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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.

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Scientific American on Ancient Peruvian Brewers

Posted by Maggie on February 10, 2011

I just stumbled upon this 2005 article on female brewers in ancient Peru.   Very interesting.

Archaeologists Uncover Evidence of Female Brewers in Ancient Peru

By David Biello | November 15, 2005 | 3

The remains of a brewery in the southernmost settlement of an ancient Peruvian empire appears to provide proof that women of high rank crafted chicha, a beerlike beverage made from corn and spicy berries that was treasured by the Wari people of old as well as their modern day descendants. Decorative shawl pins, worn exclusively by high caste women, littered the floor of the brewery, which was capable of producing more than 475 gallons of the potent brew a week.

“The brewers were not only women, but elite women,” says Donna Nash of the Field Museum in Chicago, a member of the archaeology team studying the Cerro Baúl site where the ruins were found. “They weren’t slaves and they weren’t people of low status. So the fact that they made the beer probably made it even more special.”ceremonial chicha cup

More than a decade of research into Cerro Baúl led to this finding, which supports Spanish accounts of Incan women–a successor culture of the Wari–as master brewers and weavers. The team’s analysis is being published online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Cerro Baúl brewery churned out chicha for nearly 400 years before the imposing site–situated on a mesa summit more than 10,000 feet above sea level–was mysteriously abandoned. The economics of living in this spot were not favorable: all resources, including water, had to be hauled up to the lofty site from the valley below by means of steep, treacherous trails.

Perhaps because of that, after the Wari abandoned it, Cerro Baúl remained uninhabited. In its heyday, however, it boasted a population of around 1,000 people, a palace, temple and an intricate series of canals that allowed irrigation of the otherwise arid slopes of the surrounding mesas for crops. The Wari may have chosen the imposing (and sacred) site as a diplomatic front with the neighboring Tiwanaku empire in present-day Bolivia, who had their own settlement in the valley.

“These were frontier outposts, facing off but with very little contact,” says lead author Michael Moseley of the University of Florida. “The Wari and Tiwanaku are not borrowing anything from each other, even though we find artifacts brought in from other cultures thousands of miles away.” In fact, the Wari outpost used obsidian mined hundreds of miles north for its arrows and knives rather than more local, Tiwanaku sources.

Around A.D. 1000, the Wari ritualistically abandoned the mesa-top fortress in the Moquega river basin. They brewed one last batch of chicha and drained it before smashing the keros (ceremonial drinking mugs) and setting fire to the brewery, the last building to be torched, according to the researchers.

At that final party, the women brewers may have tossed their tupus (decorative pins) into the flames or they may simply have lost them during the hot work in the brewery over all the centuries preceding it. Whatever the case, if modern day (and historically attested) practices are any indication, it is likely the women consumed just as much chicha as the men. “There’s a lot of equality in terms of how men and women drink in the highlands of the Andes,” says team member Susan deFrance, also at the University of Florida. “Women will get as rip-roaring drunk, if not more so, than men.”

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Beer Life-Cycle

Posted by Maggie on February 9, 2011

From the WorldWatch institute, the life-cycle of beer.   Cool.

Life-Cycle Studies: Beer

by Jane Zhou and Ben Gonin on March 12, 2010

Beer sampling 

Photo courtesy Andrei Zmievski


Enkidu, a man raised by wild animals in the classic Sumerian poem Epic of Gilgamesh, knew nothing of beer until a prostitute guided him to a shepherd’s camp. Upon finishing seven full cups, “his soul became free and cheerful, his heart rejoiced, his face glowed…. He became human.” Beer was so popular throughout ancient Mesopotamia that some historians argue it inspired the earliest farmers to domesticate grain.

Rich in carbohydrates, protein, and, of course, alcohol, beer became a dietary staple for many cultures throughout history. In Elizabethan England, mothers safeguarded their adolescents from foul water by serving them “beer stew” – stale bread mixed with beer and spices.

Beer is the third most popular drink in the world, after water and tea. Per-capita annual consumption is highest in the Czech Republic, at 157 liters per person, followed by Ireland (131) and Germany (116). World beer consumption has risen almost every year for the past two decades. The world average in 2005 was 23 liters per person.


Conventional beer is made with malted grains (often barley or wheat), hops, yeast, and water. The hops act as preservatives and add to some beers’ characteristic bitter flavor. Yeast is added after the grains are cooked from a few days to several months. The yeast combines with the mashed grains’ sugary compounds to form alcohol. The brew is then fermented again, filtered, and cooled.

One liter of beer traditionally requires between four and six liters of water and four or five kilograms of grain. Energy consumption – mostly from refrigeration and transportation – is also significant. But the greatest environmental impact is created by beer containers, overwhelmingly single-serving glass bottles or aluminum cans. One ton of glass embodies as much energy as is contained in 135 liters of oil and creates 845 kilograms of mining waste.

Closing the Loop

Some breweries, such as Coors in the United States and Fourex in Australia, have begun to reduce their water footprint through wastewater recycling methods, such as steam recapture. In 2007, Fourex reduced its water consumption to 2.2 liters for each liter of beer. Other innova?tive practices include capturing the brewery’s carbon dioxide emissions, reusing the gas during the carbonation process, and using more efficient heating and cooling systems to save energy. U.S. breweries, large and small, often sell leftover grain, still highly nutritious, to farmers and food companies as agricultural feed and processed food additives.

Beers brewed and bottled in one country and shipped to another for consumption are costly both to consumers and to the environment. “Imported” beers brewed locally under license according to a parent company’s recipe, and other locally and regionally brewed beers, eliminate the need for long-distance transportation. Truly concerned connoisseurs can use their own regional or organic ingredients with home beermaking kits and reusable containers.

Choosing beer on tap and in kegs reduces the solid waste and energy use from bottles and cans. And while recycling can keep beer bottles out of landfills, returning bottles to the manufacturers for refilling and reuse is more efficient by 75 percent. In the United States, Michigan, California, and New York place a surcharge on each bottle’s price, which the states refund to those who deposit bottles at collection points. In Denmark and Estonia, container deposit laws have led to a 98-percent return rate for glass bottles. In many Latin American countries, the high price of glass has encouraged high recycling rates and the social norm of leaving all glass bottles at the bar.

Jane Zhou and Ben Gonin are interns with the Worldwatch Institute.

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Women and Beer Facts

Posted by Maggie on May 14, 2010

This article from discusses, among other things, how women tend to like different beer than men and more breweries are starting to cater to this.

Women and Beer: Fact Versus Fiction

Forget the stereotyped notion that beer drinking is a male phenomenon. More women worldwide are drinking beer, particularly light ales, than ever before. The fact of the matter is that modern women no longer play a passive role in beer consumption or, indeed, in beer advertising.

Women and Beer Advertising

Do you remember those traditional, cheesy advertisements featuring an attractive female bartender obligingly serving beers to an exclusively male clientele? Of course, these stereotypical ads featuring young blondes with generous cleavages and ingratiating smiles successfully sold a lot of beer.
However, those were the days when male punters did most of the beer purchasing and advertisers needed to appeal to the male ego to boost sales.
Today, such cloyingly traditional ads are unlikely to appeal to the new generation of discerning female beer consumers. Consequently, beer advertisers are being forced to rethink their strategy, generating surprising results.
Several new advertising campaigns, for instance, feature women taking the lead, ordering the beer and displaying their (often superior) knowledge of which brew is best. Going by statistics, these new style ads with broader female appeal are beginning to sell more beer.
Innovative beer advertising agencies have done their research: women and beer is a winning combination. Ads that depict raucous males drinking beer and giving a bartender babe a hard time are passé.

Women and Beer: The Facts

Here are some facts about women and beer:

  • The sale of beer to women is a growing market.
  • Women currently acount for 25 percent of beer consumption in the USA.
  • Women between the ages of 21 and 30 are drinking more beer than women in other age groups.
  • Beer drinking among women in the 50-plus age group is on the increase, a fact that has not gone unnoticed among beer advertisers worldwide.

Women and Beer Appeal

Women beer drinkers are a discerning bunch. They demand more of their beer: more flavor, more complexity, more fruitiness, fewer calories and lower carbs.
Above all, women want beer with more style and character. Research shows that women who enjoy beer tend to prefer lighter versions with lower alcohol content. Popular options include lambics, hefe-weizens and light ales.

Targeting the Female Beer Drinking Population

In response to demand, trend-setting brewers around the world are constantly introducing new brews that will appeal to female beer drinkers without alienating existing loyal male customers.
Results to date are encouraging, with a new breed of advertising campaigns that emphasize equality, contemporary attitudes and successful social interaction.
Out are the ‘babes and booze’ spots in advertisements that appeal to a wider, genderless, international audience. Savvy beer advertising campaigns are pandering big time to their expanding female clientele. The overriding message is that women beer drinkers are at last being taken seriously.

Women and Beer: Back to Basics

Aside from being consumers, women have a history of brewing beer as well. A quick glance at the history of brewing reveals that women dominated the scene in early times: evidence has shown that women brewed beer in ancient Egypt, during the Pharaonic period.
By the 1700s, women brewers were commonplace throughout Europe. It was only during the Industrial Revolution, when commercial brewing was introduced, that men began to take over from women as master brewers.
Today, however, more and more women are returning to the business of brewing beer. Certain forward thinking breweries headed by women are giving this hitherto male-dominated industry a run for its money. The evidence is in the sales. Female brewmasters are constantly coming up with new beers that have huge contemporary appeal for both male and female consumers and are flying off production lines.

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Then Women Said, “And Let There Be Beer.”

Posted by Maggie on May 12, 2010

This article is from the UK Telegraph.

Men owe women for ‘creating beer’

One of man’s great pleasures might be a pint of beer at the local – but an expert has claimed it would never have existed without the entrepreneurial skills of women.

By Nick Britten
Published: 1:47PM BST 30 Mar 2010

Men owe women for 'creating beer' claims academic

Between the eighth and tenth centuries AD the Vikings spread terror by rampaging through Europe, fuelled by women-made ale.
Photo: AP

Jane Peyton, 48, an author, said women created beer and for thousands of years it was only they who were allowed to operate breweries and drink beer.

The drink is now almost exclusively marketed to men – with television characters such as Homer Simpson the epitome of the beer-loving male. Miss Peyton has conducted extensive research into the origins of beer for a new book and reports that a woman’s touch was found on beer throughout the ages.

Nearly 7,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Sumeria, so important were their skills that they were the only ones allowed to brew the drink or run any taverns.

And in almost all ancient societies beer was also then considered to be a gift from a goddess, never a male God.

Between the eighth and tenth centuries AD the Vikings spread terror by rampaging through Europe, fuelled by women-made ale.

Women were the exclusive brewers in Norse society and all equipment by law remained their property.

And Ancient Finland also credits the creation of beer to the fairer sex, with three women, a bear’s saliva and wild honey the apparent first ingredients.

In England ale was traditionally made in the home by women. They were known as brewsters or ale-wives and the sale of the drink provided a valuable income for many households.

It quickly became an essential staple of the diet and even royalty indulged in the tasty beverage.

Queen Elizabeth I, like most people of the era, consumed it for breakfast and at other times of the day.

But by the start of the late 18th century and the Industrial Revolution, new methods of making beer meant women’s contribution slowly started to decline and be forgotten, until now.

Miss Peyton said: “I know men will be absolutely stunned to find this out, but they’ve got women to thank for beer.”

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History of Women Brewers

Posted by Maggie on April 30, 2010

An article by Stephanie Montell in Brewing Techniques (July/August 1994) discusses the history of women brewers:

According to beer historian Alan Eames, the religious myths of ancient societies credit the creation of beer to women. For the Pharaonic Egyptians, the goddess Hathor invented beer. She was worshiped throughout the dynastic ages as the “queen of drunkness and dance and the inventress of beer” (1). For the ancient Fins, however, ale was created by three women: Osmotor, Kapo, and Kalevatar. While trying to prepare for a wedding feast, Kalevatar combined saliva from a bear with wild honey, added it to beer, and created the gift of ale (1).

In Europe, female brewers were the norm. In England during the 1700s, a survey found 78% of licensed brewers were women (1). Traditionally, it was a woman’s job to brew beer for the household. In fact, certain laws stated that the tools used in brewing were solely the woman’s property (2). Things changed in medieval times, when monasteries began brewing beer on a larger scale for passing travelers. Gradually, women became less and less involved in brewing. The industrial revolution transferred brewing from the home to the marketplace. Men began claiming local taverns as their domain, and women began drinking less beer (3). Alewives were replaced by male brewers, and brewers have tended to be male ever since.

(1) A. Eames, “Goddesses, Myths, and Beer,” BarleyCorn 4 (3), 9-10,14 (1994).

(2) “Women in Beer,” Alephanalia 1 (1), 19 (1993).

(3) W. Paul and R. Haiber, A Short but Foamy, History of Beer (Info Devel Press, La Grangeville, New York, 1993).

The full article can be found here:

An excellent longer article by Alan Eames on the history of women involvement in beer making was posted on the Real Beer Page:  Yankee Brew News Archive, Summer 1993:

It can be found here:

Yankee Brew News Archive

Beer, Women, and History

Originally Published: Sum/93

By: Alan D. Eames

“My sister, your grain – its beer is tasty, my comfort..”

– Song of Songs; Sumeria, 2100 B.C.

“She brews good ale, and thereof comes the proverb, Blessing of your heart, you brew good ale.”

– Shakespeare

Deep within the jungles of today’s Amazon rain forest, a scene from the dawn of time is enacted by the women of Stone Age Indian tribes. Seated in a circle, the women slowly chew cereal grains, the enzyme ptyalin in their saliva converting the starches in the hard kernels to fermentable sugars. Spitting the resulting “mash” into clay pots, the first step in the ancient woman’s art of beer brewing has begun. For early mankind, beer was perhaps the single most important diet staple. A valuable source of protein and vitamins, brewing was a significant milestone in ensuring our survival as a species. Modern scholars have proposed that beer’s combined power to both alter mood and provide nutrition gave early man the notion to settle into village life, forsaking the nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle forever.

Brewster is the feminine form of the word brewer and it is likely that a woman presided over the birth of beer some ten thousand years ago. This most ancient of women’s skills was probably learned before the first baking of bread and certainly before the appearance of wine.

Traditionally, historians locate the birthplace of beer in the areas of ancient Babylon, Sumeria, and Egypt. New findings, however, indicate that beer may have first been brewed in the Amazon basin some ten thousand years ago. Certainly, early civilizations of Amazonia had all necessary components available to brew the same styles that continue to survive today among the tribes of Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador.

Four thousand years before the birth of Christ, women brewers enjoyed great prestige making dozens of kinds of beer in Babylon and Sumeria. Called “Sabtiem,” Sumerian brewsters had the distinction of being the only tradespeople with private deities. Ninkasi–“the lady who fills the mouth”–and the goddess Siries watched over the daily ritual of brewing. Only women were allowed to brew and these Sabtiem made beers from such strange ingredients as spices, peppers, tree bark, and powdered crab claws.

Women also ran the beer halls and taverns, the price of beer always being raw grain, never money. In the oldest book of law we read:

If a beer seller do not receive barley as the price of beer, but if she receive money…or make the beer measure smaller than the barley measure received, they (the judges) shall throw her (the brewster) into the water.

The Code of Hammurabi

1500 – 2000 B.C.

An added gift to our world from these women of Sumeria is the drinking straw. Ancient beer was fermented, grain husks and all, in wide-bottomed, narrow-necked clay pots. During fermentation, impurities, husks and debris from grain would float to the top of the beer jar. The straw, usually made of hammered gold or silver, pierced the layer of flotsam allowing the drinker to enjoy the clear beer below. A combination beer toast and prayer preceded both funeral services and drinking bouts:

May Ninkasi live with you-

Let her pour your beer everlasting.

Perhaps the oldest narrative known to history, The Epic of Gilgamesh contains references to Siduri; an archetypical brewster and barmaid who gave beer, comfort and counsel to Gilgamesh, greatest of the Sumerian kings. Archeological sites throughout the Near East have yielded thousands of cuneiform tablets containing recipes for and prayers in praise of beer. Among the many types of brew made by these ancient brewsters of Sumeria were: black beer, white beer, red beer, beer of two parts, beer from the nether-world, beering for the offering (sacrifice), mother beer, beer for the supper, beer with horns, wheat beer and beer with a head. As in the later society of ancient Egypt, Sumerian-Mesopotamian beers were made from bread loaves called “bappir.” Barley malt was rendered into a breadcake form, crumbled into water, and with the aid of ambient, airborne yeast, fermentation took place. Most ancient societies used honey as a source of fermentable sugar.

For the ancient Egyptians, beer was so important that the hieroglyphic symbol for food was a pitcher of beer and a cake of bread. Egyptian hieroglyphics tell of dozens of varieties of beer for both this world and the next. Pharaohs were routinely buried with tiny model breweries complete with miniature wooden brewers to ensure a regular supply of beer on the arduous journey to the afterworld.

Egyptian beer, called “Hekt,” was widely exported all over the known world: to Rome, Palestine, and as far away as India. Egyptian women brewed their beer in an area of the kitchen called “the pure,” the lady of the house always supervising. Although royal brewers were sometimes men, most Egyptian beer was made and sold by women who developed scores of beer styles. Brown beer, iron beer, sweet beer–lagered with dates, neter or strong beer, white, black, and red beer and Nubian “boosa”–the origin of our word booze–were just a few of the beer styles commonly made. Special brews for religious purposes included Friend’s beer; the beer of the Protector; Hemns or old beer; the Beer of Truth; the beer of the goddess Maat; and Setcherit, a narcotic beer using as a sleeping draught. Hops were unknown to the ancient Egyptians although bitter herbs like Lupin and Skirret were often used to bitter the brew or served as an appetizer with the beer itself.

The Greeks, even though they imported shiploads of Egyptian beer into Greece, never fully trusted beer. The Greek physician Dioskorides complained that the beer of Egypt, called Zythos by the Greeks, caused too frequent urination. Other Greek doctors thought beer to be the direct cause of leprosy. These suspicions not withstanding, Greek craftsmen used the beer of Egypt to soften ivory while making jewelry. In the Egypt of the Pharaohs, beer was the staff of life. Slave and commoner, soldier and king, women and children; everyone drank beer. In fact, the minimum wage of the day was two containers of beer per day’s work and in this regard beer was the most basic medium of exchange. As to the power of Egyptian brews Aristotle observed:

They who have drunk beer…fall on their back…for they who get drunk on other intoxicating liquors fall on all parts of their body…it is only those who get drunk on beer who fall on their backs and lie with their faces upwards.

In the land of the Pyramids, where beer was king, the barley-bread brew played a large part in the religious life of the Egyptians as well. Consider the ancient myth explaining beer’s birth. The Sun-God RE lost his divine patience with the very wicked human race and decided to punish mankind for its sins. RE gave the task of chastising humankind to the goddess Hathor. Hathor did such an effective job of it that the streets were “flooded with blood.” In fact, the whole punishment project got so out of hand, that the survival of our species was in some doubt. But, once started on her gruesome work, Hathor was not easily stopped.

In order to slow her down, RE took the human blood then flooding the towns, added barley and fruit, and the resulting mixture became the world’s first beer. The next morning when the goddess returned to finish mankind off, she was stopped dead in her tracks by an ocean of beer. Tasting the brew she quickly got drunk and forgot all about her mission, falling into a deep sleep. As such, Hathor remained, for the Egyptians, the chief goddess of beer and drunkeness. The abuse of beer, this divine gift of the goddess, was frowned upon by the middle class ancient Egytians. In the papyrus Sallier, a father tells his son:

I am told that you neglect your studies, have a desire for enjoyments, and go from tavern to tavern. Whoever smells beer is repulsive to all; the smell of beer holds people at a distance, it hardens your think it proper to run down a wall and to break through the board gate; the people run away from you…Do not give the beer mugs a place in your heart; forget the beer-pots…Don’t undertake to drink a whole pitcher of beer. If you then talk, so from your mouth comes nonsense…your drinking companions stand up and say only: away with the drunkards.

Further temperance advice is found in what is perhaps the first known description of death from alcoholism and is taken from a tomb inscription circa 2800 B.C.:

His earthly abode (body) was torn and broken by beer.

His spirit escaped before it was called by God.

Abusive beer drinking notwithstanding, beer remained the chief component in all ancient Egyptian medicine and appears to have done far more good than bad to these people of the Nile valley.

From the eighth through the tenth centuries A.D., Vikings spread terror throughout the civilized world. In a state of ale-induced “berserk” they raped, burned and pillaged their way through North Africa, Holland, England, Ireland, Wales, France, Germany, and Italy. Viking brew was called AUL and from this word comes our English term ALE; a beer style that spread wherever the Norsemen conquered new lands. Viking women were the exclusive brewers in Norse society and law dictated that all brewhouse equipment remained the property of women only.

As to the creation of beer, Norse myth offered the following explanation. The gods were at war with a human tribe called the Vans; after much killing, a peace conference was arranged and a treaty was sealed by members of both sides spitting into a jar. To preserve the occasion, the gods shaped the saliva and some dust into a living man named Kvaser. Kvaser was soon murdered by a race of dwarfs, his blood being collected in an iron kettle. The enterprising dwarfs added honey to the grue and the whole mess became ale.

Norse paradise, called Valhalla, was no less than a giant ale house having 540 doors where the Viking god Woden entertained the dead with tales of battles fought and flagons of ale. This ale streamed from the udders of a mythic goat named Heidrun, whose endless bounty of beer kept the divine company in a constant state of bliss.

On earth, Viking women drank ale, flagon for flagon, along with the men. In a trance-like state, “Bragg” women foretold the future under the influence of the ale they brewed. This “bragging” played a vital role in religious life as did “runes,” magical inscriptions placed on ale cups to ward off evil:

Ale runes thou must know, if thou wilt not that another’s wife thy trust betray, if thou in her confide. On the ale horn must they be graven.

Sigdrifumal, 700 A.D.

The ancient Finnish people credited the birth of beer to the efforts of three women preparing for a wedding feast. Osmotar, Kapo and Kalevatar all labored unsuccessfully to produce the world’s first beer but their efforts fell flat along with the beer. Only when Kalevatar combined saliva from a bear’s mouth with wild honey did the beer foam and the gift of ale come into the world of men. From the Kalevala, the ancient Finnish account of the creation of the world we can see the importance of ale in human society. In this early tale of the origin of all things, the creation of ale is given twice the narrative space than is devoted to the creation of the world:

Great indeed the reputation of the ancient beer–

Said to make the feeble hardy,

Famed to dry the tears of women,

Famed to cheer the broken-hearted,

Make the timid brave and mighty,

Fill the heart with joy and gladness,

Fill the mind with wisdom,

Fill the tongue with ancient legends,

Only makes the fool more foolish.

As late as the 13th century, English records from a single town show that less than eight percent of brewers were men. Beer remained an essential part of diet and selling surplus beer became important to the economy of most households. When a housewife had extra beer to sell, an “ale-stake”–a long pole or broom handle–would be placed over the front door or in the road.

Sometimes appearing as a garland of hops atop a broomstick and hung over the front door or road, he ale-stake is found in one form or another throughout the world in every primitive society. Native African blacks alert neighbors to the availability of fresh homebrew by displaying a garland of fresh vines and flowers outside the brewster’s hut. How this universal symbol of “beer for sale” came to be remains a mystery of the collective human unconscious.

With the advent of public taverns, women remained as brewsters in medieval Europe, but unless widowed, could only hold tavern license under a husband’s name. The penalty for a brewster selling bad or adulterated beer was flogging; however, the license-holding husband bore the lash himself for his wife’s bad brewing. As beer was considered a vital food, good beer and honest measure were expected of ale wives and dishonesty was not tolerated. A stone carving of an ale wife being cast into hell by several demons resides in a church in Ludlow, England. The doomed brewster holds in her hand the false-bottomed ale pitcher she used in life the cheat her customers. Another early church figure was Saint Brigid who, through an act of prayer and faith changed bath water into beer for a colony of thirsty lepers.

In the new world colonies of America, women continued to brew for their families and neighbors. Early colonial settlers drank large quantities of beer and ale as a nutritious break from a diet of salted, smoked, and dried meat and fish. Resourceful women brewed with corn, pumpkins, artichokes, oats, wheat, honey, and molasses. Before weddings, a nuptial beer was brewed and sold, the proceeds going to the bride on her wedding day. These “bride-ales” survive in our word bridal. “Groaning” beer was brewed for midwives and expectant mothers to be served during and after labor.

Sadly, the late 18th century saw the decline of brewing as a household art and the rise of the male-dominated “beer business” had begun. Along with commercial, large-scale brewing began a decline in the number of beer styles available to the public. Unusual, regional varieties of beer, developed by women through centuries of trial and error became first endangered and then extinct.

Alan D. Eames, a resident of Brattleboro, Vermont, has been dubbed “The Indiana Jones of Beer” by the world media. He is an internationally known beer historian, author, consultant, and beer anthropologist, and is the founding director of the American Museum of Brewing Arts and History.

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