Kelsy Johnson
Ginger Johnson at Peacock Alley American Grill & Bar in Bismarck.

Ginger Johnson pouring the perfect draft from Peacock Alley's selection.

She calls herself a beer diplomat. Ginger Johnson educates consumers and businesses about two universal concepts - beer and women.

Johnson is the sole proprietor of the Women Enjoying Beer, a business that enhances everyone's understanding of beer. Part of her mission is to educate people about beer. Another is to help beer industry leaders understand the female consumer.

McQuade Distributing brought Johnson to Bismarck for the annual BeerFest this year. In the days prior to the event, she held workshops at JL Beers, Peacock Alley, and The Walrus for staff.

At the event on Sep. 21, she walked around and helped guests with beer tasting and answered questions. She held a round of beer trivia as well.

Shannon McQuade-Ely, president and CEO of McQuade Distributing, said Johnson fulfills a unique role in the beer industry. As a researcher, she is highly involved with distributors, but she is also approachable to the average customer. With an infectious laugh and a bright personality, Johnson acts as a liaison among all levels of the industry. Johnson travels around the country and continent from her home base in Ashland, Ore., but she particularly likes the Midwest. She spent some time at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., and lived all over the region for a time.

She got to know McQuade-Ely over a conversation online. They later met at a conference, and plans were set in place to bring her to North Dakota.

Johnson comes into the business at a time when more women are interested in beer and the industry is recognizing their importance. She's been in business for five years now, and her research and philosophy are well known throughout the tight-knit beer community.

Industry leaders realize that women constitute the global population majority, and they make the majority of purchasing decisions in their households. Consumers are beginning to see beer in the same ways they see wine in terms of flavor and potential for pairing with food. Since women are the primary grocery shoppers and cooks in most families, the concept of flavor is an approachable one, McQuade-Ely says.

With the rise of community supported agriculture, now is also a time when people want to know where their food comes from. In beer culture, people now expect to know the ingredients' origins, the brewing process and the companies that produce them. Most importantly, consumers want to know their local brewer. These conditions give women the opportunity to gain a foothold in the conversation about beer.

"Women have not been invited to the table to talk about beer," Johnson said. "It's a great time to talk about it."

In North Dakota, women are becoming a significant demographic among beer consumers. Women made up about 50 percent of BeerFest participants this year, and they generally constitute about half of all beer dinner guests sponsored by McQuade Distributing, according to McQuade-Ely.

Education is a primary mission for Johnson. A couple of barriers usually stand between women and a glass of beer. The first is a host of bad stereotypes and myths. While our most recent history would have us believe that women are not beer experts, Johnson says this simply isn't true.

"Women have always been a part of the brewing process," Johnson says. "It's a cooking task."

The second problem may come from a bad past exposure to beer.

"A lot of them had a bad college experience," McQuade-Ely said.

McQuade-Ely admits that she didn't drink beer at first. Then her first experience only included light lagers. When a person's only exposure to beer is limited to a few varieties, it is easy to dismiss all options.

In reality, though, palates change, and tastes you didn't like before may seem different now. Johnson says all beer boils down to flavor. It just takes a few tries to find the right flavor for the right preference.

For the beer newbie, the process of finding something you actually like can be intimidating. All beer tastes the same, right? Johnson offers a few suggestions to help people who don't have benefit of dozens of local microbreweries to do the work for them.

The following list should help the uninformed become acquainted with a range of possibilities.

Throw a beer potluck

Invite friends to bring a new beer and food like cheese or fruit to share with the crowd. Let everyone try samples, and talk about them. Beer is a relatively low financial commitment, and when shared among a crowd, you get a wide variety of options.

Go to a brew pub

If you get the chance, have a meal at a restaurant that brews its own beer. The servers will be able to explain your options and give you samples of different kinds of beer. And the menu gives you food pairing options as well.

Ask questions at your local bar

Johnson suggests that people challenge their local bartenders to know more about their beer. When consumers ask questions, they "propel the education forward." Go to a bar that offers an array of options, and ask the bartender for some advice. Proceed to tip them well, of course.

Kelsy Johnson, a native of Bismarck, works as a freelance reporter and nonprofit writer in Fargo. She divides her time between her two passions: storytelling and martial arts.