I love a good glass of pinot in a beautiful restaurant matched with a 12-course degustation. I also love a good cocktail on the obligatory girls night out – mind you a negroni or martini is about all I can handle these days, forget those sweet concoctions causing reminiscent cringe-worthy memories of Smirnoff blacks during my summer festival days.
But I am proud to say that it is beer that caters to all my desires in all situations – a drink that brings me joy at all times of day, in all cities, with friends, family, and perhaps most surprisingly with the girls.
Having matured in mind and palate over the last few years, my beer journey has been an ongoing perception-altering experience of the possibilities and enjoyment of this simple pleasure.
The world of beer exists with little pretention and with a level of intrigue few understand. Anyone can buy an average bottle of shiraz and match it to a prime rib-eye. Matching food to wine has become common practice – a practice that has kept sommeliers in business and, let’s face it, one that often incurs a degree of affectation. Few people however, can appreciate the spectrum of possibilities that comes from complementing or contrasting varying styles of beer with a range of different foods and flavours – a robust pale ale with an aromatic curry; a fine pilsner with a succulent roast chicken; or infusing ice cream with a rich, creamy stout. The recent craze hitting beer shores is the vastly superior beer and cheese match. Move over Shiraz, you now have an IPA to contend with!
While means have not so far allowed for a cultural expedition across the globe, there are small pleasures closer to home that have lead me on a somewhat ‘imaginative’ journey of palate navigation. The journey of beer discovery might not be cheap – a certain Russian Imperial Stout set me back $50 for a 330ml bottle recently. But why shouldn’t we reserve the same allocation of salary to a divine palate shattering ale as we do to a vintage champagne or a fine single malt scotch? Granted it is horses for courses and specific to occasion and setting, but thanks to our grandads who drank VB as an after-work thirst quencher, or young lads who want the biggest bang for their buck in the inebriation stakes, beer is often resigned to the token schooner of lager at the local. This bland and blokey situation is likely to turn any female, or discerning male to a glass of pinot.
Yes, I am a woman obsessed with beer, and so I want to take a bit of time to jump on my soapbox and discuss the increasing importance of beer in many women’s lives. We all know that men love beer – it is almost ingrained in their DNA – but one shouldn’t be surprised that there are also some eager lady palates emerging. If we are to think about the appeal of beer for women, it is certainly not the sessionable quality that allows one to sink back copious schooners of fizzy ‘water’. A beer belly protruding from that little black dress is hardly an attractive look. Rather a contributing factor in women’s increasing appreciation is the marked shift from quantity to quality.
I am going to lay down a rather large generalisation here and say that women perhaps more than men yearn for quality and flavour. Let’s face it – given our slighter constitutions, we have less volume capacity. We don’t want to waste our smaller belly space with boring lager. We don’t need much to give us that warm fuzzy feeling – just a few tastes of some hoppy nectar will satisfy!
Once I unleashed this brain journey towards quality, I couldn’t believe the transformation in my palate and indeed my whole perception of beer. Being able to sit around a table of friends and share a small drop of something new, swilling it around my glass and taking several moments to absorb the incredible aromas, then the encompassing mouthfeel and intriguing back palate. It had changed things entirely. It only takes a bold ‘sip’ of each different style to engage a far reaching journey from pilsner to porter.
If I can put another little pro-women beer assertion out there just for good measure, it was during a Barley’s Angels beer dinner with Kirrilly Waldhorn that I became fascinated by the fact that women indeed have more receptive and therefore superior palates to men. For this very scientific reason, many master tasters are women. Maybe I could claim that beer was made for the ladies!
It might be worth telling you how I came to this happy place with beer. Working at the local pub throughout university, I developed a particular familiarity with some of the diehard VB locals. Through their specific demands for an inch of head – nothing less, nothing more – I came to understand that beer played a significant role for many people in their lives. Whether the pub served as a sanctuary or escape, or whether it was a life-learned post-work wind down, the culture of beer in Australia was based on strong foundations.
My years of hospitality were some of the most fun times I have had to date. Sharing a common bond and passion for fine food and beverage, after work drinks became the perfect opportunity to immerse myself in a plethora of options. Known to down a Hahn Super Dry as my standard refreshing ‘staffie’, I quickly moved to Little Creatures and thought I was pretty hardcore! But I kept wanting more. I had a thirst for flavour, and after sinking my tongue into a Meantime IPA at the Local Taphouse one afternoon, I never looked back.
Next stop was attending dozens of beer and food matching nights, tastings and festivals. I even won a competition during a James Squire beer appreciation course. Needless to say, the boys weren’t too happy that a GIRL had won the beer quiz! Next stop was building a craft beer bar within my local pub – an exercise that saw me embrace every aspect of this new crafty world and want to shout it out to everyone I knew.
Since then, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Hobart for the brewing of the annual Cascade First Harvest. Beyond the beer loving base that is my home town of Sydney, I have travelled to Melbourne, South Australia, and Canberra to participate and immerse myself in the vast array of beer events, festivals and tastings that are regularly tempting my tongue. Next stop will be WA to taste some Feral in the flesh, before heading to Queensland where the craft beer scene is steadily on the rise.
And when time and means permit, an odyssey to the US to taste some tongue ripping American Pale Ales is definitely on the menu…
I will go on continuing to be the beer chick and my experiences and delights will continue to multiply. I will go on educating my girlfriends about various hop characteristics (and suffering their often weird looks), giving women an important voice in the craft beer world. I have high hopes for craft beer and high hopes for the sisterhood. If I had my way, craft beer sales would account for 10% of the Australian market by 2020, and women would hold 50% of jobs within the industry. Isn’t that a thirsty prospect!
Until then, I’m raising my ale laden glass to my eternal beer journey, and its hoppy future. Cheers!