Beer and I have a history.
Some of it isn’t pretty, I’ll admit. When I first met beer, he was cheap, easy, and plentiful. I was a college student, and didn’t much care what kind of beer I drank, so long as I drank too much of it. Entirely silly of me, and I paid the price for my silliness in more ways than one.
The first time it occurred to me to care what a beer tasted like was when a local bar in Williamsburg, VA, where I went to school, started a green bottle beer special on certain nights of the week. Suddenly, fairly decent beer was as affordable as crappy beer, so I began to like fairly decent beer. Still, I was far from a connoisseur.
Many years later, I became pregnant with my daughter and had to give up beer entirely. By then, I’d learned to moderate my beer intake (most of the time), and I’d discovered a beer that I loved in moderation: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I found this beer in a restaurant that no longer exists—Ed and Fred’s Desert Moon—in a town I no longer inhabit—Lexington, KY. The beer comes in this lovely brown bottle with a green and yellow label that seems to say, Hey, I know I’m cool. We don’t have to discuss it, do we?
I certainly found it easier not to discuss the awesomeness of Sierra Nevada after having to give him up. So I walked away from beer, and tried not to look back too often.
After I had my daughter, the only beer I ever wanted to drink was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Everything else tasted like—well, like beer. The cheap, easy, plentiful kind.
I had my favorite beer—just one—every evening around 5 o’clock. Or while bathing my daughter—and later my son, after another nine-month hiatus from beer. Or while talking to a great friend over a rare, uninterrupted dinner. OK, sometimes I had wine. But that was only a little jaunt, an experiment, just to see how the classy people live. Beer knew I wasn’t serious.
My husband, who also likes beer but enjoys a greater variety, often joined me in this evening beer. It was a way, as a friend of mine says, to take the edge off after a long day. Over time, my husband and I have developed our love of a daily beer into a ritual we call our “time.” We sit together in our living room, in matching recliners that don’t look like recliners, and spend half an hour (or sometimes a full hour) drinking a beer and talking. About our day, our work, our ideas, concerns, plans, hopes. Sometimes we don’t have any beer—like if we have to go somewhere afterwards, or if one of us is sick. The point, of course, is the time, not the beer. (If you’re wondering where our kids are while we’re relaxing like this, they are eating their dinner or taking a shower or playing on the computer or playing in their rooms. They sometimes come in to ask a question: it is answered swiftly, and they are sent on their way. I highly recommend this half hour of time for a marriage with children—we have found that we must guard it dearly.)
So. The beer. When it’s there, it is a small pleasure at the end of the day. And, as I’ve gained distance from my pregnancies, I’ve branched out in my tastes. Last spring, on a trip to Richmond, VA, I discovered a beer I like just as much as my old standard. This new beer is also a pale ale—Lagunitas India Pale Ale, or IPA. This beer is equal parts hoppy and tangy, with an undercurrent of fruit that promises sweet deliverance if you stick with it. I think this beer could give a mean foot rub, given the chance.
Where was I?
Right, beer. Have you noticed that I keep referring to the beers I’ve loved as male? That’s because I have always thought of beer as a guy thing. For the most part, beer is marketed to men, and wine is marketed to women. Cheaper beers tend to go for the lowest common denominator in their marketing gimmicks—women in bikinis—but even the more sophisticated beers have a male slant. And, of course, it is Homer Simpson, not Marge, who lustfully and wistfully moans, “MMM…Beer.”
So here I am, a female beer lover in the midst of this male-dominated field of hops. And guess what? I love this playing field. Not just because I love certain beers—mostly pale ales and IPAs, with the occasional deviation into a wheaty beer, like Blue Moon—but also because of what I tend to view as a very male quality in the making and marketing of craft beers, which are currently experiencing an upswing in American life.
This maleness—or what I perceive as maleness—is evident in the names of craft beers. On a recent excursion to a liquor store in Herdon, VA, I came across two beers that sum up this trend nicely: Ruination Ale and Primal Ale. Now aren’t those awesome names? Seriously, I love them. They make me smile. Why? Because, if you put these names together, you get at the heart of why people like alcohol, and why it can cause problems. Primal and ruination, indeed. So let’s just slap those names on there and drink up, y’all.
In my mind, a man named those beers. Of course, a woman could have named them. When I said this to my husband, he commented that even if a woman named them, the beers are marketed to men. Ergo, I see this quality—an ability to gleefully mix the serious and the playful, to find humor in darkness and depth in superficiality—as male. Not that women can’t have the quality—I have it myself—but I don’t think of this ability to hold duality in the palm of one’s hand, laughing all the while, as female.
Maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to it. Not because it is a quality I don’t possess, but because it is a quality I do possess, and haven’t fully explored.
I’m reading this book entitled Cinderella Ate My Daughter, and in it the author, Peggy Orenstein, cites studies in which primates show preferences for gendered toys—female chimpanzees choose pots and pans, male chimpanzees choose cars and trucks. Ms. Orenstein then says that while some qualities do indeed seem to be inherent in one gender or the other, cultural norms that reinforce the idea that boys are one way and girls are another limit our growth as human beings. Maybe more women do like wine than beer—then again, if wine had names like Primal Pinot and Ruination Riesling, maybe we’d see some interesting developments, both in our drinking habits and in our cross-gender conversations.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy the occasional glass of vino, usually while taking in a gorgeous vista or sampling a new cheese with a very serious name. But for me the classy wine will always be a deviation. My everyday go-to relaxation is going to have a little bit of hop, a little bit of class, and a good dose of humor. That, apparently, is where beer and I have ended up after all these years.