If the meaning of life can be found on a bumper sticker, I believe that the phrase "Real women don't drink light beer" pretty much sums it up. The women who gather monthly at Vintage Brewing Company in Madison for a women's-only beer-tasting club reinforce my belief.
The FEMs, or Females Enjoying Microbrews, started meeting in January under the tutelage of Robyn Klinge, beer education manager at Vintage. A popular Vintage bartender, Klinge admits that it's a self-ascribed title, but her devotees agree it's accurate.
Each month, the FEMs get together as Klinge serves up advice, history, beer facts and, of course, beer. Tammy Coplien of Madison described the sessions as "educational, interesting and fun." Tammy should know. She was one of the first customers when Vintage opened its doors in 2010, and she's an original and regular FEM attendee.
She's also the inspiration for the Tammy Tini, a beer cocktail that we enjoyed at the April gathering of the FEMs. We compared two versions: one was made with regular vodka; the other with raspberry vodka. Both used Raspberry Tart from New Glarus Brewing. The group was split on which recipe was better.
FEM meetings feature a beer theme, such as women in brewing history, or beer versus bread. The topics are decided for the follwing month by the dozen or so attendees at any given meeting. Then Klinge researches the topic and serves matching drinks at the back bar in the private dining room. The cost varies, depending on what is served at the session.
Beer cocktails were the focus of FEM's most recent meeting. "Beer cocktails are the latest trend," Klinge explains.
The seven of us, whose tastes ranged from "I don't really like beer" to "I love beer," started the evening with margaritas made with Weiss-Blau, a Bavarian-style Weissbier, along with tequila. Klinge reminded us that the beer shouldn't get lost in this type of cocktail, and we definitely could taste the brew, with its dryness and banana flavors.
Before serving the next cocktail, a Weissen Sour, Klinge warned us to get ready for a wallop. The ingredients included Whippoorwill Wit beer, bourbon and orange marmalade (contributed by participant Erika Jones, an avid homebrewer). It was a crowd-pleaser that made us envision Southern belles drinking it on a veranda.
Our Bock Old Fashioned, made with Vintage's Contender Bock, prompted discussions of brandy vs. bourbon in this Wisconsin favorite, preferences of sweet or sour drinks, and where to get a good beer at Miller Park. The beer cocktails seemed to make all of us a little more chatty, but I suspect we would have shared engaging conversation no matter what was in our glasses.
Next was Everything Nice, a drink that featured Scaredy Cat Oatmeal Stout along with Drambuie, hazelnut liqueur and Captain Morgan. Here's the recipe:
4 oz. Porter or Stout
1 oz. Spiced or Dark Rum
1/2 oz. Hazelnut Liqueur
1/8 oz. Drambuie
Combine all ingredients and stir.
Garnish: cinnamon stick or sprinkle of allspice or nutmeg.
This was followed by a Strawberry Beerjito made with Sister Golden Ale Kolsch. Attendees described it as fragrant, brightly colored and very drinkable.
FEMs meet next during Madison Craft Beer Week, at 7:30 p.m. on Monday May 7; the topic is "Beer for Wine Lovers." The fee is $15 in advance, and $20 at the door. For the following meeting on Wednesday, June 13, the topic is sour beers. More information is provided on the Vintage events listing, as well as on the brewpub's Facebook page. Or you can stop by Vintage and ask for the beer education manager. Just don't ask for a light beer.
Another women's craft beer club, an international group named Barley's Angels, is getting started locally during Craft Beer Week. The nascent Madison chapter is gathering at Sprecher's Restaurant & Pub, at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 9. The topic for this meeting is, appropriately enough, beer cocktails. The fee is $10, and women interested in attending are asked to RSVP to Sprecher's at 608-203-6545 by May 7.
Why are women's beer tasting clubs being created? Klinge notes that beer isn't usually marketed to women, and when it is, the emphasis is on calorie count, not taste. It's also about exposure, or lack of it -- if your only reference point has been beer at college parties, women are less likely to become microbrew fans.
Klinge's own beer epiphany came on her 21st birthday. "My father took me out for a good beer," she explains. "My first pint of Leinenkugel's launched an exploration that has spiraled for me."