Women in Beer: A History
Updated: Aug 16, 2019
As men are at the forefront of beer portrayals in the media, it is no wonder that we’re conditioned to picture them when we think of the person behind the magic. From the brewing process all the way through to pouring and sampling the pint, we associate the craft with men. But what you may not know is that the beauty of beer-making was originally a woman’s domain, and its with thanks to their artistic hands that we’re able to enjoy every delicious sip today. Let’s take a quick look at the intriguing history of women in beer before giving you the lowdown on how we can all celebrate the achievements of today’s prominent female brewers.
The Original Brewers
Fascinatingly, women have been active in brewing since ancient times, and studies have shown that brewing was a by-product of gathering and also fell within many baking traditions, which were predominately women’s roles throughout the world. In many cultures, deities, goddesses, and protectors of brewer were female figures, but it wasn’t always this way. During the medieval era when witch hunting was rife, hundreds of women were accused of witchcraft and consequently executed. Many of those women were in fact brewers, and the symbols that we associate with witchcraft (cat, bubbling cauldron, broom, pointed hat) are also visuals that signify the brewing of beer.
Women, Witchcraft, and Beer
A cat would helpfully keep vermin at bay that would otherwise eat the malted barley and the bubbling cauldron is the vessel in which the ingredients are boiled. When the brew cools down, yeast lands on it and ferments the sugars, creating the familiar dramatic froth. The broom was used for sweeping up the product of this creative process but also by law, anyone selling beer was required to display an ale stake above their door as an indication of beer on sale. (An ale stake was a wooden pole with a bunch of twigs tied to the end, doubling up as a broom). And finally, the pointed hat was worn by female brewers to make themselves prominent in the crowd whilst selling their beer on the market. Some academics even argue that women were accused of witchcraft so that others could profit from the local beer production, and it was very rare that once accused, she could escape with her life. It certainly hasn’t been an easy ride for women, so it’s about time that we shout about their talents and achievements to commemorate the original beer brewers.
Beers With(out) Beards
Hop Culture is proud to present Beers With(out) Beards, a week-long celebration of women in craft beer. The event aims to create spaces of female empowerment, encouraging movements to alter the levels of gender disparity in the industry. At the event you’ll find 20+ women owned breweries and breweries helmed by female brewers on hand to pour beer, answer questions, and start conversations. A special podcast will raise the profile of women in beer in New York and around the country, whilst panels with beer historians, female writers, broadcasters, and bloggers will ignite this passion for beer amongst the community. There will even be beer yoga, trivia, and tasting, so there’s truly something for everyone at this week-long event. If you fancy joining in with the celebrations and happen to be in the area, then make sure you’re at The Well in Brooklyn from August 7th to raise a glass for women in beer!