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  • Writer's pictureKaren Gendron

Women in Beer History

beer, women, beer evolution

Beer and women

Beer: one of the oldest drinks known to humankind. Dating back to the 5th millenium BC, beer is one of the most common drinks during middle ages, only beating wine when grapes were not available. Women were known for making the beer of the household - more on that below.


Beer is known for its fermentation; the chemical process that converts sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. It may have been an accident as cereal grains such as barley or wheat containing sugar would be known to spontaneously ferment due to yeast in the air. However, someone was brilliant enough to catch on and decide that the fermenting pile should be consumed, not garbaged.

China pottery shows beer was brewed using barley and grains 5400 to 4900 years ago. All nations have been proven to have used rice, cocoa, cereal or root vegetables to brew. The use of hops has been noted since 9th century, but before that, gruit (mix of herbs) was a brew choice, with the issue of less preserving properties.


Hops allowed for large scale production and export, which Germans pioneered. Bohemia perfected beer production, and it spread through the Netherlands, then through England by the late 15th century.

Inventions for Better Beer

The invention of the thermometer in 1760 and hydrometer in 1770 increased the efficiency of brewing.

Yeasty Beginnings

In the past, there were basically two types of beer yeast: ale (top fermenting in which yeast rises to the top creating a foamy head) and lager (bottom fermenting in which the yeast settles to the bottom). In the past, most beers were top fermented. Bottom fermented were discovered by accident in 16th century after beer was stored in cool caverns for long periods. Bottom fermented beer now outpaces top-fermented. There are so many different strains of yeast now, everyone can take their pick as to what they prefer.

Prior to late 18th century, smoky malt beers were considered not good (the smoky flavour due to the drying process of the malt). That smoky flavour is certainly gaining popularity of late with a nice BBQ or dessert pairing.

The Industrial Revolution Changed Beer

Monasteries in 7th century AD were known to brew and sell beer, but prior to the industrial revolution, beer was made and sold domestically by women. Women supplied the beer and bread in households because beer was part of gathering and baking traditions.

In all inhabited continents from 7000 BCE, women were the primary brewers until commercialization during the industrial revolution. It was at this point they were barred from participating in alcohol production and relegated to roles such as barmaids, pub operators (publicans), bottlers or secretaries for breweries.

Domestic manufacture ceased to be significant by the end of the 19th century. Not until the 1970’s did women start resurfacing to once again become brewsters or ale wives. Today, we see the resurgence of craft beer and breweries, with no bias to whether men or women brew the beer.

Beer Mythology

Ninkasi- the patron goddess of brewing in Sumerian or earliest known Mesopotamia civilization. Hymn to Ninkasi poem (circa 1800 BC) is a recipe for brewing beer.

Kalevala- Finnish poetry based on centuries of beer brewing and origins. Devotes more lines to the origin of beer than it does to the origin of mankind.

Gambrinus- Flemish king sometimes credited with the invention of beer.

Radegast- Czech God of hospitality who, according to legend, invented beer.

Aegir- Norse sea god who, along with his wife Ran and their nine daughters, would brew ale or mead for the gods. He brewed in a giant kettle brought by Thor.

Nart Sagas- Russia and area tales that tell of the invention of beer by the mother of the Narts.

Charlie Mops- attributed inventor of beer in Irish mythology.

Everyone Worldwide Loves Beer

Beer has an important history in most countries. Each country has unique brewing traditions, characteristic brewing methods and styles of beer. There are many years worth of recipes that have been tweaked to suit individual tastes. It’s a drink that will never die.


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