LUSANDA FUTSHANE

“I’d punch a baby to be in a Black Label advert. It’s a champion drink for champions, stuff the ‘men’ part,” quips Margaret Olwoch, a third-year clothing and retail management student about her love for beer.

Four years ago, there was a popular Heineken commercial with a husband and wife hosting a dinner party in their home. The wife drags her girlfriends to the master bedroom to show off her new walk-in closet. Clearly impressed, her friends scream and gush over the enshrined clothing and shoes until they are interrupted by manlier screams coming from the next room. Cut to the husband and his best friends inside a walk-in fridge full of Heineken. The message was clear: clothes are to women what beer is to men.

So what happens when a perfect lady walks up to a bar and orders an ice-cold draught for herself? Hint: the universe does not implode. This week, Perdeby looks at beer culture and how it has evolved.

According to DrinkFocus.com, last year women accounted for 25% of beer consumption in the US. Despite this, beer is still predominantly marketed towards men. Molly Keith, writing for The Columbia Chronicle, says that females are unfairly addressed by the beer industry. “Even in the media these days, the only women I see drinking beer are the tomboy friends of a bunch of guys, playing a game of poker. I’m not a tomboy. I hate snakes and wear glitter eye shadow, but I do enjoy beer.”

Olwoch adds that there are mixed reactions to women who drink beer. While some guys think that it’s sexy, there are others who find it unattractive. “One guy told me he’d never date a girl who drinks beer because it makes me look cheap,” she recalls.

Is the machismo behind beer really as deeply entrenched as it appears? Perdeby spoke to Tuks students to find out why they drink beer. “I don’t,” says Buntu Mabho who’s doing his first year in BCom Accounting. “Give me anything but beer and I’ll drink [it]. I’m still a man and I don’t think a cider in my hand is going to change that.” Anthony Jooste, also a first-year accounting student, disagrees. Jooste says that beer is the ultimate mark of a man and that it is the only alcoholic beverage that he drinks. “There are times when you can go for a whiskey or a brandy and coke for a little variety, but every man should drink beer. It’s been part of guy code since the beginning.”

Beer is not what it used to be. Gone are the days of just ales, stouts and lagers. Brewers have become creative with the kinds of beer that they produce, perhaps further hurting the exclusivity of beer to macho, sport-loving, boerewors-flipping guys. Craft beer (produced in smaller quantities in modest, non-corporate breweries) is rising in popularity in South Africa. Produced mainly in the Western Cape by microbreweries like Brewers & Union and Mitchells Brewery, craft beer has become the flagship beer of hipsters in the country. Craft breweries have the advantage of playing around with flavours and creating distinct tastes that are paraded annually at the Craft Beer Fest and sold at prices as steep as R40 a bottle – double what a regular draught will cost you.

Then there’s the truly bizarre: in an effort to settle the debate of wine versus beer, a few breweries from all over the world decided to call it a tie and combine the two instead. Yes – beer and wine in the same sip. With alcohol content around 9%, you can enjoy the best of both worlds with Noble Rot (named for the fungus that helps cultivate it) and The Vine (named for, um, a vine). Stranger yet, is an interesting creation that American burger franchise Red Robin released at this year’s Oktoberfest – a beer milkshake. Suddenly light beer doesn’t seem so bad.

For as long as there has been alcohol, there has been beer. From ancient Egyptians to mid-century husbands who frequented pubs before going home to their families, to Irishmen and -women who carelessly brandish their jugs of Guinness every St Patrick’s Day. Who the next custodians of the brew should be has suddenly become a question of gender, recreational interests and egotism. How did we get here?

When in doubt, we tend to blame the media. Still, it would be ignorant to completely dismiss the effect of those adverts with the conveniently placed clichés, like the nail-biting rugby game, buxom blondes in the background, and a bucket of lager equidistant from the universal remote and the biltong. If it weren’t for them, perhaps it wouldn’t seem as though beer belonged to a certain type of person. Other kinds of alcohol, like vodka and tequila, are consumed by all sorts of people without any sort of niche marketing to promote them. What would happen if we all decided to ignore societal constructs and just kept drinking whatever’s in front of us forever? Hint: the universe might, in fact, implode.

Photo: Marius Veldhuyzen van Zaten

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