The scene: You’re planning a romantic evening with a significant other, a crush, or someone you just swiped right on last night. You have the playlist, the sex candle, the bearskin rug. You’ve Googled “foods that are aphrodisiacs,” then Googled “are aphrodisiacs even real,” and sprung for some oysters anyway. You’ve thought of seemingly everything in orchestrating one hot, at-home date night. You also plan to serve ample amounts of cold, crisp… beer.
Is that a record scratch you just heard?
There’s a reason we don’t equate beer with romance in the way we do Champagne or red wine, and it basically amounts to capitalism. For decades, as wine and Champagne were positioned as the romantic libation of choice, beer was aggressively marketed to consumers in terms both gendered and class-based as a cheap, accessible means of leisure for the blue-collar man.
“Historically speaking, people’s perception of beer in the United States was and still is, a working man’s beverage,” says Douglass Miller, a lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Decades of messaging drilled into us the idea that sparkling wine is for celebrating and wine is for romance, but beer is for cracking open after a hard day’s work—certainly not for wooing a partner.
On top of that, when beer did acknowledge sex in its advertising, it was via strictly misogynistic, heteronormative messaging that either objectified women as two-dimensional sex objects or relegated them to ditzy, servile roles. Today’s industry has shifted away from that patriarchal lens, to some extent, but it seems like we’re still regularly fielding headlines like this and controversial ad campaigns.
So, can beer be sexy?
As we all know now, the craft movement has upended beer’s image as a cheap, everyman commodity, for better or worse. Meanwhile, as the industry continues to make strides to become more inclusive, brewers have become slightly more mindful about not doing stuff like this. Beer isn’t just for men, isn’t just plain lager, and isn’t just for drinking whilst astride a La-Z-Boy. Beer has, in other words, grown up. But is it ready for date night?
If you’re willing to go to great lengths to obtain a bottle, it’s going to feel special. And if you’re excited to share that with someone, well, that’s pretty sexy.”
Miller thinks it’s possible, for a few reasons. For one, the diverse category offers something for everyone, whether your definition of “romantic” conjures images of cherries or chocolate or something else. “I think this is allowing the consumer to select whatever they feel is special, and not being told what they think should be special,” he says.
He also points out that a number of high-end restaurants are now accommodating beer drinkers who may be celebrating a special occasion, but would rather do so with a pilsner than a pinot. “If you look at a restaurant like Eleven Madison Park, they have an amazing beer program,” says Miller. Historically, a romantic date night at a fine dining restaurant meant wine, but these restaurants are shifting that paradigm by communicating to guests that beer is a perfectly fine beverage choice for a special occasion.
While plenty of breweries still revert to putting sexist or juvenile art on labels, beer art as a whole is starting to evolve with aesthetics that lend themselves well to grown-up date nights. Franky Marshall, a New York bar educator who has worked at establishments such as the Dead Rabbit, Le Boudoir, and Clover Club, points to artwork from breweries like Mikkeller, Omnipollo, and Stillwater as a mark of beer “showing its sexiness.” A Ninja Turtle-green can of “Fresh Sticky Nugs” might not evoke the most mature vibes, but a can of Oude Bae is a different story.
Miller adds that the hype around certain limited-release beers reminds him of the cachet and lore of another beverage historically perceived as romantic. “Part of the allure of Champagne is the exclusivity,” he says. “Now, you have people who will stand in line for hours to get a couple tastes of beer in a remote location in the middle of nowhere.” In other words, one person’s grand cru is another person’s Heady Topper. If you’re willing to go to great lengths to obtain a bottle, it’s going to feel special. And if you’re excited to share that with someone, well, that’s pretty sexy.
Can beer make you feel sexy?
Whether beer or wine or even tequila, alcohol is commonly believed to lower inhibitions and even make potential partners more attractive (see: the scientifically valid theory of beer goggles). A quick search on PubMed reveals hundreds of peer-reviewed research papers seeking to explore the connection between alcohol and sexual behavior. One study found that booze may be particularly effective in amping your sex drive if you already believe in its libido-boosting powers, a kind of placebo effect known as alcohol expectancy theory. In other words, if you think that high-gravity IPA will turn you into a stud, it very well might—but it’s all in your head.
Let's be honest: Pint glasses are not sexy.”
A 2015 Guardian story by researcher Sally Adams points out that, in the huge body of research around alcohol and sex, there is no clear-cut answer that can be distilled into a scintillating headline. Alcohol might heighten arousal, but can also put a damper on performance, and some of those sexy studies touted in the media are little more than elaborate journalist-bait funded by beverage brands. As for whether beer itself holds any special libido-boosting powers, well, the research is shaky at best. In short, if you believe in beer’s power to unleash your raw sexual energy, it just might work, but mostly because you expect it to (which still counts!). Go forth, but practice moderation, because while a buzz might have you feeling frisky, alcohol is still a depressant, and too much of it can lead to some decidedly unromantic physiological effects.
How do you unleash beer’s romantic potential?
As for how to ensure your beer date evokes romance successfully, take a cue from Marshall and pay attention to how you’re serving it—and what you’re serving it with. Aesthetics can do a lot of heavy lifting in creating the right (or wrong) atmosphere, and glassware is key in that regard. “Let's be honest: Pint glasses are not sexy,” Marshall says. “I love a long stemmed tulip, but if that's not available, then an all-purpose wine glass works for aromatics as well as aesthetics.”
Myisha Battle, a certified sex coach based in California and host of the Down For Whatever podcast, says that beer’s potential sexiness is underestimated. “The same amount of thought and care can go into experiencing beer as wine, but we don't have that association with beer yet,” Battle says. It all comes down to the sensory experience—and sharing that with a partner. “Tapping into your senses is a great way to connect to your partner and also create an intimate mood,” she says. As you sip together, pay close attention to the beer’s visual and aromatic qualities in addition to the taste itself. “Ask your partner to tell you what they smell, and compare notes,” Battle adds. “Talk about what you taste and what makes it so delicious to you, and ask for your date's opinion too.”
If you plan to dine in, spend some time thinking about how your food and your beer can complement one another. “I find beer sexiest and most satisfying when it's accompanying a meal,” Marshall says. A Belgian-style dubbel, for instance, can pair nicely with dark chocolate, bananas foster, or an aged Gouda, Marshall says, while a well-balanced sour—especially a rosé sour—is perfect for briny oysters. Miller agrees, adding that beer can be particularly well-suited to a decadent meal because of its carbonation. “In the case of a high-fat dish, the carbonation of beer can help cleanse the palate for the next bite,” he says. “We call it ‘scrubbing bubbles.’”
Most importantly, though, drink what you like. The fanciest bottle of Chianti you can find won’t do anything for you or your crush if neither of you are particularly interested in wine. Part of good romance is about figuring out what you and your partner are actually into, not doing something out of obligation because pop culture, capitalism, or Hallmark has labeled it “romantic.” For some people, that might manifest in steak and red wine or oysters and bubbly. For you, it might call for a beer you’ve thoughtfully chosen; one you’re excited to try and, equally important, to share with your partner. “If it's special to you,” Miller says, “then it is special.”
Illustration by Remo Remoquillo