Brewsters: Ladies This Brew is For You!

A Little History Lesson in Beer

If you look at the brewing industry today you will find that most beer is targeted towards a male audience. If you look at ads from the early 1900s - mid 2000s you will find radio and television ads for big-name beer aimed specifically at men. These were also the decades of the Domestic Lager - the big-brand producers who specialized in easy-drinking, ice-cold beers. This attitude perpetuates the myth that beer is a 'manly' beverage that only men drink. In truth, historically speaking, everyone drinks beer.

Pre-history 35,000 BCE

Beer is the oldest traceable fermented beverage on the planet. Back when human society consisted of nomadic roving bands of hunters and gatherers, they had an alcoholic beverage that would have been the precursor to beer. These beers are what we would today, in our hipster-clad craft-beer culture, refer to as "raw" beers. 

(Raw beers are fermented by the naturally-occurring yeasts extant on the grain itself, rather than pasteurizing the wort during the boil and adding predictable yeast later. Flavours in raw beers are unpredictable and therefore most breweries will not produce them, however the effect of the beverage is the same.)

This is literally when grains got soaked in rain, naturally fermented themselves, and then neolithic peoples figured out they could get a buzz off the stuff if they drank it. Human beings have always been into mind-altering substances, so this makes sense. We know that pre-historic peoples had beer as a beverage because vessels from the eras exist with beer stone on them (a calcium-magnesium oxalate -- a residue of beer). Historical scientists are convinced that this is a pretty decent indicator that pre-historic peoples understood that wet grains, left for a period of several weeks produce a drinkable substance responsible for an awesome time and it can be argued that the rise in agricultural practices were directly related to beer production.

Ancient History - 2,000 BCE - 600 CE

While there is plenty of documentation for wine in the ancient era, we know that beer existed there too -- it was enjoyed by the lower societal classes. The water in ancient and medieval Europe was dangerous to drink, and beer was often a safer alternative because at this time the beer was boiled before fermentation.

Slaves, soldiers, and lower-class peoples were often given daily beer stipends as beer is high in nutritional value and was safe to drink. Beer at this stage in history, particularly intended for daily consumption, was usually low alcohol - around 1.5% alc./vol.

Across the world, grains have been fermented into beers. In ancient Asia, beer recipes from rice and local grains grown in the area have been recorded as early as 6,000 BCE. Even in what would become the American continents, Original Peoples had their own version of natural fermentation from grain, which would have resulted in a low-alcohol beer-like-substance.

The Middle Ages - Rise of Women in Beer - 800 CE - 1600 CE

In Europe, we know that beer exploded in use during the middle ages (sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages). Rivers in Europe were polluted from concentrated populations, and water was not safe to consume due to the high amount of waste (ew) in the water sources. Beer was a safe alternative because of the heating required in the brewing process killed off a lot of the harmful parasites and bacteria. At this time most households had some kind of brewing facility, or took advantage of communal facility located at the local monastery.

Ladies began to take on the role of house-hold brewers while men worked out in the fields, and later in cottage industries. Children as young as 2 drank low-alcohol beers throughout the day to maintain their health and have something to drink. Later in the middle ages, local markets would spring up and women would move through the market crowds in tall hats, selling off the extra beer made in their households. These ladies were known as Brewsters.

Early Modern Era - 1700s

Women would eventually be forced out of the brewing industry by industrialization and the rise of the domestic sphere (ladies stayed in the home to tend to families, while men went off to earn a living). This would remain the trend and the brewing industry would become male-dominated right up until the 1990s when the return of craft beer would herald a rise in women brewers. The late 1700s and early 1800s would also welcome the development of large brewing companies in Europe and North America - where beer production would be centralized and people could purchase it commercially from public houses (pubs) and individuals called "brewers" or "brew masters" who were particularly skilled in the art of brewing beer, became professions.

Modern Day and North American Prohibition -1900s - 1930s

Prohibition was a movement that banned the commercial manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of alcohol. Each province in Canada had its own prohibition laws. In Alberta, hotels were still able to serve alcohol in their in-house bars and restaurants, which meant that several breweries actually purchased hotels in which to sell their products. Alberta prohibition lasted from 1916 - 1924. After Prohibition ended, rules were put in place that dramatically stymied the craft beer movement. With the rescinding of those rules in 2013, the craft beer industry in Alberta has boomed, welcoming over 50 new breweries in the space of 4 years (and growing!). With the rise in craft beer, and changing attitudes, women are getting into beer more and more at every level. From consumers to producers, women are stepping back into the world of beer. Alberta is currently home to 6 breweries who have primary owners who are women, and around 15 breweries have women who are a part of the manufacturing/brewing teams.

Brewing today is a predominately male-oriented industry still with over 90% of brewing teams nation-wide being male only crews, but women who drink craft beer are on the rise as more dynamic flavour profiles are introduced into the world of beer. Women are the fastest growing demographic of beer consumer, and brew-masters programs around the world are seeing an increase in female enrollment as the industry returns to its roots and finds ladies at the helms of award-winning breweries the world over. 

The Annual Women's Brew

Each year Kel gets a team of kick-ass women together to brew a beer. The purpose of this event is 2-fold: to encourage women to engage in the brewing industry and beer culture, and to brew some incredible beers we don't normally get to make. In 2017 we teamed up with an incredible group from the Campus Women's Centre at the University of Lethbridge to brew Gemutlichkeit a 7.0% Roggenbiere. This year we will be going a bit bolder with The Matilda Effect, a 9 - 11% Lavender Gin Extra Strong Wheat Ale. The beer will be launched on International Women's Day (March 8) at Mocha Cabana in Lethbridge.

Ladies, whether you are a passionate consumer of cold brews, or have built your life's work perfecting the Craft: this brew is for you! Cheers!




Kelti Baird