I noticed it, but I didn't think it was a thing until someone pointed it out to me. You see, the beer aisle at my store is near the deli counter, and the guys in the deli are privy to many of the dozens of conversations I have with the clientele. Then one day, one of the more observant deli-men called out to me as I walked by his station. “It's like what they say about us when we're driving,” he said. I looked at him thinking I knew where he was going with his comment. “Men never ask for directions,” he continued with a giggle, “and men never ask for help with beer!” Then his giggle turned into full out laughter.
In my experience, this often has been the case. Most of the time I approach a woman perusing the dozens of offerings on the aisle, her response will be something like “Last time I got (fill in name of beer), I was thinking about something...” In other words, she's the ideal craft beer drinker, and customer, systematically exploring the enormous wealth of great beer available today.
With guys it's different. Some guys are eager to talk, and wide ranging discussions break out about favorite brewers, new beer bars, and brewery trips, but those guys are the exceptions. The majority of them brush me off, sometimes with a snarl that borders on anger. Then they stare blankly at the selections for a few minutes, and grab a six-pack from a well known brewery like Harpoon or Sam Adams and rush to get off the aisle.
I told my coworker that maybe it would be better if I was a woman and maybe blonde (my thoughts drifted to a few years back on the New York City beer scene when two of the leading beer geeks were women known as “the blonde” and “the other blonde”)
“Nah, that would just make it worse,” said my coworker with a grin. He didn't need to elaborate. A lot of young men seem to feel as if not knowing their way around the craft beer world diminishes their masculinity. This dichotomy is also played out when I'm sampling beer to the clientele. Many women try the beer, ask questions about it and sometimes take cellphone pictures of the packaging if they don't outright buy it on the spot. Most guys, even those shopping for beer, either ignore the offer or they tell me, “No thanks, I'm good.”
I want to scream at them, “Look fella, I'm a buyer at this store, it's my job to stay up to date on hundreds of beers, email brewers, read blogs and visit beer bars (yeah it's a dirty job but someone...), and yet at least once a week I see a beer or two that makes me wonder 'wow, where did that come from?'” It might reassure them that the craft beer world is expanding so fast that not even the professionals can keep up with it, so asking for help won't make you less of a man.
But I can't scold customers, even if it's in the name of getting them to become more adventurous beer drinkers. Instead, I make sure to buy beer from the big name craft brewer in bulk so that I can maximize my profits on the unadventurous drinkers.
There's hope, however. I see a difference among the youngest members of the craft beer crowd (or rather the youngest legal members of the craft beer crowd; when I was a cheesmonger, I briefly had a staffer who had been a homebrewer since she was a teenager; she simply figured that since she was too young to go out and drink then she'd stay in and drink good stuff). Every Friday, I chat on the aisle with groups of college kids eager to expand on what they drank last time. I want to tell them that they could teach their older brothers a thing or two.
Martin Johnson is a beer buyer and merchandising manager for Westside Market East Village in New York City.When not selling or drinking beer he writes about jazz and beer for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate, beer for Eater and about a variety of cultural and culinary topics for The Root.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.