its own, it’s lovely treacly goodness.