Women + Beer: A Forgotten Pairing

By: Allison Schell, NWHM Staff

Hop-py Foodie Friday! Alright, I couldn’t resist. This edition of Foodie Friday is all about uncovering the somewhat hidden history of women and beer, particularly women as brewers in the United States.

If you look at the brewing business today, the majority of micro and macro breweries are owned and run by men. Did you know though that back in the eighteenth century, a  good portion of brewers in America were women? Did you also know that the feminine form of the word brewer is brewster? A testimony to how masculinized brewing has become is the fact that the word brewster is not even used to describe female brewers today. Many are now referred to as “brewmasters.”  And, as a side note, “brewster” wasn’t even recognized by Microsoft Word. Neither was the word “masculinized” by the way.

Anyways, I digress. Historically, women’s involvement in brewing beer has been documented back  four-thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, and probably earlier. Ancient Sumerians even had a goddess of beer, Ninkasi. Historically though women’s involvement in brewing probably developed out of the fact that some women were tavern-owners and thus it is likely that they also brewed their own beer.

Fast forward to colonial America. The craft of brewing beer was brought over from Europe and women resumed their roles in society as tavern-keepers and brewers. But tavern-keepers were not the only women brewing; housewives were as well and brewing beer was one of the many tasks on their long list of daily duties. And, with beer being more consumed than water at this point, one needed to have a steady supply of the beverage on hand. In 1734, Mary Lisle become America’s unofficial first brewster when she took over her father’s brewhouse in Philadelphia. And while Thomas Jefferson is often given credit for being a “Founding Home brewer” the credit should actually be given to his late wife, Martha, who did the majority of the brewing. By the late eighteenth century, women as brewers and even brewing as a household art was on the decline, giving way to the male-dominated world of the beer industry that we have come to know.

Today, women are slowly infiltrating the brewing industry. Carol Stoudt of Stoudt’s Brewing Company (founded in 1987) is considered one of the first female brewmasters in the United States. Another female brewmaster, Teri Fahrendorf, founded the Pink Boots Society as a way to empower women  beer professionals. In 2008 they had only 22 members and today they have nearly a thousand. (Check them out here). But women still are not a majority in the beer industry in any capacity. According to a July 2012 Gallup poll, women represent only one-quarter of beer drinkers in America. And in the beer industry, women only account for 10% of jobs and for women in charge of breweries, the percentage become even starker.

So have we inspired you to get your own home brewing kit, yet? The next time you pour yourself a nice cold beer, think about all the women before you who spent countless hours brewing their own beer for their families, neighbors, or businesses, that have never been recognized in history for all their hard work. With that, I’ll leave you all with a quote from Shakespeare, “She brews good ale, and thereof comes the proverb, Blessing of your heart, you brew good ale.”

4 Responses to “Women + Beer: A Forgotten Pairing”

  1. [...] When these Anglo-Saxon brew-masters or inkeeps had a batch of ale ready, he or she (women historically were some of the best brewsters) would hang a bundle of green brush on a pole to indicate that the [...]

  2. Tanya Brock says:

    Great article! I was very pleased to find your article. I work as a Brewster in a full production brewery housed in a museum (Carillon Brewing Company). Each day I replicate the historical brewing processes and stories from the 1850s. Visitors are always surprised to learn that women have had such a long history with brewing. Today, women are making a come back to the brewing industry.
    Tanya Brock
    Carillon Brewery Manager & Brewster

  3. […] when only women made and sold beer. In colonial America, when people drank more beer than water, women were the primary brewers. It wasn’t until late in the 1700’s, with the rise of industrialization, that we began […]

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