Cheers to Castle Rock: Why Women on Beer Labels Should be Bad-Ass, not Buxom.

Our heartiest applause to Castle Rock Brewery & their new Elsie Mo!

We were pleased to hear that Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham, England, is finally changing the look of their "Elsie Mo" labels! Elsie Mo has long been a contentious issue in the brewing industry, featuring the image of a scantily clad, World-War 2 era, nose-cone pin-up (inspired by the paintings some RAF pilots painted on the nose-cones of their fighter planes during the war). Granted, as far as pin-up art goes, Elsie ticked all the boxes: shapely figure, coy smile, big hair, and very, very little clothing. 

Elsie Mo's Original artwork is a great example of war-era pin-up art, but not a great label for beer. 

Elsie Mo's Original artwork is a great example of war-era pin-up art, but not a great label for beer. 

But is it appropriate to market beer that way? 

Convention, and decades of misogynistic imagery in the brewing industry would suggest that such imagery on bottle labels is perfectly acceptable. As a woman in the brewing industry, Kel will tell you, she disagrees. 

There is no merit to gratuitously sexual imagery on beer labels. If you need sex to sell your product, you need a new product. Sexual innuendo and imagery on beer is a trend set a long time ago -- in the mid 20th century -- when the 'mad men' era of marketing and advertisement drew clear lines about the gender specificity of the product of beer. Men drink beer. Women drink cocktails. And never the twain shall meet. 

From examples of history (covered in the last Musings Blog) we know that this simply isn't true. Beer is a casual beverage intended for consumption by literally everyone of legal age (in modern times at least). It is gender non-specific, and with craft beer featuring thousands of flavour profiles across hundreds of styles around the world -- of course there is something for everyone. (We contend that if you don't like beer, you haven't found the right one yet, but that's another post). 

So why, then, would a brewery intentionally market it's product in such a way as to alienate half the population? This is a question that still confounds us as brewery owners. It is alienating to women in the brewing industry, and it is insensitive to those of us devoting our lives to perfecting our craft. Before you start in with the "you're being too sensitive" mantra so common to these discussions, we would like to point out a few things taken directly from our experience. 

Expectation: If you are a woman in the brewing industry, your primary focus is Sales. 

If you attend a Beer Festival, chances are the product reps manning the sample booths are women (usually highly attractive women in tight fitting clothing if they are repping a domestic brand). Having attended several years worth of major beer festivals, we can tell you that very rarely will there be any variation to this trend. The thinking behind this is simple: sex sells. 

In our experience, very rarely will these reps have the ability to speak knowledgeably about the beer, or the brewing process. They are only there to look good and hand out free samples -- a job they accomplish perfectly well. It is not their fault that the company they are working for has not given them the information needed to satisfy the curiosity of the average craft-beer nerd. 

The problem with this is that when you do get a knowledgeable woman at a booth, no one asks her any questions. The biggest wake-up call for Kel was when she and her husband Matt were at one of the major Beer Festivals in Calgary AB last year. Matt, who volunteers regularly at the brewery, but really knows very little about the brewing process, was constantly re-directing questions about the beer to Kel, who was standing patiently by, waiting to be asked about her product. Time and again, Kel would pour a beer for a patron, that patron would then ask Matt a question (instead of talking directly to the person handing them the sample), Matt would re-direct the question back to Kel, and the patron would look surprised. 

Often times, after Kel provided the answer, the patron would then ask another question to Matt, who would, once again, redirect the question back to Kel. And so on, ad nauseum, for 10 hours straight. (It should be noted that this is not a hard and fast rule for everyone attending beer festivals -- it is just the majority trend.) 

You might be able to see why this might get aggravating. It also doesn't happen just at beer fests-- guests to the brewery will see Kel work the counter and request to speak to an owner or manager, then look absolutely shocked at the news that she's it. 

The reality of the brewing industry: Brewing teams are becoming more diverse! And that's a good thing!

So while the general public might still be under the misguided impression that women's key role in the industry is to sell the product (this of course being reinforced by these graphic images on labels) the reality of the brewing industry is much different. 

The Brewing Industry is welcoming a whole new wave of women to the ranks: owners, brewers, quality control, shippers, packagers, warehouse employees -- we are growing past the stage that craft beer is about men in plaid shirts with bristling beards. It's an amazing step forward and we are proud to be a part of that movement! 

Theoretically Brewing's Team is over 60% female, with all employees being cross-trained in both sales and the brewing process. Kel is also, to our knowledge, the youngest female brewery owner in Canada, having opened [Theoretically] Brewing with Kris at the age of 26.

Is the brewing industry perfect in its diversity? No. Not by a long shot. We can't wait for the day when we see more diversity in our brew teams, and we look forward to finding the talents in other communities that will bring our industry to the fore-front. 

So what does the imagery on beer say about the brewery? 

At best, the use of sexual imagery, particularly that of women, says that the brewery is unoriginal. At worst, it tells female consumers that the role of women in craft beer culture is entirely that of eye-candy. It says that intelligent, highly-trained women who hold BJCP and/or Cicerone Certifications are of no more use to the brewing industry than those sexy-reps who cannot speak knowledgeably about the product you just tried beyond the few buzzwords they were instructed to use. It sidelines the knowledgeable in favour of the sexy, and that's a problem. Even worse is when an established brewery, with a brand and marketing strategy, randomly deviates from their already excellent branding just to include the gratuitous imagery for a specialty or one-time brew. 

Craft Beer Culture should be about educating the consumer about the benefits of supporting local enterprise. It should be about the science behind the process, and the passionate craft the Brew Master has learned from years of hard work. By falling back on the over-used trope of innuendo and misogynistic artwork, the Craft Brewing industry takes a step back for every inch we gain in the market. So please: brewers, just stop. Take a lesson from Castle Rock and feel free to feature a lady on your label: but make her bad-ass and representative of all the awesome and incredible female colleagues in your industry. Celebrate the community as a whole, and stop alienating other brewers. 

Special thanks to those brands who recognize that misogynistic imagery is no longer acceptable, and kudos especially to those brewers finding a way to honour the women in their history by making them look powerful. Good move, Castle Rock. 


Elsie Mo.jpg

Elsie Mo - Pure Bad-ass.

You can see her go from pin-up to bad-ass in the latest iterations of the artwork, and we are loving the change! The new label (right) is also more historically indicative of the actual role of the women Elsie is meant to portray, so it's even better!

Kelti Baird