Craft Beer Shows its Feminine Side
A few weeks ago, I organised a craft beer tasting for my husband’s birthday. It was a surprise for him and a roaring success in every respect. The venue, the beers and the beer experts made it a genuinely hoppin’ night. (Ooo, couldn’t resist, just couldn’t). One of the things that struck me and delighted me the most was that our main beer expert was a woman! I know this isn’t such a big deal to most people. But when I first moved to Hungary almost 12 years ago, women who drank beer were thought of as unfeminine. What a bunch of phooey. So when I met Krisztina I was really intrigued about how she came to be a beer expert in such a male-dominated field and e-mailed her with a list of questions. Here is what she has to say about the history of beer and her history with beer. RR refers to me, Rita, and KZs refers to Krisztina Zsoldos, our knowledgeable beer expert in Budapest.
RR: Tell us a little about the history of beer and women.
KZs: First of all, I am really glad for this interview because beer and women is an all-time favourite topic for me. Women and beer actually go way back in history. Ancient Egyptian and Sumerian ladies brewed the first beers. Back then, it was as much part of a woman’s duties as cooking a meal for the family.
With the Industrial Revolution, beer became big business and men started taking over the business of brewing. Since then, beer has become a masculine subject. Most advertisements are about men and their friends drinking beer. Women appear rarely and if they do they are either serving the beers or are half naked or both.
RR: When I first came to Hungary, women drinking beer was definitely frowned upon. I like to drink beer and got a lot of comments from men about how “unfeminine” I was being. Why is this? What are your experiences with this?
KZs:I have never had a bad experience as a female beer drinker, however, it is true that in Hungary it wasn’t considered a very feminine thing to do. That is probably because until the Hungarian craft beer revolution came along, there were only the big commercial brands available to drink. Beer has lots of bubbles which make you burp and pee a lot. Therefore, seeing a glass of cheap, commercial beer in a woman’s hand was simply not attractive. Since the craft beer revolution started, this stupid concept is starting to wear off. A woman with a quality craft beer in hand, served in a tulip-shaped glass for example, is now seen as “cool”.
RR: Have you always liked beer? When did you become part of the craft beer revolution and why?
KZs: I won’t deny that I have always treated alcohol as an exciting component of life. (Me too!) Once I got over the novelty of its effects on me, I started to look at it from a gastronomical point of view. I graduated from the Budapest Business School – College of Commerce, Catering and Tourism. It was obvious from the start that I would write my thesis about alcohol. Spirits seemed a distant world for me and craft beer didn’t even exist back then, so I chose wine – wine tourism to be more precise. I still love the mind-altering effects of alcohol, however, aside from that, I now look at it as a very complex gastronomical wonder.
Becoming part of the craft beer revolution happened at a perfect time in my life and quite accidentally. I was already starting to be tired of all the wine snobbery, tannins, terroir and flavinoids that ruled the country. I was eager to discover and play with new flavors and aromas. Many times when I wanted to pair a glass of wine with my dinner, wine just failed. For certain dishes, there was simply no wine that could deliver the flavors I was looking for. Then 2.5 years ago, I met Daniel who had just organized the first Hungarian Craft Beer Festival, which has totally changed the country’s beer drinking habits. People, including myself, started to dive deeper and deeper into the world of beer, a whole new world that I find fascinating. Since then, I have been continuously learning about beer. There are so many innovations, new breweries and new technologies popping up now.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a perfectly paired glass of wine with my lunch or dinner, but craft beer is so much more versatile.
RR: As I mention in the intro above, I was pleasantly surprised when we showed up for the beer tasting and you were to be our beer expert. Do you find it hard as a woman to do presentations in front of men about a subject that is typically associated with men?
Yes, men are usually surprised when they see me as a presenter. I find it funny. If they don’t know a lot about beer and my presentation is interesting (It always is!), they do start listening and in the end truly appreciate my knowledge. If they already know a lot about beer, that is also very entertaining because once they see I’m competent with this topic, they accept me and very intense discussions can follow.
RR: Okay, all that gender stereotypes stuff out of the way now, tell us – is this just a hobby at the moment (I mean do you have a completely unrelated full time job)? Do you plan to make it more than just a hobby ever?
KZs: I used to have a full-time job, but I quickly realized that sitting in an office, neon lights and unpaid extra hours were not exactly meant for me. I felt like an animal in a cage that needed to break free. It was a tough decision, but it had to happen. Of course, I was scared as hell to leave all the financial security and the beaten path behind to start something completely different, but I am a stubborn girl, so I jumped into the unknown and quit my job.
I helped establish a “craft beer brewing / beer gastronomy” school that teaches people how to make their own home brew. The attendees can also learn about beer history, beer marketing and take part in tasting sessions, as well learning about pairing beer with food.
Since then, it has been a difficult journey that is frustrating and stressful at times, but also very interesting, exciting and challenging. It is continuously teaching me how to be patient, diligent and to keep believing in a vision, in the life I imagined for myself.
RR: Which is your favourite Hungarian beer and why?
KZs: Keserű Méz (Bitter Honey) from the Fót Brewery is a darling beer for me as it was one of the first craft beers on the market in Hungary. It is a 6.5%, unfiltered, unpasteurized hoplager. What is hoplager? This is a triple-hopped, strong lager beer that is Hungary’s answer to the iconic India Pale Ale of the American craft beer revolution.
I also love Távoli Galaxis (Distant Galaxy), which is the creation of Zoltán Róth, the winner of the 2nd Hungarian International Homebrewing Competition, 2013. Távoli Galaxis is an IPA with the unique flavor and aroma of Galaxy hops.
RR: Which is your favourite international beer and why?
KZs: The Belgian St. Bernardus Abt 12. It is a delicious quadruple with a high alcohol content (10.5 %). Rich and complex, but very drinkable with a refreshing fruity flavor.
RR: Please, tell us about the hopinator again. How does it work? What does it do? That thing was mesmerizing…
KZs: The Hopinator (or Randall) is basically a double-chamber filter system that you connect to a tap of your favorite beer and fill with flavor-enhancing ingredients like whole leaf hops, spices, herbs, fruit, etc. so that the alcohol in the beer strips the flavor from whatever you add and puts it in the beer. It can have an entirely amazing effect on the beer you run through it. Its invention is credited to Dogfish Head Brewery.
RR: Lastly, would you recommend the beer tasting for hen / bachelorette groups? What do you say to those women who are unsure about it?
KZs: Definitely! Women who are unsure of drinking beer because it is not a “feminine” thing to do: forget about that bullshit! More and more women are enjoying good craft beer. More and more women are finding a place in the beer industry. It has become completely acceptable (again).
For those ladies who are unsure because they simply don’t like beer’s bitterness: again, forget about that concept – you would be surprised how sweet a chocolatey-caramelly stout can be, for example. Imagine drinking a liquid brownie. Now I’m sure that got you interested… 😉
Book craft beer tasting with Krisztina while you’re in Budapest for your hen group, or for any group event!