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Beer Research Guide: Women

WOMEN AND BREWING

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HOW DO YOU RESEARCH THE HISTORY OF WOMEN AND BREWING?

Tracing and documenting the work of women in brewing industries is a complicated one. As anyone who has done historical research on women knows, the stories of their work isn't actually hidden, but more often simply not recorded. Brewing was a family business, and for the most part, the story of women (wives and mothers) is told through the story of men (husbands and sons). Unfortunately, because women were often referred to as "Mrs. Husband's Name" and their maiden names aren't referenced, biographical research can be difficult; however, as is the case more generally for researching people, there are some standard sources. 

  • Census records: each census records different data, but expect to find their country of origin, date of birth, marital status, occupation (usually noted as "keeping house" or nothing), how many children they have had; for some years you'll also find information on schooling or literacy and whether they own their home. Tracking people over time in the census will also offers name spelling variations. 
  • Newspapers: in addition to being an excellent source of information about breweries, women's activities are often recorded in the "society pages." This might include community events or service, travels to visit relatives, and social activities. 
  • Government records: marriage and birth records may provide maiden names. Wills and probate records for women, their husbands, and their children can provide insight into economic and social status, as well as information about property holdings or the brewing business. 
  • Church records: house of worship records may contain documentation of birth, marriage, children’s births, and last rites, all of which can be helpful. Ceremonies like a baptism, bat mitzvah or confirmation may also hold clues.
  • Cemeteries: gravestones usually have correct birth and death dates, as well as spelling of names. The online site Find A Grave is very helpful for finding inscription information, but also includes user supplied data (pictures, obituaries, or life stories uploaded by family members), names of spouses and children, and burial plot information. 

PUTTING YOUR RESEARCH IN CONTEXT

Remember to "think around" your topic. Issues such as temperance and prohibition, the 19th Amendment, prostitution, access to childcare, and workplace safety regulations can all be linked to issues of gender.

SUGGESTED READINGS

A good resource for learning more about women in brewing throughout the world, historical to modern day, is on the "Women in brewing" article on Wikipedia. It is a robust article with a long list of citations. 

The standard text for historical information about women as brewers is Judith Bennett's 1996 book Beer, and Brewsters in England. (Bennett, Judith M. Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women's Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). 

  • Review articles, from a variety of academic disciplines, were written about this book. Find them in the library databases or on Google Scholar
  • Many publications have cited this book; find a list on Google Scholar. These articles provide contemporary work on gender and brewing. 

Other recommended publications with information related to women and brewing

Read Dr. Christina Wade's #31BeerHerstories Mega List, a compilation of posts for her blog Braciatrix. Wade focuses on "weaving together the stories of real people with the literary tales and mythological figures" and "illuminate the pivotal role of women to the story of beer." For each post she cites her sources, so you'll have a place to start your own expanded research projects. 

A NOTE ABOUT WITCHCRAFT

Through the 16th and 17th centuries, brewing in Europe changed from a women's profession to one dominated by men. As women were forced out of brewing,  a new ideology about women brewers was created. This included the myth that women were incapable of brewing or would destroy beer and the construction of the women as a witch. It is important to mark this "identity" as a construction, and one that was tied to fear of power and a change in a gendered profession. 

Popular depictions of alewives in John Lydgate's "Ballad on an Ale-Seller" and John Skelton's "The Tunning of Elynour Rummyng," described them as "strikingly vicious and nasty," witch-like, untrustworthy, corrupt, and grotesque women who used "charms to induce men to drink." Some depictions of alewives in England showed them "condemned to eternal punishment in hell." At the same time, it is difficult to determine how often women who brewed beer were accused of witchcraft directly. 

In addition to Judith Bennett's 1996 book Beer, and Brewsters in England, there are other sources for considering gender, beer, and witchcraft.

Recommended publications

WOMEN IN AFRICA

Things to know

  • The Zulu fertility goddess, Mbaba Mwana Waresa (also called Nokhubulwane), is credited women with creating beer.
  • Yasigi, a Dogon deity, is often depicted dancing with a beer ladle to symbolize her role of distributing the beer made by women in ceremonial gatherings.
  • Women in Burkina Faso have been making mash of fermented sorghum into beer for 5,500 years.
  • In Tanzania, both women and men help harvest and create different types of fermented beverage, including ulanzi and pombe. Traditionally, women in Tanzania were the "sole marketers" of these drinks and used the money they made selling alcohol to supplement their incomes. 
  • In South Africa’s Xhosa and Zulu ethnicities, women were traditionally in charge of brewing umqombothi, a homemade beer made from maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast, and water. Umqombothi is prepared over an open fire and poured into a large drum called a gogogo.  

Recommended publications

WOMEN IN ASIA

Things to know

  • In Nepal, women have brewed raksi for centuries. Raksi, a pungent distilled alcoholic beverage made from rice, was originally used for ceremonial purposes in Hindu and Buddhist rites, and is still a key part of customary life in the Kathmandu valley. Women engage in the month-long brewing process and sell excess raksi to restaurants.
  • Women also brewed Chhyang, Jaandh, Thon, and Tongba, (known by various names and spellings). Made in both Nepal and Tibet, these drinks are made from barley, rice or millet. The grain is soaked in water, steamed, and mixed with a starting agent known as marcha. 
  • Emi Machida is sake brewmaster at her family's 130-year-old brewery in Japan.  
  • Kaori Oshita opened Minoh Brewing in 1997 near Osaka, Japan. 
  • Miho Imada is a sake brewmaster at Imada Shuzō in Akitsu, Hiroshima. Imada has a reputation for making some of the finest sake in the world.

Recommended publications

WOMEN IN AUSTRALIA

Things to know

  • In Australia, there is evidence that indigenous people divided labor according to gender, with men hunting and women tending to gathering and food preparation. Aboriginal women prepared alcoholic beverages from flowers, which were steeped in water or pounded to extract the nectar, and then mixed with honey ants to ferment.
  • Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen opened Two Birds Brewing in 2010, the first all-female brewery in the country. 

Recommended publications

WOMEN IN CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA

Things to know

  • In Latin America, chicha (a fermented beverage with a low alcohol content) is widely produced by women and consumed daily by adults.
  • In Ecuador, following the process of their ancestors, women harvest yucca, boil the roots, pound it into a paste, and chew the paste to break down the starches and begin the fermentation process.
  • Peruvian women make chicha with corn.
  • Amazonian Indians in Brazil,  Argentina,  and Paraguay made chica from mixing corn or manioc with apples, melons, papaya, pears, pumpkin, quince, strawberries, sweet potatoes, and carob seed.
  • Bolivian women make beer from roasted barley, which is then chewed to begin the fermentation process and is served daily as a dietary supplement.
  • Wari women brewers: on the Cerro Baúl mesa, in the central highlands of Peru, elite women from the Wari Empire made a drink called chicha in the years before 600 AD.

Recommended publications

WOMEN IN SCANDINAVIA

Things to know

  • Women brewsters in Finland 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.
  • Finnish legends include the story of Louhi in the Kalevala, a woman who brewed beer by mixing bear's saliva with honey. 
  • Raugutiene, a Baltic and Slavic goddess, 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.
  • Archeologists uncovered graves of pre-Viking Nordic people that indicate women made and served alcohol. In the grave of the "Egtved Girl," a bucket of grog buried at her feet showed the drink was made from wheat, rye, and barley and included cranberries, honey, lingonberries, birch resin, bog myrtle, juniper, and yarrow. 
  • Danish women were the primary brewers until the establishment of guilds in the Middle Ages. Later, women were still the primary brewers in the countryside and women brewed for their families. 

Recommended publications

WOMEN IN ENGLAND AND EUROPE

Things to know

  • An de Ryckis a Belgian brewster and the first woman brewing engineer in Belgium in the modern age. She is the granddaughter of Gustaaf de Ryck, the founder of De Ryck Brewery.
  • Hildegard of Bingen was a German Benedictine abbess and scientific writer. Her set of books called Physica contained what is thought to be the first recorded reference of the usage of hops in beer as a preservative.
  • Margery Kempe lived in the East Anglian town of Lynn in the early 15th century, and was at various times the owner of a horse-mill and a brewer, but later in her life became a visionary and mystic. 
  • Mother Louse was an alewife in Oxford who brewed beer for commercial sale. during the mid 17th century. 
  • Rosa Merckx was the first official female brewmaster and operations director in Belgium. She began work at the Liefmans Oudenaarde brewery in 1946 and took over as brewmaster in 1972.
  • Saint Brigid of Kildare or Brigid of Ireland is one of Ireland's patron saints. She had a reputation as an expert dairywoman and brewer, and was reputed to turn water into beer. 
  • Sister Doris Engelhard is a Catholic nun and Bavarian brewmaster. Engelhard brews her beer in the Mallersdorf Abbey, and feels that "brewing is her way of serving God." Engelhard is the last nun working in Europe as a brewmaster. 
  • Sigi Friedmann owns Friedmann's Brewery (Brauerei Friedmann) in Gräfenberg, Bavaria, Germany. She was the youngest master brewer in Germany when she replaced her father managing their family brewery in 1982.
  • The Tunning of Elynour Rummyng is a long raucous poem written by English poet John Skelton. Elynour is a character in the poem who runs a "public house," or pub.
  • For thirty years (1728-1758), Elizabeth Pease made beer for Temple Newsam, in Yorkshire, England. Pease brewed ale, strong beer, table beer, and small beer; however, because she brewed seasonally, her income was inconsistent and she was quite poor.

Recommended publications

WOMEN IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Things to know

  • Sumerian beer was made from bippar, bread made from twice-baked barley, and then fermented.
  • Ninkasi was the tutelary goddess of beer and alcohol in ancient Sumerian religious mythology. Her father was the King of Uruk and her mother was the high priestess of the temple of Inanna, the goddess of procreation. The Hymn to Ninkasi dates to the 18th century B.C., and praises Ninkasi for bringing a “blissful mood” and “happy liver” to the Sumerian people.
  • Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature
  • In ancient Babylon, women worked as baker brewers and engaged in commercial distribution of beer. 
  • Siduri is a character in the Epic of Gilgamesh. She is an "alewife," a wise female divinity associated with fermentation (specifically beer and wine).
  • Brewing in ancient Egypt followed a method similar to Sumerian beer, and female brewers used the same dough as the base for both beer and bread.
  • In The Destruction of Mankind, the god Ra sent the goddess Sekhmet to kill the people and eradicate sin; however, the other gods pointed out that if she killed everyone there would be no one to worship them. He tried to call her back, but she was consumed with her bloodlust, so he had beer dyed red to fool her into drinking it. Believing it was blood, Sekhmet drank to drunkenness, fell asleep, and woke as Hathor, the kind and gentle friend of humanity. The Tekh Festival, one of the most popular in Egypt, commemorated this event. 
  • Tenenet (also Tenenit, Tjenenet) was the Egyptian goddess of beer. Like the goddess Ninkasi of the Sumerians, Tenenet watched over brewers and made sure that the recipe was observed for the best quality beer.

Recommended publications

WOMEN IN NORTH AMERICA

Things to know about women in North America

In North America, Indigenous women including those in Apache, Maricopa, Pima, and Tohono O'odham tribes, brewed Saguaro cactus beer or wine, called tiswin for rituals. Apache women also produced a product made from corn, which was similar to Mexican beers, known as tulpi or tulapa, which was used during girls' puberty rites ceremonies; this included four days of prayer, fasting, the consumption of ritual food and drink, and runs dedicated to the White Painted Lady, an Apache deity. The Coahuiltecan and other tribes from their Texas vicinity made an intoxicant from yucca and the red beans of the mountain laurel.

Sources:

  • Abbott, Patrick J. (1996). "American Indian and Alaska Native Aboriginal Use of Alcohol in the United States." American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research. 7 (2): 1–13. 
  • Medicine, Beatrice (2007). Drinking and Sobriety Among the Lakota Sioux. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman Altamira Press. 

Things to know about women in the United States

In the American colonies women brewed at home, which was the predominant means of beer production for at least the first century after their arrival.

  • While Thomas Jefferson may have been famous for his brewing, Martha Jefferson was equally renowned for her wheat beer.
  • The woman most often called the first commercial brewster in the Thirteen Colonies was Mary Lisle, who inherited her father's brewery in 1734 and operated it until 1751. 
  • In 1713, John and Elizabeth built a three-story brick mansion called New Haddonfield Plantation, where Haddon managed the family property and her husband tended to his missionary journeys; the Brew House she built in 1713 still stands in the backyard. Although the first recorded commercial female brewer in the Colonies was Mary Lisle, who inherited her father’s Philadelphia brewpub in 1734, there is reason to believe that across the river in South Jersey, Haddon was running a more-than-average homebrew operation.

Sources

In the more modern craft beer era, women have had a variety of roles in commercial brewing. 

  • Suzanne Stern Denison and Jane Zimmerman worked and invested in Sonoma, California’s New Albion Brewing, established in 1976 as the first new brewery in America since Prohibition; Jack McAuliffe is most often the only person mentioned as founder.
  • Hart Brewing was co-founded by Beth Hartwell and Tom Baune in 1984 in Kalama, Washington; they were early pioneers of craft brewing in the Pacific Northwest and Hart was the first woman to co-own a brewery in the post-Prohibition era.
  • Mari Kemper and husband Will opened Thomas Kemper Brewing on Bainbridge Island (near Seattle) in 1985 and now co-own Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen in Bellingham.
  • Mellie Pullman is a professor at Portland State University; where she became the first female brewmaster in the United States when she took a job at Schirf Brewing in Park City, Utah in 1986.
  • Carol Stoudt founded Stoudts Brewing Company in Adamstown, Pennsylvania in 1987; she was one of the first female brewmasters since Prohibition in the country and the nation's first female sole proprietor. 
  • Teri Fahrendorf was the third female craft brewmaster in the country; she worked as a brewer at Golden Gate Brewery and Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley, California, Steelhead Brewery in Eugene, Oregon. Fahrendorf later founded the Pink Boots Society.
  • Kim Jordan co-founded New Belgium Brewing Company with husband Jeff Lebesch in 1991 in Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Leah Wong Ashburn took over for father Oscar Wong, who opened Highland Brewing Co. in 1994; it is one of one of North Carolina’s oldest breweries.
  • American women such as Jill Vaughn and Rebecca Bennett 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.
  • I. Patricia Henry is the first African American woman to manage a major American brewery Miller Brewing Company, now MillerCoors, in Eden, NC. 
  • Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo, Russian River Brewing's original brewer, acquired the rights to the brand and opened a brewpub in Santa Rosa, California in 2004. 

Other women opened early craft breweries in America and have served in numerous capacities other than as the brewer. These include Marcy Larson, who co-founded the Alaskan Brewing Company with husband Geoff in 1986 in Juneau, Alaska; Irene Firmat, who founded Full Sail Brewing Company in 1987 in Hood River, Oregon; Rose Ann Finkel co-founded Pike Brewing Company with husband Charles Finkel in Seattle, Washington in 1989 (and Merchant du Vin in 1978); and Deborah Carey, who founded New Glarus Brewing Company with husband Daniel in 1993 in New Glarus, Wisconsin.

More recently, women in America have opened breweries across the country. 

  • CEO and head brewer Eilise Lane learned to brew beer in the Northwest and now runs the Scarlet Lane Brewing Company in Indiana. The brewery has made a name for itself among horror fans by hosting macabre-themed events.
  • Kate Power, Betsy Lay, and Jen Cuesta co-founded Lady Justice Brewing in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. The brewery donates to human rights and social justice organizations, specifically supporting organizations that benefit women and girls.
  • In 2016, Shyla Sheppard and Missy Begay founded Bow and Arrow Brewing Co. in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is known for drawing on indigenous ingredients for their beers. It is the only Native woman-owned brewery in the United States.
  • In 2018, brewers Celeste Beatty and Briana Brake co-founded Rocky Mount Brewing in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Brake owns and brews for her company, Spaceway Brewing. Beatty, who runs Harlem Brewing Company out of New York, is the first Black woman to own a brewery in the United States.   
  • Carol Pak is the founder of Makku, America's first canned craft makgeolli company (she calls it "Korean rice beer"); the business was started in New York City in 2018 and is hand-crafted in Maine.
  • In 2019, Tamil Maldonado Vega co-founded Raices Brewing in Denver, Colorado; it is a Latino owned and operated brewery that also acts as a reference center for those interested in learning about Latin culture.
  • Other women opened early craft breweries and have served in numerous capacities other than as the brewer. These include Marcy Larson, who co-founded the Alaskan Brewing Company in 1986 in Juneau, Alaska; Irene Firmat, who founded Full Sail Brewing Company in 1987 in Hood River, Oregon; and Deborah Carey, who founded New Glarus Brewing Company in 1993 in New Glarus, Wisconsin.

Things to know about women in Mexico

There are several women involved in the brewing business in Mexico.

  • Elizabeth Rosas is the co-founder of Cervecería Calavera and head of branding and marketing; she and husband Gilbert Nielsen started the brewery in 2008.
  • Lucía Carrillo is the co-founder and brewer of Cervecería Itañeñe, which opened in 2011.
  • Cervecería Dos Mundos (“Two Worlds Brewery”) was co-founded in 2014 by British-Mexican couple Caroline King and David Meza in the Iztapalapa neighborhood of Mexico City.
  • Antonieta Carrión founded Casa Cervecera Madrina in 2014 and is likely the first female sole owner and brewer of a cervecería in Mexico City; she is also one of the founding members of the Adelitas beer collective.
  • Jessica Martínez opened Cervecería Malteza in 2014.
  • Sandra Navarro is a founding partner and lead brewer at the Turulata Brewing Company, Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico.
  • Paz Austin is the General Director for the Mexican Association of Beer Makers (ACERMEX).
  • The Female Beer Tasters in Mexico is an NGO created in 2012 to promote the culture and education of beer; in 2020, it had over 2,000 members with representatives and coordinators in 15 cities in Mexico and San Diego, California.
  • Adelitas Cerveceras, a collective of 130 Mexican women that was established in 2019, promotes the participation of women in the beer industry through a support and career network.

Things to know about women in Canada

In Canada, Susannah Oland, an Englishwoman who immigrated to Canada in 1865, and her husband established a popular brewery called the Navy and Army Brewery. After her husband died, Oland established a brewery of her own, though she concealed her gender by naming the business "S. Oland Sons and Company," using her initials to hide the fact that she was a woman. She was the creator of a beer recipe which became the basis for founding Canada's oldest independent brewery, Moosehead Brewery. Among Canada's modern era women brewers are Emily Tipton, co-owner and brewmaster of Boxing Rock Brewing, and Kellye Robertson, who began her career at Garrison Brewing before heading the brewing team at Spindrift Brewing.