Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Girlfriend Golden - Revisited (Again)

The name "Girlfriend Golden" has caused a couple of Twitter conversations about the origin of the name, primarily as it relates to a "quote" in an article.  I would like to address the topic, as it is something I think is serious, despite the fact that this blog very rarely has a serious tone.

First of all, here is our official description of the beer, 

Girlfriend Golden – The hallmark of a great girlfriend is how well you get along.  This golden ale will easily pass that test.  Using pale malt and light hopping, this easy drinking beer will get along with almost everyone.  Whether you are new to the craft beer world, or a serious connoisseur, the straw color and crisp finish are inviting to all.  Very low on the IBU scale, this beer was described to us once as like a “biscuit with a touch of honey on it.”  After a glass of it yourself, you will definitely want to spend more time with your new Girlfriend.  O.G. – 11.0 / I.B.U. – 6 / A.B.V. - 5.0%
That isn't too controversial, but here is a snippet from the article in the Spokesman-Review, including the comment that was attributed to me, 
The other initial entry is Girlfriend Golden Ale (5.0 ABV, 6 IBU), easier-drinking still with a sweet breadiness from pilsner malt.  “We were looking for a fun way to say, this is our ‘chick beer,’ ” Stromberg says of the name. Not that guys won’t drink it, too, he adds; at a test tasting, one quipped, “I love my Girlfriend, but don’t tell my wife.”
That comment has prompted a couple of responses like this one in the Inlander blog, which entry was otherwise very positive and appreciated by those of us at the brewery,
Ha ha. Hopefully the forward-thinkers at River City won’t mind if this chick sticks with the red, because I’m just not really into golden ales, or woman jokes, frankly.
So, here is the thing.  When the article came out in the Spokesman-Review, it was also overall very positive and appreciated.  Having been interviewed more than once, and having been there for this one, I knew that the writer had condensed a long, rambling, stream-of-consciousness response to his question into a reasonable facsimile of what I had said.  I know, like and respect the writer and in the context of the article, it certainly didn't jump out at me as warranting follow-up or clarification.  I definitely uttered the phrase "chick beer" and said that we were looking for a fun way to approach the topic.  The critical difference, however, is that I didn't just say "this is our chick beer" without more context around it.

The writer asked me about the name and I was trying to explain how we arrived at it.  The point I was trying to make was that Golden Ales or Blonde Ales are often dismissed by pseudo-serious beer drinkers.  They do, in fact, get called a variety of pejorative things, like "craft beer with training wheels," the "first stop after BudMillerCoors," "baby beer," or "chick beer."  

The category really has three hallmarks. First, it is legitimately an introduction microbrewery beer.  When we had brewpubs, when ever a customer asked for a macro-brewery beer, our servers offered them a golden ale or, at a minimum, offer them a sample of the golden ale when they were brought their bottle of big brand beer (for which we charged the full price of a pint - again encouraging them to try our 16 oz. of hand-crafted goodness instead of their 12 oz. bottle of "watered down" macro).  Second, it is dismissed by some male micro-drinkers lacking confidence in their manhood or at least knowledge of beer as something unworthy of consideration. And third, it is acknowledged by actually-serious beer drinkers as a lighter style that tastes great with some foods (like anything spicy), is a nice choice when you want something light or is the most refreshing thing on a hot day.

What I was trying to do was 1) acknowledge that this was our own entry into that lightest or "starter" category and 2) come up with a positive and fun way to denote that concept.  My rambling answer to the question about the name covered a lot of this ground and I don't blame the writer for picking up on the phrase that I used.

All of that said, I am open to the idea that I may have made a mistake with the name, but I do want to assure any reader that there was no disrespect and no pejorative tone intended.  It is possible that our brewery bona fides in this area caused us to gloss over this as a potential issue.  The two full-time brewers and I are happily married to women that we respect.  I have been married to my wife for 24 years and am in awe of what she does professionally and personally.  I also was raised by a very strong woman, her very strong sister and their very strong mother.  My mother and aunt were in a generation that was proudly feminist and my grandmother was the sort of person who never considered her gender in deciding what she should be doing in the world.  It simply would not be possible to be raised by these women and not have the utmost respect for what they accomplished personally, professionally and without submission to any pejorative gender stereotypes.  As a result, when consideration of the name came around, it was certainly not done with any sneering attitude towards women or their beer drinking inclinations.

So how then do we get to the idea of naming the beer "Girlfriend"?  It started with those hallmarks I discussed above.  We were pondering the concept that pseudo-serious drinkers dismiss this category, but that there had to be a positive way to address that topic.  A number of possibilities came up, but in the end, we thought we landed at something that made fun of the stereotype and was also catchy.  I freely admit I like alliteration and it occurred to me that people might have fun with the name and, mindful of the fact we need to sell some of it if we want to keep our jobs, that it lent itself to some funny advertising ideas.  And just to be clear, none of our ideas were bikini-clad, bimbo ideas and there were no "blonde bombshells depicted on the tap handle" discussions.  The concepts we talked about were things like a woman sitting on a couch at home with a pint in hand saying/texting "No thanks, I'm staying in with some Girlfriends tonight."  Or a male or female saying, "I'm meeting my Girlfriend at the bar." And, as we suspected, we had some funny comments made to us when we served samples at the Inlander/Visit Spokane roll-out to Spokane Restaurant Week, like the one quoted above.

In conclusion, there is a saying that any joke you have to explain isn't funny.  Or starting out saying, "I'm not a racist, but . . ." is almost a sure sign that you are about to say something racist.  So, if you have to say, "Our beer is named Girlfriend Golden, but it isn't reinforcing negative stereotypes about female beer drinkers . . .", then maybe we should reconsider the name.

Please let us know what you think, either in the comments section below or by e-mail to gage at inland nw brewing dot com.  We are sincere in appreciating the thoughts of our customers and potential customers and do not intend any disrespect to women, or girlfriends, anywhere.

Post-script - The author of the original Spokesman-Review article, Rick Bonino, contacted me after this blog went up.  First and foremost, I want to make it clear that I was not intending to question Mr. Bonino's journalistic integrity.  I do not question his reporting or that I used the phrase "chick beer" or even "our chick beer."  The clarification that I intended was to explain the context in which the statement was used, rather than to question the reporting of the statement.  I unreservedly apologize for making it appear in a tweet that the quote wasn't a quote.  It was an accurate quote but it was within a context that made it clear that this was phrase used to describe the category rather than as a stand-alone statement.  The 140-character limit was too short to explain the difference, but shorthand resulted in an unfair sentence.  I have deleted the tweet in question because I did not want it to stand as inaccurate statement.  Pages have been written about the need for context to create accurate understanding and I have managed to create two additional situations out of this first one which serves as a reminder of its importance, whether in an article, a blog or a tweet.


  1. Rick Bonino, The Spokesman-ReviewMarch 16, 2013 at 2:21 AM

    Gage: It has just come to my attention that you claim you were misquoted in my Spokesman-Review column of Feb. 13. After reviewing my notes, I will grant you one concession; it does appear that you may actually have said "that's our chick beer," not "this is our chick beer." Beyond that, I stand by my reporting 100 percent, including the use of the word "our," which is very clear in my notes and in my memory.

  2. Rick - I am glad to, as I did originally, concede that I said "chick beer," but I do stand by my larger point, and I hope that you would agree from both your notes and recollections, that I wasn't using the term "chick beer" in a pejorative or negative sense and, further, that it was within the broader context of the various names given to this category. I am confident that you asked about how we came up with the name and I was trying to explain the name and thinking behind it, as I was trying to do on this blog in an expanded form. I appreciate that you and the Spokesman have been covering the beer scene for many, many years and was attempting to clarify our position rather than create a conflict with you or your reporting.