Tapping a keg of beer, Ginger Johnson sees an untapped market of consumers.
"They haven't been invited into the conversation," Johnson says. "They haven't been asked what they want."
If you go
What: Women Enjoying Beer monthly meeting, pairing beer and cheese. Cost is $15 per person.
When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 13
Where: Southern Oregon Brewing Co., 1922 United Way, Medford
For more information: Call Ginger Johnson at 515-450-7757 or see the website www.womenenjoyingbeer.com
She's referring to the approximately 70 to 75 percent of American women who don't drink beer, a statistic that illustrates not a lack of female interest, but the industry's lapse in appealing to the "other 50 percent," Johnson says.
Johnson, 41, counted herself in that group until a 2002 beer-pairing dinner in Sioux Falls, S.D., introduced her to good beer and the brew master, 39-year-old Larry Chase, who became her husband. Absorbing Chase's expertise, attending beer conferences and reading trade magazines, Johnson realized a business concept was brewing.
"There was nobody really addressing the female side of the market share," she says.
A business consultant in Ames, Iowa, Johnson founded Women Enjoying Beer in 2008 to share her education and passion. The group met monthly for about a year before Johnson and Chase decided to pull up Midwestern roots.
The couple toured the country for about three months, visiting breweries and attending several festivals and conferences. At a Boston event, Johnson met Alex Amarotico, owner of Ashland's Standing Stone Brewing Co., who asked her to organize some beer dinners and tastings.
"It made perfect sense," says Amarotico, of Johnson's lecture on how the beer industry has "missed women."
A week of special events at Standing Stone in October led to Johnson's negotiations for a year-long contract. Shortly after she signed, Standing Stone also hired Chase as their brewer, meeting a need for Standing Stone to elevate its beer to the next level, Amarotico says.
The Oak Street eatery provided the venue for Women Enjoying Beer's first three Oregon events. This month, the meeting moves to Medford's Southern Oregon Brewing Co. for a tasting with cheese, to be followed in June with a program at Ashland's Caldera Brewing Co.
"We'd like to do some road trips and tours," Johnson says. "Travel and beer is a trend."
Travels in Europe fostered Kate Parks' appreciation for beer. The 30-year-old Talent resident, who lived in the Netherlands as a high-school exchange student, says she already knew what she liked in beer but wanted to share the social experience of imbibing with other women.
"It's nice to be able to take a friend," Parks says.
Along with about 20 other women, Parks tasted regional microbrews with appetizers and desserts paired at Standing Stone. While drinking beer with dessert seemed a "completely crazy" concept to 45-year-old Kim Hosford, Johson's juxtaposition of vegan, coconut-milk ice cream and Sierra Nevada pale ale persuaded Hosford toward the light brew.
"Man, with this ice cream, it was great," the Talent resident says. "It kind of opened up a whole new world of flavors."
Hosford's revelation proves the purpose behind one of Johnson's oft-repeated mantras.
"It's not about the color … you've got to taste it," Hosford says.
Judging brands and styles of beer on merit, rather than preconceived notions, women — and men — help breweries tap into what consumers really want, Johnson says.
"The conversation needs to include both genders."