The Public Broadcasting Service has been around for decades. Now the PBS acronym has competition, though the new organization is a kindred spirit. The newest acronym stands for the Pink Boots Society. You might think this is some sort of association for girly dominatrices, but you would be wrong.
The Pink Boots Society was founded by brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf in 2008. One wonders if there is a movement afoot to ditch the word “brewmaster,” just as “master bedroom” fell into disfavor because it reeks of patriarchy. I suspect the only holdup is the industry hasn’t come up with a suitable substitute yet. Hey, how about uberbrewer? Just a suggestion. Fahrendorf also founded a women’s beer appreciation society with the clever name of Barley’s Angels.
According to the PBS website, their mission statement reads, “We are here to ASSIST, INSPIRE & ENCOURAGE women and non-binary individuals in the fermented/alcoholic beverage industry through EDUCATION.” Surely, the inclusion of non-binary individuals was not in the original manifesto in 2008. I doubt that normal heterosexual women are all that thrilled about being lumped in with the non-binary crowd, those who are betwixt and between…or is it betwixt, bothered, and bewildered?
The mission statement sounds as though it was cobbled together by a PR flack working in concert with a corporate boardroom. In fact, it could serve as a template. Just swap out “fermented/alcoholic beverage” for any other product and it works very well for any women’s/non-binary advocacy group.
Of course, we’ve been down this road before. The people in such-and-such group are not only equal but special. The initial push for equality morphs into a plea for special treatment and results in the creation of another protected class. If you are not a member of said class, not supporting it is unthinkable.
Making better and better products at lower and lower prices and employing more and more people used to be enough of a contribution to society for a business. Today it is insufficient. One must also go to the mat to take on the bugaboos of the day…racism, sexism, colonialism, climate change, etc., plus whatever cause célèbre may pop up down the road – and one must shout it from the rooftops so people can see it on their laptops.
The stereotyped sentiments in the PBS manifesto should not be surprising as the craft beer industry has become more and more corporate. In fact, a number of once-independent breweries (e.g., Ballast Point, Goose Island, Karbach, Redhook ) are now part of corporate conglomerates. So brewers are now jumping on the DEI bandwagon. Hence the relevance of taking a philo-feminist stance.
Typically, most craft brewers, male or female, started out as home brewers. Over time, they acquired more sophisticated equipment and know-how, and the itch to ditch the day job grew stronger. Hence the craft beer explosion of recent decades and the most successful craft breweries being targeted for corporate acquisition.
As is the case with a growth industry, associations and acronyms proliferate. Consider the BRU (Brewing, Respect, Unity) coalition. It is composed of the ASBC (American Society of Brewing Chemists), the BA (Brewers Association), the MBAA (Master Brewers Association of America, and the Cicerone Certification Program. No acronym for the last one, possibly because they don’t want to be mistaken for the Chinese Communist Party.
Nevertheless, most craft breweries remain small businesses. Mom-and-pop – or husband-and-wife – operations are common. As taprooms have grown from bare-bones operations to hip, trendy places to hang out, women employees have become common. They are not as conspicuous as men, however, particularly at the upper echelons. When craft beer was a minuscule part of the brewing industry, no one was particularly concerned about female empowerment. Now that craft beer accounts for a significant portion of (26.8%) of beer sales , women’s groups have begun to pay attention.
“Male-dominated” is a compound adjective that frequently appears in articles about the craft beer industry. In truth, only 2% of breweries in the US are female-owned. Nevertheless, I think the phrase “male-dominated” qualifies as a dog whistle. It is not just a compound adjective, it is a call to action to correct a grievous inequity. One might respond that women already have soap operas, why can’t they leave the suds to men?
Indeed, men are predominant in brewing, but the same is true of consumption. In a study of drinking habits from 2010 to 2016, 54% of men identified beer as their adult beverage of choice. At the same time, only 23% of women agreed. More recent surveys indicate that the female share has edged up slightly, but men still hold a commanding lead.
Typically, beer advertising has been aimed at men. When women appear in beer commercials, they are typically paired off with men or function as eyeball candy to rivet the male gaze. The motive is to subliminally implant the concept that drinking Brand X beer will make a man more attractive to a sexy woman. Beer advertisements aimed exclusively at women are rare. Ironically, in the ancient world there were a number of goddesses devoted to beer (e.g., Sumeria’s Ninkasi, Egypt’s Tenenet, and the Celts’ Dea Latis).
While beer may not be the beverage of choice among most contemporary women, brewing beer, like cooking, used to be women’s work. As any beer geek can tell you, women, known as alewives or brewsters, were common in days of old. Leftover beer was made available to the public, who gathered in the alewife’s home. Over time the public house or pub became a fixture in the village.
As with home brewers today, the beer was brewed in small quantities. Before refrigeration it was not feasible to ship beer great distances, and large-volume brewing was not done in any volume till the industrial revolution, which was almost exclusively led by men. In a sense, by bringing women back into the picture, the Pink Boots Society is attempting to turn back the clock, which is usually taboo in progressive circles. If you tried to bring back the ducking stool, for example, you would meet with universal opprobrium.
The B in the PBS name derives from the fact that boots are a key element in any brewer’s wardrobe. If you ever take a tour of a brewery, you will likely see employees wearing boots worthy of a New England lobsterman…pardon me, lobsterperson. This is because water, beer, or both are frequently sloshing around on the floor of the brewery. Also, a boot is a beer-drinking vessel – not a leather boot but a glass container shaped like a boot, and available in generous sizes, usually a liter.
So “boot” is an entirely appropriate word for any sort of brewing association. It is, of course, amusing to see how the color pink is employed by the female empowerment tribe. Remember when the color pink was anathema because it was a form of sexual stereotyping? Pink booties for baby girls! The horror! But pink boots for adult female brewers? Hey, as long as it’s their idea, it’s kosher. Well, a number of pubs offer green beer on St. Patricks’ Day, so maybe one fine day you’ll be able to drink pink beer on International Women’s Day! There are 77 chapters of the Pink Boots Society in the United States and in 7 foreign countries so it may come to pass.
The Pink Boots Society started up when companies were starting to grandstand about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, even though DEI wasn’t an acronym. Consequently, PBS attracted the attention of a number of suppliers (hops, yeast, and barley are essential) who became sponsors. One name familiar to consumers is Blue Moon beer, yet another corporate-owned (Molson Coors) craft brewery. Curiously, the brewery is located in Denver’s RiNo District, which may or may not have political significance.
A big part of the Pink Boots operation is the annual Pink Boots Blend contest, now in its sixth annual iteration. The Blend refers to a beer brewed with an assortment of hops that varies from year to year. So the Pink Boots Blend goes on year after year, but it is not the same beer. This is not unusual in the world of craft beer. Famously, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing has offered a different Christmas ale every year since 1975!
Of course, as with any contest, there are rules for the annual collaboration. Among them, “a majority of the participants on the team must be women, preferably each team is led by a woman.” Hmmm, should have seen that coming, given the fact that all 10 members of the PBS Board of Directors are women (of course, some may be trans…can’t tell from the name). Wonder what would happen if some men in drag decided to enter the contest.
Great Western Malting (the current employer of Teri Farhrenkopf) is one sponsor. Yakima Chief Hops is another. According to the Yakima web site, their blend of hops this year “will result in fantastic beer and, best of all…women and non-binary empowerment & community!” Wow! And you thought you were just buying a pint of beer! Now you can feel good about yourself even if you’re an alcoholic!
You might think that Yakima Chief would be a problematic appellation in some circles, and the company took some heat because they used to employ Indian imagery in their logo. The company responded by deep-sixing the logo and hiring Ted Strong, a member of the Yakama Nation, as Vice President of Corporate Responsibility. (The Y-A-K-A-M-A spelling was adopted by the tribe to more closely reflect how the word is pronounced in their language.)
You may not be familiar with Yakima Chief Hops, but you have likely heard of Yuengling Beer. America’s Oldest Brewery (dating back to 1829) is working with PBS in co-sponsoring a $5,000 scholarship for “exceptional women and/or non-binary individuals.” It might surprise some people to find out that a number of colleges are now offering courses in brewing. As the craft beer industry grows, credentialism becomes more and more important. The quest to become a cicerone, a certified beer expert, requires an investment of time as well as money, particularly if one seeks the highest certification (level one is certified beer server; level two is certified cicerone, level three is advanced cicerone, and level four is master cicerone).
Yuengling’s presence adds some establishment cred to what might be perceived as just another social justice advocacy group. You might think Yuengling would be an unlikely supporter of the Pink Boots Society. After all, as recently as 2016, President Dick Yuengling’s show of support for Donald Trump inspired cries for a boycott from the usual suspects. Has President Yuengling had a change of heart? Probably not, but he does have four daughters set to take over the family business. Need I say more?
“Woman-owned” is now a common promotional catchphrase in femme small business circles, and for all I know may already be in use at some breweries owned by females. The 21st Amendment (commemorating the repeal of Prohibition) Brewery in San Francisco, is already a PBS scholarship sponsor, so perhaps one day we will have a 19th Amendment (which gave women the right to vote) Brewery as a sponsor. Tennessee Brew Works in Nashville has already offered Persistence Peach Ale commemorating the amendment (Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the amendment, thus ushering it across the finish line). Considering the links between suffragettes and the temperance movement, any association with the19th Amendment is more than a tad ironic.
Speaking of the 19th Amendment, the rollout date for the Pink Boots Blend is March 8th, or International Women’s Day. Given the free enterprise spirit that has characterized the craft beer movement, that March 8th date is also more than a tad ironic, as the idea of an International Women’s Day originated in the mind of a communist agitator called Clara Zetkin in 1908. The March 8th date was selected because it was the anniversary of the “mostly peaceful” Women’s Strike in 1917 in Petrograd or present-day St. Petersburg. While not specifically communist in origin, it persuaded Tsar Nicholas to abdicate a few days later. Then in November the Bolsheviks took over. They were zealots on a number of issues but free enterprise was not one of them.
The Pink Boots Society, however, has no qualms about making a buck, as the merch on its internet site indicates. If you’ve ever been inside the team shop at a stadium or arena, the lineup will be quite familiar…caps, T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, tank tops. The outlier is the flannel shirt, which may be a nod to hipster attire…or perhaps lesbian sensibilities…or both. Steel-toed pink boots, however, are a fashion statement waiting to happen.
Despite all of the above, I don’t want you to think I am boycotting woman-brewed beer. I’ve had good beers brewed by women before and I’ll have good beer brewed by women in the future. Unless a brewery browbeats you with hackneyed mission statements and trendy political stances, I would not discourage you from visiting it.
A word of advice, however: don’t make any jokes about witch’s brew or yeast infections.