"How do you want beer companies to acknowledge you?" beer enthusiast and educator Ginger Johnson asked a room full of women gathered for the first Women Enjoying Beer event at Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland.
"Not in a bikini," called out Standing Stone Co-owner Danielle Amarotico, referring to ubiquitous beer ads that feature scantily clad women.
Ashland resident Sheila Jarvis criticized a commercial she saw where a woman finished playing tennis and then reached for a lite beer.
"I find it distasteful when they imply that all active women want a low-carb beer," Jarvis said. "I'm like, 'Who is that woman?' Because I don't know any!"
Women at the Thursday night event at Standing Stone said they drink beer for its taste, as a break from wine, because it can pair well with food, for the social aspect and to get a beer "buzz."
"I don't know many women who drink PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) or Bud Light. Life's too short to drink bad beer," said Daly Bull-Germo of Medford.
Johnson said when she learned that only 25 percent of women drink beer, she saw an opening to launch her Women Enjoying Beer organization a year and a half ago. She hopes the kick-off event at Standing Stone will mark the creation of a local chapter that will have regular get-togethers to learn more about beer.
Johnson recently settled in Ashland after completing a 15,000-plus mile cross country tour of breweries with her husband, new Standing Stone Head Brewer Larry Chase.
Johnson said the men she met in the brewing community are not the ones doing the marketing that demeans women.
"They don't care about your gender," she said. "They're not the ones saying, 'Here, honey. Have a light beer.'"
Johnson said women need to let the beer industry know what they want, whether the issue is taste or the use of organic ingredients.
To help the attendees at the Women Enjoying Beer event learn more about beer appreciation, Standing Stone servers gave each person a sample of the brew pub's India Pale Ale, Lager, Nitro Oatmeal Stout and Oak Aged Barley Wine.
Johnson encouraged the women to hold the India Pale Ale up to the light and notice its honey color.
Then she asked, "How many of you smell your wine?"
Most people held up their hands, but when Johnson asked whether they smelled their beer, only a few hands popped up.
As with wine, Johnson said smell is a major factor in enjoying beer.
Consider drinking a beer from a brandy snifter, she suggested.
Smell proved especially important with the Nitro Oatmeal Stout, which had distinct chocolate and coffee aromas.
Stouts should be allowed to sit and warm slightly, Johnson advised.
Whatever the type of beer, she encouraged each person to take a sip of beer and then swish it around her mouth to hit taste buds that exist not only on the tongue, but on the insides of cheeks and on the roof of the mouth.
As far as food pairings, Johnson said India Pale Ale is startlingly good with grapefruit, but also works well with greasy food.
"If you're eating deep fried food, it's a great combination because the beer literally helps peel some of the fat off your taste buds," she said.
Standing Stone's seasonal Oak Aged Barley Wine, which had a molasses scent and a sweet taste almost like dessert wine, pairs well with marionberry salad and marionberry cobbler, according to Johnson.
Standing Stone servers presented the Barley Wine in a wine glass.
"It's fun to serve beer in something you don't expect," Johnson said, noting that a wine glass — with its smaller capacity — is a good choice for Barley Wine because of its high alcohol content. "It's definitely a sipper."
Although beer marketers often overlook the female consumer, Johnson said women actually have a long and close relationship with beer.
She said women historically made the beer for their households. Beer was a safe beverage at a time when clean drinking water was hard to come by.
Women would use grain to make a first batch of beer that had a high alcohol content. Each time the grain was reused, the resulting beer would have a lower alcohol level, Johnson said.
St. Hildegard von Bingen, a nun living in the 1100s, wrote about her experiments in using hops to make beer.
"That's a reference to some of the earliest hops used in beer," Johnson said.
For more information on Women Enjoying Beer and future events, visit www.womenenjoyingbeer.com.
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.