The Blog for Women Who Brew Beer

Women’s Work

Posted by Maggie on February 10, 2011

Here is another sweet post on the history of women brewing beer.  This is from the Fermented Chef blog.

When Beer Was “Woman’s Work”

There was a time when brewing beer was “woman’s work”.  The historic record of female brewers starts in ancient Egypt with a written law making it illegal for men to make or sell beer.  Women were the brewers and bar owners and were subject to strict rules of operation.  Some infractions were punishable by death.

During the Middle Ages, drinking beer was more common than drinking water, even for children.  The reason was simple; people who drank water often become sick while those who choose “small” beer remained healthy.  The reason was in the necessary boiling of the wort (brewing) which destroyed pathogens in polluted water.  Boiling is cooking and in the Dark Ages cooking was the job of women.  A woman who made beer was called a brewster; when men took over, the reference was changed to brewer.

Modern brewing evolved as a household chore of necessity.  As it is with cooks (some are better than others) it was with brewsters.  Those that produced better brews found that by brewing a little extra they could add the household income.  Increased demand provided employment for family members, but women were the center of the brewing operation.  From carrying the water to selling the finished beer, women brewed most of the beer consumed in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Brewing became so profitable and even prestigious that men eventually took notice and moved in on the trade.  One reason given is that women lacked the physical strength needed to operate large-scale brewing.  I’m not so sure that biology had anything to do with women leaving brewing.  Economic opportunity sometimes fogs over the better side of human nature.  Brewsters were given a nasty reputation.  Writings from this time period portray brewsters as “filthy workers who produced polluted beer” and cheated their customers.  A culture of hatred and distrust of women became rampant.  I haven’t found anything that depicts male brewers in this fashion.

In the modern world, the honorable brewster has made a well deserved comeback.  More than a few micro and mini breweries are owned and operated by women across America.  Most importantly, female homebrewers have returned brewing to its kitchen roots.  Better yet, they are teaching their craft of brewing to their sons.

A few modern women brewers include:

  • Carol Stoudt, President and Brewmaster at Stoudt’s Brewing Company in Adamstown, PA.
  • Jenny Talley, Head Brewer at three Squatters Brewpubs in Utah.
  • Teri Fahrendorf, who after 17 years as an award winning Head Brewer at Steelhead Brewing in Oregon completed a 15,000 mile American brewing adventure from coast to coast and back again, and wrote a blog about the trip.
  • Tonya Cornett of Bend Brewing Co. in Bend Ore. is the first woman brewer to win the prestigious brewmaster award sponsord by the Brewer’s Association, a craft-brewing industry group.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s