Ginger Johnson Explains How to Better Feature Beer on Menus

Liz Grossman

Beer wasn’t big on Ginger Johnson’s radar until she went on a date at a brewpub years ago. The date didn’t go anywhere, and she couldn’t help but notice the stereotypes about women and beer, and decided to study them. It was similar to what she had encountered working at a hardware store, where customers would ask for “one of the guys” and “women-friendly” toolkits with pink hammers were sent to the store during the holidays. With beer, Johnson noticed the double standards, from servers who didn’t take female customers seriously to the limited beer options marketed to women, and founded Women Enjoying Beer in 2008. Her book How to Market Beer to Women: Don’t Sell Me a Pink Hammer examines how to take advantage of the oft-overlooked and invaluable female customer base. Today she speaks, consults and educates at beer conferences, festivals and events around the country, and even gave a TED Talk on the subject. While she hates the word “craft”  (“It delineates; we don’t need more labels—we need more togetherness,” she says), she loves cooking, her brewer husband and half-pints.

What’s the relationship between women and beer?

Women have always been involved in beer. It’s funny, humorous, ironic, sad, ignorant—whatever you want to call it—when people think women are just getting into beer. It’s quite ancient. It’s part of what used to be considered a safe liquid to drink, and it was a part of cooking. And it all comes down to flavor. That’s where it starts for everybody, no matter your plumbing, chromosomes or how you identify. 

What are your favorite food and beer pairings? 

I love carrot cake with buttercream frosting and ruby red grapefruit IPA, crisp pilsner with roast chicken. I made roasted yams from Janet Fletcher’s Yogurt book, and we poured a Boulevard Bourbon Quad that was lovely together. No rules; only taste buds and discovery.


You hate words like dark, light, malty or hoppy to describe beer. Why?

They aren’t helpful. It’s surprising people in the beer industry still use them. You don’t run across a chef who says, 'I’m going to create a menu and it’s going to have dark meat on it.' What does that mean? Is that dark meat chicken or duck? It’s so contextual. We need to think about what’s coming out of mouths and what we’re putting on our menus. We should be able to describe things and make them easier to relate to.

What would you like to see on menus?

Always start with flavor and look at whatever it is you’re trying to entice people to enjoy. Is it a beer? An appetizer? A dessert? What are the primary flavors? And get everyone involved! It concerns me there’s so much emphasis on a few when there are so many that lend to the success. Involve your front of the house, your back of the house, and keep the consumer in mind—they’re the reason we’re around. 

There should always be food and beer pairings. We see so many wine suggestions, but what if I don’t want wine? You’re leaving the growing beer drinker segment out in the cold. It can be a very good margin from the business side of things. Offer flights and half-pints and at least two sizes of beer—you can make better margin on a half-pint than you can make on a pint. A flight is a great permission slip for the customer to say, ‘Oooh, I can’t decide, I’m going to try this!’ And even if they don’t particularly like the beer, they still had a great experience because it was their choice to try it and chances are they’ll be back.