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Beer Research Guide: Women


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undefinedTracing 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. 

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.



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


Notable women

  • 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


Notable women

  • 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


In Latin America, chicha (a fermented beverage with a low alcohol content) is widely produced by women and consumed daily by adults.

Notable women

  • 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


Notable women

  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • An de Ryck is 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. 
  • 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

Recommended publications


Here are some other tips for "thinking around" the topic of women and brewing to direct your research project. 


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. 


For a more contemporary perspective, there are several organizations focused on mentoring and advocating for a more even gender balance. 

The Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives has the organizational records of both the Pink Boots Society and Barley's Angels, as well as a robust set of oral history interviews with women involved with Pacific Northwest brewing.


Notable women

  • 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


Notable women

  • 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



Kirkby, Diane Elizabeth. 1997. Barmaids: a history of womenʼs work in pubs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.