10 Fascinating Facts About Women's Role in Brewing Beer

Women were at the center of beer brewing when it first started, and they remained at the center for thousands of years. How did women first begin brewing beer, and how did beer brewing turn into such a masculine job?

There is a whole world of beer history that few people know about. These 10 fascinating facts about women’s role in brewing beer will open the door to a whole new side of beer that you may have never thought of before.
1. The creation of beer in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia is largely attributed to women, and beer brewing was almost solely done by women. This is most likely because beer needed yeasts from bread baking to ferment.
The women baked bread, then mixed the bread in with water so that it would ferment and turn into ancient beer. 
2. Egypt and Mesopotamia both had their own beer goddesses. Egypt had Nephthys, and Mesopotamia had Ninkasi. Not surprisingly, they weren’t the only civilizations who worshipped goddesses of beer. Britain had Albina, the White Barley Goddess; Sumer had Ashnan, the Goddess of drunkenness, wine, and grains; and Wales had Cerridwen, the Goddess of Barley, who made the ‘brew of inspiration and knowledge’ in her cauldron.

Those are just a few of the many beer goddesses created in the ancient world. If you look up any ancient civilization, you’re sure to find some evidence of beer, and some evidence of beer god/goddess worship of some sort. The history of beer is fascinating.  
3. In the 800s-100s C.E. when vikings ruled over Scandinavia, viking women practically had a monopoly on brewing ales. Ales were the most popular drink of the vikings and were usually crafted with barley, malt, and hops, and were flavored with things like bog myrtle, juniper, and horehound (a mint-like herb).

These ale recipes were passed down over generations and were made slightly different by every family. Ale brewing was an extremely important job, as ales were drunk at nearly every meal, by adults and children alike.

4. You may have heard of Hildegard of Bingen, a Catholic saint. But did you know that she was an avid beer brewer? If there was ever a real-life beer goddess, Hildegard would be a good runner up.

She is the woman attributed with being the first to recommend the use of hops in brewing beers for their healing, bittering, and preserving properties.

In addition to brewing beers, she wrote hundreds of Gregorian chants for the church, and was one of the very first composers to ever write down musical notation. She also toured Europe giving speeches and preaching to the masses. She was a pharmacist, too.

Not what you’d expect from a nun living in 2nd century Germany, is it?

5. In London in the Middle Ages (the 1400s to be exact) 30% of beer brewers were women. The majority of brewers in those times were Catholic monks in their monasteries in the countryside.

In the cities, however, practically all of the brewers were women, often referred to as Ale Wives or Brewsters. Women owned pubs and taverns and brewed all of the ales that they sold.

6. Ale Wives and Brewsters were surprisingly like what we imagine witches to be like -- pointy hats, cauldrons, black cats, broomsticks and all.

The tall, pointed hats were worn by women brewers so that people would notice them in busy marketplaces. The cauldrons were, of course, bubbling over with beer. The black cats (or any cats in general) were kept to keep mice away from the brewing grains. The broomsticks were put out by the door to tell people that that building was an alehouse.

In the years that followed, when witch trials were the norm, for a woman to know things about herbs and their medicinal benefits (something that Ale Wives and Brewsters knew all about) was a dangerous thing. So the amount of women in brewing jobs took a strong decline.

Things were never the same for the beer industry. More men took over the women’s brewing jobs and since then, beer brewing has been predominantly run by men.

7. Over time, women brewers were almost completely replaced. Women also stopped drinking as much beer as they once did. In 2009, only 3 percent of women in the US said that they drank beer at home least once a week. Meanwhile, more than half of men answered the same way.

On a positive note, that number has been steadily increasing. In 2018, that number rose from 3% to 30%!

8. In 2013 in Colorado, one of the states with the highest number of breweries, only 10 women were known to be involved with the 154 brewing facilities. Then, in 2014, only 21 percent of 2,500 surveyed breweries in the country had a woman in a leadership role.

9. The two main reasons why women are usually not as avid beer drinkers as men are because of these two simple reasons: sexist marketing ads, and the number of calories beer touts. Changes in beer marketing and higher production of light beers allow for more women to feel comfortable drinking beer.

Little changes like a slight edit to a beer’s logo or advertising campaign can completely change who their audience is.

10. More and more women have been comin to the beer drinking and brewing scene, especially the craft beer scene. Both inspired by, and inspiring to these women is the Pink Boots Society, an organization for women brewers that has seen a huge growth in the last few years. It started with just 16 members in 2007, and by 2019 it had 2,400.

Ever since the foundation’s founding, more Pink Boots Societies have been popping up all over the country, and even in parts of Europe, South America, east Asia, and Australia.

The Pink Boots Society’s mission is to break away from the stereotype that beer is a masculine drink and that brewing is a masculine job. They help teach and empower more women to get involved in every aspect of the beer industry, from brewing beer to serving it and everything in between.

Women were once the backbone of beer brewing, and ever since men took over the beer industry, women have slowly but surely been pushing their way back in.

While the beer industry now is not a very welcoming place for aspiring women brewers, more and more women are getting involved and paving the way for others to follow in their footsteps.

Having more women get involved in the beer brewing process will lead to more women drinking beer, ultimately helping the beer industry and widening the horizons for beer as a whole. New people getting involved means new flavors, new designs, and new techniques that will do nothing but give women more opportunity, and give beer drinkers a wider range of beers to try.

It’s a win-win for everyone.
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