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Women in brewing

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Women making chicha, in the Andean village of Huacho sin Pescado (1980)

Women have been active in brewing since ancient times. Though Western societies have viewed brewing as a male-dominated field for the last 150 years, traditionally, it was an activity engaged in by women. Ethnographic and archaeological studies have shown that brewing was an outcropping of gathering or baking traditions, which were predominantly women's roles throughout the world. From the earliest evidence of brewing in 7000 BCE, until the commercialization of brewing during industrialization, women were the primary brewers on all inhabited continents. In many cultures, the deities, goddesses and protectors of brewers were female entities who were associated with fertility.

From the middle of the 18th century, many women were barred from participating in alcohol production and were relegated to roles as barmaids, pub operators, bottlers or secretaries for breweries. In less industrialized areas, they continued to produce homebrews and traditional alcoholic beverages. From the mid-20th century, women began working as chemists for brewing establishments. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, they began re-entering the field as craft brewers.


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In many Western societies, brewing has been seen as a "man's domain";[1] however, ethnographic studies and archaeological records indicate that brewing alcohol was primarily an activity engaged in by women,[2][3] until the industrialization of brewing began.[4] In some areas, the tradition arose because brewing was a by-product of gathering,[5] while in others, it fell within the domain of baking.[6] From the 18th century onwards, women were increasingly barred from the business of brewing, except as barmaids or "publicans", licensees running pubs.[7] By the 19th century, few women were employed in brewing with the exception of labor for auxiliary functions, such as bottling and secretarial posts. In the 20th century, women began to work in a limited capacity in laboratories, but aside from a few exceptions such as Susannah Oland in Canada,[4][8] women were excluded from directing brewing operations.[4] Professional female brewers in Western society before the trade became "masculinized", were referred to as "brewsters".[9]

Archaeologists have confirmed that a beverage dated to 7000–6600 B.C. and brewed in the Neolithic settlement of Jiahu, is the oldest known grog. Analysis on pottery shows the chemical makeup of the drink was from a combination of honey mead, mixed with a concoction of rice, grapes, and hawthorn fruit—creating a mixed beer and wine beverage. Though the process used to break down the rice grain, whether chewing or malting, is unknown, women in both Japan and Taiwan in the modern age still engage in chewing rice to begin the fermentation process for making alcohol.[10] In Chinese legend, Yi Di, wife of Yu the Great, is credited with making the first alcohol from rice grains.[11] A female divine being in Ainu mythology known as Kamui Fuchi was the protector of brewing and brewers prayed to her and offered libations to ensure the warding off of evil spirits which might spoil the batch.[12]

Egyptian hieroglyphics showing women pouring beer

In ancient Sumeria, brewing was the only profession that was "watched over by a female deity", namely Ninkasi.[13] A tablet found dating back to 1800 BCE contains the Hymn to Ninkasi which is also basically a recipe for Mesopotamian beer.[14] Sumerian beer was made from bippar, a bread made from twice-baked barley, which was then fermented.[6] In ancient Babylon, women worked as baker-brewers and were often engaged in the commercial distribution of beer. Achaeologists believe that the Sumerians and Babylonians were responsible for spreading brewing processes into Africa.[15] Brewing in ancient Egypt followed a method similar to Sumerian beer, often using the same dough as a base for both beer and bread.[16] Brewing was considered the province of Egyptian women, "especially the steps of grinding the grain and straining the mash". The goddess Hathor was considered to have invented brewing and Hathor's temple at Dendera was known as "the place of drunkenness".[17] Another Egyptian goddess, Tenenet, was worshiped as beer's deity and hieroglyphics on tombs depict images of women both brewing and drinking the beverage.[15] Other African societies also credited women with creating beer. For example, the Zulu fertility goddess, Mbaba Mwana Waresa, is revered for her invention,[18] as is the Dogon deity, Yasigi, who is often depicted dancing with a beer ladle to symbolize her role of distributing the beer made by women in ceremonial gatherings.[19][20] Women in Burkina Faso have been making mash of fermented sorghum into beer for some 5,500 years.[15] In Tanzania, both women and men help harvest and create different kinds of brew, including ulanzi and pombe. Women in Tanzania have traditionally been the "sole marketers" of drinks, and many use the money they make by selling alcohol to supplement their incomes.[21]

Native South African women brewing beer by their huts

As early as 1600 BCE, Maya civilizations were using cacao beans to produce beer, long before it was used to make the non-alcoholic cocoa.[22] Though actual production methods are unknown, Friar Landa described the process of preparing beverages as involving grinding maize and cacao to a paste before adding liquids and spices.[23] Agriculture was within man's realm in the Mayan world, but food preparation belonged to women.[24] On an ancient ceramic vase, chocolate preparation shows a woman pouring the substance between two vessels to create the highly desired foam favored by the Maya.[23] Pre-Columbian Andean women chewed maize (occasionally using cassava or quinoa) to break down the starch and then spit it out to begin fermentation. Chicha, the resulting drink, is still widely available in Latin America.[25] In the Wari Empire, archaeological evidence has indicated that elite women ran the breweries and that tradition carried forward into Incan society.[26] Throughout the Andean region and Mesoamerica, women were the chief producers of alcoholic beverages. During the 15th century in Peru, women's lives among the Xauxa people of the Upper Mantaro Valley were changed by the process of producing chicha.[27] After the Xauxa were conquered by the Inca, women were forced to work harder to produce more alcohol.[28] In Mexico, a female deity, "Mayahuel" was revered among the Aztec for having discovered how to extract agave sap for the manufacture of pulque.[29] After the Spanish invasion, women in Brazil and Mexico, as well as throughout Andean territories, became not only producers of alcoholic beverages, but also its main market vendors.[30][31]

Traditional Germanic societies were reported by the Romans to drink ale, made predominantly of fermented honey, produced by women.[32] Until monasteries took over the production of alcoholic beverages in the 11th century, making it a profession for monks and nuns, brewing was the domain of tribal Germanic women.[33] Migratory Germanic tribe women typically brewed their meads and ales in the forest, to avoid pillages by invaders. Their beverages did not contain hops, which were first recommended as an additive by St. Hildegard of Bingen. Because hops served as a preservative, beer's suitability for consumption became longer, though the addition of hops also increased the cost of brewing.[15] In the decades before the Black Death in Europe, many households required a large amount of ale, because of a lack of potable water and expense of other beverages.[34][35] Women used the opportunity of brewing to make extra money at home.[34] In Brigstock, some women obtained licenses to brew over several months.[34] Women in northern England were the main brewers for the community.[34] As elsewhere in Europe, the founding of guilds often forced women out of the brewing industry; however, in Haarlem in the Netherlands, because women were allowed to inherit guild membership from spouses, many continued in the profession. Data collected on the period between 1518 and 1663, showed that 97 brewsters, three-quarters of whom were widows, were operating among a total of 536 brewers in the city.[36]

For around a thousand years in Finland, women brewsters created a beer called sahti in villages throughout the country. The recipe usually contained hops, juniper twigs, and barley and rye grains which had been malted and then smoked in a sauna.[37][38] Finnish legends include the story of Louhi in the Kalevala, a woman who brewed beer by mixing bear's saliva with honey. Raugutiene, was a Baltic and Slavic goddess, who was the protector of beer. Alan D. Eames, a beer anthropologist, wrote an article in 1993 stating that the Norse Vikings, allowed only women to brew their ale.[15] Archaeologists have uncovered graves of pre-Viking Nordic people which indicate that women were the ones who made and served alcohol. In the grave of the "Egtved Girl", a bucket of grog buried at her feet showed that the drink was made from a mixture of wheat, rye and barley as a base and included cranberries, honey, and lingonberries, as well as herbs, including birch resin, bog myrtle, juniper, and yarrow, to spice the drink.[39] Danish women were the primary brewers until the establishment of guilds in the Middle Ages. While guilds controlled production for the crown and military, as well as for those in cities, women continued to be the primary brewers in the countryside.[40] Even within the guilds, while higher positions were occupied by men, many of their wives held lower positions; in addition, there is evidence to suggest that the majority of the brewing performed by these families was carried out by the wives.[41]

Depiction of an alewife from the Smithfield Decretals, c. 1300

Over a long period of time, throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, brewing in Europe changed from being a women's profession to one dominated by men, although women were still involved in the sale of beer.[42] As women were forced out of brewing, the creation of a new ideology about women brewers took place which included "the construction of women as incapable of brewing; the link of this construction to the witch; and the position of widows as both brewers and ale-sellers".[43] Popular depictions of alewives described them as witch-like, untrustworthy, corrupt and grotesque.[43] In Ballad on an Ale-Seller, John Lydgate describes an alewife "who uses her charms to induce men to drink".[44] The alewife in the popular poem The Tunning of Elynour Rummyng by John Skelton, is "strikingly vicious and nasty".[45] Other depictions of alewives in England showed them "condemned to eternal punishment in hell".[46] By linking alewives with witchcraft, men were able to "justify the social control of women".[43]

Woman brewing beer

Women of Native American societies in North America including the Apache, Maricopa, Pima, and Tohono O'odham brewed a Saguaro cactus beer or wine, called tiswin for rituals.[47][48] Apache women also produced a product made from corn, which was similar to Mexican beers, known as tulpi or tulapa which was used in girls' puberty rites.[48][49] The puberty ceremony includes four days of prayer, fasting, consumption of ritual food and drink, and runs dedicated to the White Painted Lady, an Apache deity.[50] The Coahuiltecan and other tribes from their Texas vicinity made an intoxicant from yucca and the red beans of the mountain laurel.[48][49] In the North American colonies women continued with homebrewing which, for at least a century, was the predominant means of beer production. While Thomas Jefferson may have been famous for his brewing, Martha Jefferson was equally renowned for her wheat beer.[9][15] The first commercial brewster in the Thirteen Colonies was Mary Lisle, who inherited her father's brewery in 1734 and operated it until 1751.[51]

In Australia evidence points to indigneous labor divisions with men responsible for hunting and women tending to gathering and food preparation. Aboriginal women prepared alcoholic beverages from flowers. Flowers were steeped in water, or pounded to extract the nectar and mixed with honey ants to ferment.[52]

Modern day[edit]

Oregonian women who work in the industry include (left to right) Sarah Pederson, owner of Saraveza, Lucy Burningham, writer, Natalie Baldwin, brewer, Emily Engdahl, director of the Pink Boots Society, and Lee Hedgmon, homebrewer and professional distiller.

From the beginning of industrialization to the 1960s and early 1970s, most women were moved out of the brewing industry, though throughout the world, they continued to homebrew following ancestral methods.[15] "The main obstacles that women continue to face in [the] industry include perceptions of taste, media influence, and preconceived notions about their skill and ability", according to journalist Krystal Baugher.[53] Women such as Jill Vaughn and Rebecca Reid have been successful at becoming top brewmasters at Anheuser-Busch, where they developed brands such as Bud Light Platinum, Shock Top and the Straw-Ber-Rita.[54] In 2013, Sara Barton, owner and director of Brewster's Brewery, won the Brewer of the Year award, becoming the first woman to receive the honor bestowed annually by the British Guild of Beer Writers. Emma Gilleland, who heads the supply chain at Marston's Brewery, the leading independent brewer in Britain, was called the most influential brewer in the UK by the BBC.[55] That same year, Annie Johnson won the American Homebrewers Association's Homebrewer of the Year award.[56]

Among Canada's women brewers are Emily Tipton, co-owner and brewmaster of Boxing Rock Brewing, and Kellye Robertson, who began her career at Garrison Brewing[56] before heading the brewing team at Spindrift Brewing.[57] In 2015, the BBC's "100 Women" project, honored Leimin Duong, a Vietnamese-Australian woman, who brews strawberry beer, as one of the most influential women of the year.[58] In Australia, the first all-female brewery in the country, Two Birds Brewing, has won multiple awards for their beers, but in 2016, owners Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen were honored with the Champion trophy for Medium Australian Brewery by the Australian International Beer Awards.[59]

Women Brewing 2015 Common Thread Beer for Madison Craft Beer Week.

A noted German brewster, who is also Bavaria's last mastebrewer nun, Sister Doris Engelhard, has been creating beer at Mallersdorf Abbey for over 40 years.[60][61] Other female Bavarian brewers are Sigi Friedmann of Friedmann's Brewery (German: Brauerei Friedmann) in Gräfenberg and the Meinel Sisters, Gisela and Monika of the Meinel-Bräu Brewery in Hof.[60] An de Ryck is one of the few women brewers in Belgium. She has run the De Ryck Brewery (Dutch: Brouwerij De Ryck) since the 1970s, winning several awards for the beers she has produced.[62][63]

In many traditional African cultures, beer is still made only by women[64] and often their sole source of attaining economic autonomy.[65] For example, in Cameroon women of the Gbaya people make a traditional beer from maize and sorghum called amgba, which is a dietary staple[66] and women of the Mafa people brew bilbil – called dong-long in the Tupuri language, uzum in the Giziga language, and zom in the Mafa language – from millet.[67] Both originated as ritual drinks for ceremonies, but now are used as a means of economic survival for many women.[66][68] Sorghum beers produced by women in other African nations include bili bili in Chad, burkutu or pito in Ghana and Nigeria, chibuku or doro in Zimbabwe, dolo in Burkina Faso, ikigage in Rwanda, kaffir in South Africa, merissa in Sudan, mtama in Tanzania, and tchoukoutou in Benin and Togo.[69]

In African commercial breweries, though women are often partners with their spouses, only about six are operated by women brewers. One of these, Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, is a brewer, brewery owner and the first black South African accredited as a trainer for the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and as a certified beer judge for the South Africa Beer Judging Certification Program. Another is Thea Blom, who began as a chef and then added a craft brewery to her business, Oakes Brew House, and hired brewer Happy Sekanka to create the firm's beers.[64][70] Josephine "Fina" Uwineza, a restaurateur in Rwanda began evaluating whether opening the first craft beer brewery in the country could be used as a platform to empower women and offer them employment. In 2016, she partnered with the Ontario Craft Brewers Association to explore creating the venture.[71][72]

Woman brewing raksi (Nepali sake) in 2010

In Nepal, as they have for centuries, women brew raksi, a pungent distilled alcoholic beverage made from rice. It was originally used for ceremonial purposes in Hindu and Buddhist rites, but is such a key part of customary life in the Kathmandu valley, that authorities routinely ignore legal prohibitions against production and consumption. Women traditionally engage in the month-long brewing process and sell their excess raksi to restaurants.[73] Other important Nepali brewed drinks are Chhyang, Jaandh, Thon, and Tongba, (known by various names and spellings), which are traditionally made by women. Made in both Nepal and Tibet, the drinks are made from barley, rice or millet. After soaking the grain in water, it is steamed[74][75] and then mixed with a starting agent known as marcha, which is prepared from either wheat flakes (called mana) or rice or millet flour (known as manapu). The recipe for making marcha is sometimes a highly guarded secret and passed on only to daughters-in-law.[76]

In Japan, after the commercialization of brewing, sake brewers, known as tōji (Japanese: 杜氏) were for generations, migrants who traveled between breweries and worked during the winter season. As sake sales declined along with the number of trained tōji, owners started brewing themselves. Though still a male-dominated field, as of 2015, there are approximately 20 female tōji brewing in Japan and The Women's Sake Industry Group has been formed to increase their numbers. Emi Machida (Japanese: 町田恵美さん) has run her family's 130-year-old brewery for ten years as the masterbrewer and has won seven gold medals for her sake from the Annual Japan Sake Awards.[77] Miho Imada (Japanese: みほ いまだ) is noted for her Hiroshima-style junmai ginjo method which uses very soft water, low temperatures and a slow fermentation process to bring out the fruity flavors and aromatics.[78]

In Latin America, chicha is still widely produced by women and consumed daily by adults and children, as it typically has a low alcohol content. In Ecuador women harvest yucca, boil the roots, pound it into a paste and then chew the paste, in much the same way as their ancestors did, to break down the starches and begin the fermentation process. Peruvian women make their version of chicha using the same method, but with corn.[79] In Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, among Amazonian Indians, chicha, made from corn, or algarroba beer made from carob seed, as well as beer produced from mixing corn or manioc with apples, melons, papaya, pears, pumpkin, quince, strawberries and sweet potatoes are brewed by women.[80] Bolivian women make beer from roasted barley, which is then chewed to begin the fermentation process and is served daily as a dietary supplement.[81]

The Pink Boots Society is an organization that supports women working in the beer industry.[82] It was founded by Teri Farhrendorf, who was in turn inspired by an early brewmaster, Carol Stoudt, who launched her own brewery in 1987.[83] There are Pink Boots Society chapters in Canada, Australia and the United States.[84] FemAle is another organization which supports the growth of women in brewing. In Sweden, they produced a beer named "We Can Do It", modeled on the Rosie the Riveter poster by Westinghouse in 2015. The goal was to create a beer made by women, which was not fruity or mild, but rather based on a scientific review of what women actually wanted to drink.[85]

See also[edit]



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External links[edit]