For International Women's Day this year, we decided to toast all the great women of the beer industry. But their role in brewing is far from recent: in fact, it started many centuries ago...

The History of Women in Brewing

Let's start at the beginning. Four thousand years ago, in ancient Mesopotamia, women were already brewing beer. As legend has it, it all began when, in a village in modern-day Iraq, a woman abandoned a bowl full of barley as a propitiatory gift for the gods. The barley resisted the pouring rain and then, heated by the sun, began to ferment, brewing up the first ever beer!

There were also several beer goddesses: the Sumerian Ninkasi, Siris in Mesopotamia and Tenenet in Egypt. This tradition eventually reached Europe where, for example, under Norwegian law, women were responsible for brewing beer. In Germany, women also played an important role in the brewing process (a nun was the first to add hops to beer).  

Women were not only producers, but also consumers. Since ancient times, beer has been considered a useful drink during pregnancy. It is no coincidence that among American colonists it was customary, when a woman became pregnant, to produce groaning beer: the "beer of lament", which would be ready for the birth nine months later.

As the process of making beer became more industrialised, men started dominating the industry. This can be attributed in part to the growth of abbeys. Monks (who were, of course, all male) began brewing professionally and became quite famous. Due to the shortage of manpower after the plague, which on average halved the European population, wages went up and beer consumption increased dramatically. Naturally, men followed into the profitable industry.

The discovery of hops (by that nun, whose name was Sister Hildegard) meant that beer could be stored for longer. This further contributed to the commercialization of the golden drink and the expansion of breweries. What a hero! 

For a long time, brewing was dominated by men. Even today, not only producing but also drinking beer is often considered masculine. But women are finding their way into this noble art form, following in Sister Hildegard's footsteps. That's why we wanted to list some successful breweries below, with women as master brewers, who make some of our favourite beers.

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Brasserie d'Orval

Brasserie d'Orval is a Belgian Trappist brewery founded in 1931. In 1992, Anne-Françoise Pypaert joined the brewery as the first ever Trappist woman, and in 2013 she became a master brewer. Since Anne-Françoise started, many other women now work in the brewery beside her. They only sell one beer, Orval, a complex and unique beer brewed with Brettanomyces yeast, which makes it almost a style in itself.

Fuller’s

This London brewery has been around for 160 years, and their London Pride is a true classic. Our favorite is their Honey Dew, an organic golden beer with a smooth, sweet and slightly bitter taste. In 2017, Fuller's announced they had a new brewmaster: Georgina Young. She later moved to work in the St. Austell Brewery where she is still master brewer today.

Beavertown

Beavertown is another great brewery from London with delicious and very unique beers. They currently have not just one but three female brewers: Lidia De Petris, Charlotte Freeston and Valeria De Petris. Gamma Ray is one of their most popular creations: a very juicy American Pale Ale loaded with mango and grapefruit flavours. To date, 21 of the current 83 full-time employees in Beavertown are women, 5 of whom work on the brewery floor and manage the role on a daily basis. (Fun Beerwulf fact: one of our meeting rooms in the office is named after this brewery!)

Gebrouwen door Vrouwen

This Dutch brewery, Gebrouwen dooe Vrouwen (literally “Brewed by Women”), consists solely of powerful and creative women. Set up in 2013 by the sisters Tessel and Do de Heij from Amsterdam, it all started out as just a hobby. Over the past five years, their team has grown to seven members and their beers have rapidly grown in popularity. We love their Tricky Tripel, a tripel with a sweet appearance and hints of apricot and yellow plum.

Two Birds Brewing

Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen are the founders of Two Birds Brewing, the first Australian beer company founded only by women. Located in Spotswood, an inner western suburb of Melbourne, this award-winning brewery represents all that is good about Australia's craft beer industry. The company has grown from a single beer to a range of five distinct styles produced all year round. They also set up a brewery, which they named" The Nest", in Spotswood.

 

In recent years women's beer associations have been created, such as Women on Tap and Ladies that Beer, in order to promote women's interest in all things brewed and help other women get into the industry. Curious to know what are the favorite beers of our female Beerwulf colleagues? Read here.

Let's raise our glasses for the great women in brewing - here's to many more in the coming years. Cheers!

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