The History of Women in Beer
A Wench’s Take
From the Women In Craft Beer event at the Shark Club Howell:
I. 1800-1700 BC Beer as Food
We were GODDESSES! Well, Ninkasi was. And her place in the Sumerian pantheon required her to brew. And she did it well. There was a Hymn about her fermentation magic. And now there’s a brewery in Oregon named after her and a Home brewer’s Association award, lucky gal.
Was she a goddess? Or just the personal Brewster to the gods? Who knows?
Later, a Babylonian king invented contract law, which is another story but this guy, Hammurabi felt so strongly about the role of women’s roles as brewers and tavernkeepers that he encoded a little law about throwing women in the river if they cheated their customers. I think this guy was a Budweiser drinker. But you did not hear that from me.
The Egyptians, those crazy pyramid builders and eyeshadow wearing folks also had women brewing beer. And they can prove it too, with lots of pretty pictures on the walls. In short, beer brewing was viewed as a domestic task. Who did the domestic stuff? Women. Even women who were classified as “goddesses” still probably had to clear out the mash tun when they were finished.
II. Beer in Transition: Beer is Not Wine
Skipping ahead (because this is my talk and I can) we approach the rise of the Classical societies of Greece and Rome. Those guys were winos, period. And “beer” became seen as effeminate and down market. So beer production in those powerful empires had what we call in the business a “downturn.”
Yes, these are Romans. From Spartacus. Did you see it last night? Never mind….
But beer production by women continued into the Medieval period, with the lady “brewsters” popping up in literature and song and likely naughty limericks.
The image of the “ALE WIFE” is a common one. And there is no such thing as the ALE HUSAND…get over it.
Of course, many of these fine, hardworking women were ultimately accused of being witches by 15th century Rush Limbaughs but I digress. They had cats around to eat the mice that would get into the grain. Their ale-stakes (poles to which twigs or greenery were attached at one end, and stuck over the door of the ale-house by law)—brooms. And pointed hat—no left home with out at that time. Plus…the bubbling cauldron of….ALE. Sheesh. No brainer.
III. Beer as a product.
Once beer was deemed a “product” by dudes in charge of deeming stuff, then things started changing. Hops were introduced to England, added to souring ales, giving the stuff a decent shelf life. Increased shelf life meant it could be transported (or as we like to say “distributed”) all around, and profits increased. Men smelled the profit and came running, bless them, accused who knows how many ale wives of witch craft and…well, at the risk of sounding stridently feminist, invented the Bud Girls.
Of course, there was the New World, and in Colonial America women were still in charge of the taverns. The “brew pub” concept stayed with women although most of the “brewsters” had disappeared.
As we hit the 19th century that wonderful thing that’s brought millions of dollars to many a macro brewer’s pocket was invented: advertising. Women were back in the business, depicted as well-meaning wives and mothers. That’s right. Early beer ads focused on the stuff’s wholesome, family-oriented image.
Not sure what happened there…well I am. But again, I get all whiney sounding and the men stop listening.
Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution
There are some who blame women for this dark period of American history. I blame politicians. But it’s an election year so….
V. Beer as a Woman’s Product
A few names:
Sara Barton She took back the “Brewster” name, which was the female equivalent of “brewer” in the 15th and 16th centuries. And her website kicks Ass. http://brewstersbrewery.wordpress.com
Hildegard van Ostaden
Teri Fahrendorf (Pink Boots Society founder)
And of course:
And all the great new groups that are educating more women about the craft beer movement in the U.S.