Image Copyright to the Brewer’s Association
Women’s relationship with beer has changed dramatically over the last 100 years, from the early 20th century where it was socially unacceptable for women to be seen in pubs to the overtly sexist marketing campaigns of the early 21st century, to recent times where the rise in craft beer has led to the increase in the number of women drinking real ale and forming women-only beer appreciation groups.
While women played a pivotal role in brewing over thousands of years, that relationship became much more complex over the last century. It is only in the last few decades that we have seen a significant shift of beer and pub-going opening up once again for the female drinker.
1918 – 1960s: Drinking is for men – unless you’re pregnant
For the first half of the 20th century there is little to tell about the “woman beer drinker”. Strict gender roles confined most women to the household, while pubs remained the exclusive foothold for men. If a woman drank it was most likely a few sips of sherry as a once-a-year Christmas treat, and the two great wars put pub-going firmly on hold.
In the 1920s, Guinness launched a “Guinness is good for you” campaign, which led to the wide-spread practice of prescribing the beer to pregnant women for its “iron content”. If a woman was imbibing over this period, it was very likely a Guinness when they were growing their family!
1960s – 1970s: Women enter pubs – with a chaperone
In the 1960s pubs began to open their doors to women – but with a few caveats. Many were still considered “rough”, and not a place for a woman to enter alone. A separate seating area was designed to keep women away from the bar area, tucked up in snugs and saloons.
Beer was still the obvious drink of choice for both men and women, although in slightly different forms. Women stuck to a half lager with lime, and would rarely order a full pint. It was around this time that the big brewers began to re-brand beer as a “man’s drink” – a legacy that continued for several decades.
1980s – 1990s: Girl power begins
The 1980s saw a decade of female empowerment as a wave of career-minded women with disposable income entered the scene. Wine became popular, and dinner parties and home consumption formed many women’s drinking habits.
While many pubs were still considered intimidating, All Bar One pioneered a ‘female friendly’ design with huge glass frontage, open plan space, bright airy interiors and lots of drink options. This paved the way for other female-friendly bar chains such as Pitcher & Piano and Slug and Lettuce.
2000s-2010: Quantity over quality
As the 90s dawned binge drinking became a popular choice for men and women. These were the days of long boozy work lunches, fuelling mass-produced lagers of Bud and Miller. Women were still largely excluded from beer culture as brewers continued to market their products with overt sexist images and slogans.
The smoking ban of 2007 drew women and back into their local, paving the way for a more food-oriented pub approach.
2010-2018: The rise of craft beer
The beer industry has since witnessed the rise of craft beer driving a “quality over quantity” approach. Tied into the “good food” movement, small, independent brewers have made beer drinking a more interesting hobby for men and women. Female-only beer appreciation groups and female brewers have sprung up and are fighting back against sexist labelling and images for the first time.
Yet pubs are in decline, with many young people opting to drink at home. As a result, Britain’s pubs are struggling despite the fact that they have never been better. Women beer drinkers continue to be in the minority, but the future looks bright. Perhaps by actively encouraging women to drink beer we can bring both men and women back into the pubs – the ideal place to enjoy a pint.
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