We all do different things to unwind. I can’t fathom going for a run to clear your head, or playing first person shooting games for hours. But one of my old post-work rituals was befitting of someone about 40 years older than me and the opposite gender – a nice quiet pub, a pint of ale, and a book. Shoes off and feet up on the sofa like I lived there, it was a sanctuary away from work stress and, crucially, out of the tiny flat I lived in. It’s also where I became “a beer drinker”.
There’s this idea, somehow, that women don’t drink beer, that all we really want is a white wine or maybe a G&T. But, although an adolescence that featured only Fosters or Boddingtons should have put me off, I can attest firmly to the fact that we quite like a pint, too.
So of course, when an email landed in my inbox about the Ladies Love Beer night at Neighbourhood, near Stratford, I was quick to confirm that I’d be there with bells on.
I went into the event a little sceptical – purely because my taste is quite specifically the darker, richer end of the spectrum. I’m not into “hoppy”, or “citrus”, and I’m certainly against lagers, which to me often taste more like they should be in the back room of a doctor’s surgery in a sample pot. So I headed off to Very East London, and I was pleasantly surprised.
We kicked off the evening with Cheryl from Thirst Consultants by trying a Mexican-style piña colada, made with beer instead of rum. Thankfully, we stopped at one of those, because it went down way too easily.
For the first proper “course”, we compared and contrasted two beers, Krusovice and an unfiltered lager, with three of Neighbourhood’s signature popcorns, including a chilli one and a bacon one. The Krusovice was the second surprise of the night – at first sip I was as unimpressed as I expected to be…but after five minutes, it deepened and took on caramel flavours.
It turns out that women and beer go a long way back, to as far as 10,000BC. Egyptians even had a goddess of beer. Thousands of years later, in the 12th century, St Hildegard von Bingen, a nun, was the first to write about how including hops in the brewing process will make beers last longer. In Europe, female brewers dominated for hundreds of years, brewing at home and selling any excess, until the late 18th century, when large-scale brewing brought both the decline of brewsters as men took over and a diminished number of styles available. Women’s direct participation may have declined, but their contribution has lived on in both beer and language, as “bridal” stems from the “bride-ale”, the nuptial beer that was brewed and sold before a wedding, the proceeds going to the bride on her wedding day.
Returning to 2016, the second round, a selection of chicken, lamb, and halloumi skewers and two new beers, were again compared against each other, with some pairings cutting through fat to bring out saltiness or umami flavours more than others.
By dessert, we’d crowded closer to hear Cheryl over the roaring at the football for more tales of female baddassery in the brewing world. The stats are still skewed – only 2% of UK brewers are women, despite the facts that beer leads the pack, above even prosecco, in terms of popularity among women, and that the UK’s first and top beer sommeliers are women. You’d expect this to be reflected in bars across the country, but, as a lot of us have experienced, it’s still expected that when a beer and a cocktail are ordered, the beer is for the bloke. It’s in the marketing, too, with puns and specifically masculine branding, the ultimate example of which is the collaboration between the Bluebeard’s Revenge grooming brand and Hunters brewery, which “whipped up a truly special and utterly manly craft beer – The Ultimate Pale Ale for Real Men, if you will.” That’s beer, apparently – so manly, it has to be named after a guy with a penchant for murdering his wives. Righto. I can confirm that drinking it doesn’t make you grow chest hairs.
Anyway, for dessert we again played with the interaction between beer and food with not just flavour but also texture, testing the way beers, including a banana beer, bounce off components like cream, ice cream, and fruit. The combination with ice cream was one of my favourites – think the gentle fizz of a coke float, but better – and I was delighted to hear that Cheryl will be doing a beer and ice cream night in Norwich sometime soon.
I was surprised, in a good way, all in all. Lagers turned out to be tastier and more varied than the big, mainstream brands had me believing, and we all left the evening uplifted and just a little bit smarter. Despite being in an area which still isn’t particularly residential, Neighbourhood had a nice vibe and great options on its menu, although it’s a little thin on the ground for vegetarians. With big windows and trendy industrial style lighting, it’s modern without being unwelcoming, and I’ll be going back to get the full sized versions of those desserts.
In the meantime, mine’ll be a pint.
Neighbourhood is close to Westfield Stratford, at 52-54 Celebration Ave, London E20 1DB
You can catch Milly’s write up of the evening here!