New York Craft Beer Week: Freaktoberfest (9/24/2010)
I do not know many women who like beer, I am certainty not one of them. Knowing this about myself, I took the task of reviewing Freaktoberfest as a challenge. In the anthropological spirit that imbues every writer, to a certain extent, I decided I would engage in some participant observation. As a sort of Sherpa, I brought Sam, an acquaintance from the circle of drinking friends everyone develops with age.
Sam is a beer drinker, although admittedly a lightweight, and by the end of the evening I was predominantly preoccupied with ensuring that she not fall down the stairs of The Rock Shop, the bar hosting the event. Despite this small snafu, Sam proved herself invaluable over the course of the evening. The first table we approached was manned by a volunteer in a bright yellow shirt named Matt who, upon hearing that I was a reviewer, chided me for not presenting my pen and notebook upon approach. Apparently, I was not on par with my peers.
The first beer, like so many other beers that evening, was light gold and tasted how what I imagine piss might taste, but with the second selection, the Golden Sour Ale by the Ithaca Brewing Company, I began getting into the spirit of things. The Golden Sour Ale was presented in what looked like a champagne magnum, complete with the word Brut predominantly displayed. It tasted like an adult version of a Sour Patch Kid, almost unpleasantly tart. At this point, I discovered a trick; so long as I continued to drink beers that did not taste like beer I would be fine.
The theory held out for the most part. Sam procured for herself, after a couple more attempts at beers of various shades, a Southern Tier Best of All Worlds, which is a pumpkin ale. After a couple of sips she proclaimed excitedly, “It doesn't taste like disappointment, like most pumpkin beers do. It tastes like desert… just one that makes you drunk.” While this was the first beer she approved of, I should have known at that point that it was time to take away Sam's tiny cup for a while.
I followed dessert with some coffee, sampling Victory Village from Victory Brewing Company. I was informed that I like my beers stouter than Sam does; however, later on in the evening, Melissa, a sales rep for one of the breweries informed me that for the most part there was no difference in that regard.
Moving upstairs, we encountered the bulk of the attendees, probably three-quarters of whom were men. Of the women, it seemed a large portion were working the event and the few who were not were attached to a man. Being neither working nor attached to a man (and, furthermore, attached to a woman), I was the target of a few lesbian comments. Why is it that no matter the age of the man, if he consumes enough beer he regresses to a fraternity-like state?
Sam, now in a thoroughly altered condition, began interviewing anyone who moved and came upon Mary Izett, a Certified Beer Judge and writer. Striking on the fact that Sam and I were attending on behalf of a feminist publication, she told us of incidents of sexism she'd experienced—men speaking to her boyfriend when answering a question she had asked and attending brewing classes where she was a pariah. Overall, the beer industry was described like any other industry where women are not the norm would be: in an adjustment phase.
Sam also pulled over David Myers, of Redstone Meadery, who was one of the event's organizers. David was very particular about a bifurcation between the beer industry and the craft beer industry. The beer industry is very traditionally male and made up of the Amheusers and the Coors, he says. It does not have much room for women. In contrast, he emphasized that the craft beer industry values skill and enthusiasm above all else, allowing all types of people to break in: “Beer was mean; craft beer is about knowledge and passion.”
Passion, however, does not always deliver. The Redstone Traditional Honey Mead blended with Coney Island Albino Python was, by all accounts, horrific. Bless the gods that they only make two barrels of it annually. The Coney Island Sword Swallower, however, was reportedly “very nice,” and the bottle was just suggestive enough with an image of a large breasted blonde swallowing a sword on it, which contributed to the steady stream of jokes regarding flavor that I had been producing throughout the evening. Beer is still not a woman friendly world, but sometimes you are best served by closing your eyes and swallowing, knowing that the happy intoxication comes next.