In my last two Autostraddle articles, I introduced craft beer as the queer alternative to big name brands and followed up with a handful of substitution suggestions in an attempt to sway some of you Coors Light-loyalists out there. For this post, I’m bringing the revolution back home and exploring my personal connection to my beverage of choice: beloved beer.
The scene: 1987, suburban St. Louis, Missouri. I’m two years old, toddling around my family’s living room on a quiet evening while the TV news blares from the hulking corner set. My dad sits on the couch engrossed in a phone call, an ice-cold can of Miller Lite perched beside him. My mom reclines next to him, reading a magazine and my older brother is belly down on the carpet, smashing G.I. Joes together in some epic battle. Diaper-clad, I make my way over to the coffee table, grab the can between my stubby little hands, and in one fell swoop, dump the sudsy brew all over my head. The beer trickles down my face and into my mouth. I shake my head like a wet puppy, lapping up the drips and proclaiming in the loudest voice my baby lungs can muster, “MMMM! BEER!”
Needless to say, my parents had about four heart attacks that afternoon. The six-packs in the fridge moved up a shelf and my brother had an excellent story to bring back to his 4th grade class that next morning. Aside from the occasional (and heavily monitored) sip from an adult relative’s cup, it would be many years before I could fully express my love for beer. And when I could, I did.
The Coming Out Process
When I was in boarding school in rural Vermont, getting drunk was the name of the game. It didn’t matter what you were drinking or how you got it as long as it contained as much alcohol as possible. As a sophomore, my roommates and I cooked up a bread-yeast-and-apple-cider concoction and stored it in re-used Gatorade bottles under our bed. We fell asleep to the hissing symphony of fermentation every night for two weeks and when the hard cider was finally ready for tasting, we had to water down the vile swill with orange juice just to cover up its pungent odor. Judging from what I (don’t) remember, that initial homebrew attempt must have clocked in around 10% ABV. It was horrendous, but we drank it happily. And in big gulps.
During my senior year, I acquired a fake ID while visiting my then-girlfriend in California and brought it back to Vermont with me tucked deep into my wallet. At first, I indulged my friends and faithfully purchased their 30 racks of Bud and handles of cheap vodka, toting them to off-campus bonfire parties and secret late-night cocktail hours. This new access brought me choice, however, and I knew there had to something better out there. My research delivered me to the door of McNeil’s Brewery in downtown Brattleboro. After nervously ducking into the dark pub and attempting to talk shop with the bearded, barely-21-year-old bartender, I selected four 22oz bottles of craft beer and presented my fake ID for his review. He briefly glanced at it, smiled and packaged up the bottles, happy enough just to turn someone on to the art of craft beer.
Those four bottles, ranging in style from Belgian to IPA to a rich coffee stout, blew my mind. When I eagerly brought them back to school to share my newfound passion with my friends, though, they were less than enthused. Some of them had heard of McNeil’s (the owner’s daughter, Taylor, was a year above us) but none of them had yet ventured into the dusty brewpub. And when all you care about is getting wasted, there are about a million more economical and efficient ways to do that than enjoying a delicately spiced Belgian wit. When you’re a teenager, it’s almost impossible not to worry about what your peers think. This was different, though, and I vowed to wave my freak flag high. If they didn’t like it, well, more for me. Four years after coming out as queer, I had officially come out as a craft beer fanatic.
Out & Proud
After high school, I began traveling extensively, which only enhanced my interest in craft beer. Each new region brought with it new breweries to visit and new beer styles to sample. I’ve been to all fifty states and several continents and the older I get, the more I come to value the differences between local cultures. When I visit a place, I don’t want to eat at a chain restaurant or drink a Starbucks coffee – I want to find the little sandwich shop off the beaten path, run by four generations of town residents. Beer has always acted as my guiding star, leading to me from nondescript office park breweries to country gay bars to homebrewing punk houses throughout the nation. Wherever I’ve found people enjoying craft beer, I’ve found community.
After being taken by their Festina Peche peach Berlinerwiess early on, I made the trip down to craft legend Dogfish Head’s Milton, Delaware production facility where those goofballs crank out tens of thousands of barrels of 60 Minute IPA a year while also managing to take on wacky projects like erecting a Steampunk Treehouse in their front yard. When I lived in California, I drove up to hop-heavy Lagunitas on the regular to enjoy their upstairs “tasting loft” — a glorified office designed to fit the aesthetic of a stoned teenage boy from the 1970s, shag carpet and all. Craft can pioneer Oskar Blues was a super welcome sight after a long and ill-advised road trip with my Mom (pictured below), and their Southern-themed Colorado brewpub cooked up some mean fried green tomatoes. My curiosity and Yelp-savvy have lead me into plenty of smaller outlets, too — countless dusty, sidestreet brewpubs where the grumpy locals peer down at my from their worn pint glasses while I saddle up to the bar with all my tourist enthusiasm. Wherever I’ve found people enjoying craft beer, though, I’ve found community, no matter how strange it seemed.
But it hasn’t always been kegs and rainbows. When I’m on a craft beer mission, whether it’s a trip to a pioneering Northern California brewery or a night out at a New York City beer bar, I’m generally the only girl and almost always the lone queer. When a 2012 Gallup poll reported that women between the ages of 18 and 34 now prefer beer to wine, reactions on BeerAdvocate’s online forum were anything but community-minded. “So they must be calling Blue Moon a craft beer?” mocks GuzzlLah of Illinois, referring to MillerCoors’ watery Belgian wheat. “Tryin’ to impress the dudes!” asserted Missouri’s Jake1605.
Despite the bull-headed animosity, my bartender friends assure me that the craft beer scene is changing and that more and more women are getting interested in craft beer, outshining their (male) counterparts in their willingness to try the newest and wackiest beer styles. I recently read about a gay bar in Jersey City that shifted its tap line from a Miller dominated outfit to a dozen or so craft offerings and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Organizations like the Pink Boots Society are raising funds to send female brewers to industry conferences and training programs. This year, Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan brewed up a beer expressly for the Kalamazoo Pride Festival, calling the tart raspberry ale “Sparkleberry” and sponsoring the celebration. And super awesome websites like Autostraddle are giving us the space to talk about the wonders of being a craft beer weirdo.
While my own journey continues to barrel forward, I want to use this series to bring rad queers together over a shared passion for craft. Use the comments below to tell me your beer history, where your travels have taken you so far and why making the choice to drink craft is important to you. Cheers, queers!
A documentary filmmaker by trade and training, Meredith develops digital content for Homoground, a queer music podcast, and heads up the female-centric craft beer blog BeerdedLadies.com, amongst other more lucrative pursuits. Meredith is originally from St. Louis but now lives in Brooklyn where she can usually be found enjoying a cold one or playing softball in Prospect Park alongside her mutt, Miko.