Pink beer works in Europe. Would it fly in Canada?

Originally Published in the Toronto Standard

Standing in the middle of Brussels’ Grote Markt, my head (well, really all of me) was literally spinning. Fifty of Belgium’s finest brewers had gathered in this 12th Century plaza, and for even the best prepared beer drinker this presented certain conundrums.  Oud Bruin or Flanders Red?  Elbow my way to a tent with a shorter line or stay in sequence for the closer one? Two tokens for this or three for that?  Really, Cookie Beer?

Grote Markt, Brussels
Grote Markt, Brussels

On my second day I got caught up in a queue that moved like a jet stream and wound up clutching a Jules De Banane, which tasted like a very wet, warm-ish banana creamsicle. Surprisingly, it wasn’t bad.  Less surprisingly, it was nothing like what one would expect from beer.

By day three I had picked through the market’s harvest, having sampled mostly the fruit I figured the LCBO, with all the world-conquering purchase power it boasts about, wouldn’t be stocking any time soon. Brugzes Zot Dubbel, Duchesse de Bourgogne, Tripel Karmaliet… some of the finest nectar I’ve ever tasted.

A few days earlier I had picked up Cantillion‘s Rosé de Gambrinus in Amsterdam.  In Antwerp, a bottle of Timmerman‘s Strawberry Lambic landed on my coaster in all its pink-labelled glory. Now, I love me some lambics, but bottles that look like something from the set of Strawberry Shortcake are not so cool when yours is the only ass in the joint wrapped in cycling shorts.

Now here I was in Brussels, looking, ahem, much more hetero, staring at something called “Pink Killer.” Produced by a brewery called Silly (from an actual Walloon town, called Silly), it’s one of their better known labels, and despite the rather vicious looking cartoon dog stencilled on the label it’s not exactly the manliest beer in the bunch.

Silly's Pink Killer
Silly’s Pink Killer

The next morning I pointed my bike back in the direction of Holland, and spent the rest of my BeerCycling vacation riding from town to town in search of interesting beers. Again and again, from Turnhout to Tilburg, from Arnhem to Alphen Aan Den Rijn, there it was: pink beer!

Barkeeps and their patrons told me repeatedly that this is a thing.  Young women in the lowlands, they insisted, need to be re-introduced to beer and pink is the drink being employed to greet them.

Silly claims to have started the trend, when it added pink grapefruit to beer.  According to Sales & Export Manager Lionel Van der Haegen, the first batch was brewed in 2002, aimed towards “the young and also women, but we remarked that a lot of men like it also.”

Jopen Brewery, in Haarlem (about an hour’s ride west of Amsterdam) produces their Adriaan Rosé as a summer seasonal.  Michel Ordeman, the brewery’s founder, says this fruitier beverage is brewed mostly at the insistence of the bars Jopen supplies.  “Originally I think the brewers invented it as an alternative for the Framboise with Geuze as base beer.  Rosé is the same effect but with white (wit) beer as base.” Adriaan is mainly consumed by women, says Ordeman, “but in the summer also a lot of men drink it, because it is fruity and light in alcohol (4%).”

It got me wondering, is anyone in Canada doing this? Are our breweries producing pink beers specifically to pair gals with grain?

Jopen Brewery, Haarlem
Jopen Brewery, Haarlem

Montréal’s Dieu du Ciel! offers a Rosée d’hibiscus, which gets its pinkish hue from the hibiscus flowers added during the brewing process.

A couple hours west, Beyond The Pale mashes up something called Pink Fuzz. “Unfortunately we can’t claim to be plugged in enough to have tapped into an emerging European trend,” confesses Rob McIsaac. Although it, like Silly’s, uses pink grapefruit, the Ottawa brewery’s co-founder says that’s merely coincidence.  Hell, the beer isn’t even endowed with a rosy stain. “The early iterations were pink, but it became pretty onerous to make it happen as we ramped.” A glimpse at the bottle – which looks more like something you would launch from a howitzer than display a daisy in – backs up McIsaac’s statement; this was never a girl-friendly gimmick.

Beyond The Pale's Pink Fuzz
Beyond The Pale’s Pink Fuzz

Bellwoods serves up Frambizzle, a raspberry saison borne from a buddy session with Shawinigan’s Trou du Diable. The Ossington Avenue brewery’s co-founder says it’s been a gateway beer for plenty of women, but insists he gets just as many coming in for Witchshark IIPA and Hellwoods Russian Imperial Stout. Mike Clark also maintains fruiting wasn’t something Bellwoods did for “gender marketing reasons, we just appreciate what fruit can do for some styles so we experiment.”  In fact, their Fruit Helmet started as a mango / apricot beer, brewed in collaboration with Evil Twin. A couple months ago the locals switched up the recipe and dropped in nectarine, pineapple and goji berries.

Fruiting and colouring beers simply to attract females just isn’t on the North American agenda. New York’s Proletariat, which specializes in rare beers, claims ignorance to any such trend. At Edmonton’s Sherbrooke Liquor (home to Canada’s best stocked beer fridge), the whole pink thing was as foreign as an Oilers’ playoff date.

There is one event happening this week in Southern California.  Women’s Beer Forum is a regular feature of L.A.’s Eagle Rock Brewery, and this month’s menu boasts a charitable selection of pink one-offs for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Back here in Muddy York, BarHop‘s Rob Pingitore says he would gladly adjust his inventory to allow for more approachable beers. The King Street locale already plays host to a generous female audience, and well crafted beers that bring in more would be a welcome addition.

Whether or not calling a beer “rosé” would actually have that effect, I don’t know, but considering its popularity in markets where beer is both king and queen, it’s hard to imagine brewers here wouldn’t start experimenting more with pink in the not too distant future.

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