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!




An Argument for the Changing Shape of Suds

Recently, the CBC spoke to some of our friends in the industry at Snake Lake Brewing Co, Toolshed Brewing Company, and Troubled Monk Brewery -- the latter two make some damn fine beers and we genuinely can't wait to try what Snake Lake has to offer in 2018. If you haven't seen the clip, you may want to watch it for some back-ground information. The piece below is a response to some of the points raised, and a different perspective on the industry.

Watch it Here. 

We believe that concerns about the industry 'bubble' bursting or becoming over-saturated are premature. There are a couple of reasons for this, so bear with us as we take you through our perspective of a booming industry. 

North America is Weird. For entire generations North Americans have become accustomed to a certain way of doing things. We love monopolies, and entire empires in the business world have been built on the idea that in order to be the best, you must be the only one. We see this in our vast competitive markets pitting Goliath corporations against the mom's & pop's shops of the world. The brewing industry in North America is no different, and it can all be traced back to the 1920s. 

A Brief History of Albertan (and Canadian) Prohibition

Before Prohibition in Alberta there was a scattering of successful breweries and distilleries of various sizes. The first brewery in the province opened in Medicine Hat as early as 1883, and Lethbridge was home to upwards of 6 breweries in the 1890s and early 1900s. Everyone was doing quite well. Lethbridge's largest and most notable brewery historically was the Lethbridge Brewing Company -- home of the Lethbridge Pilsner (yes, that Pilsner) which began in 1901 under founder Fritz Sick. Sick would eventually go on to found 2 more breweries in the province: in Edmonton and Calgary, as well as Mt. Rainier Brewery (yes, that Rainier) in Washington State. Most people don't realize that Mr. Sick and his son Emil were virtual Beer Barons of Alberta-- some pretty cool history if we do say so ourselves. 

Alberta's Prohibition began in 1916-- during the height of the Great War (more commonly referred to as WW1) and continued until 1924 when it was repealed. Prohibition had a disastrous affect on the brewing industry in Alberta (and across Canada) for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the small brewers who were in operation before Prohibition were generally not able to survive the eight years, and could not afford to start back up again after prohibition was repealed. Secondly, the larger brewers who did survive (they mostly made 'soft' drinks -- yes that's where that phrase comes from-- and rented out cooler space to store fur coats [true story]) were able to lobby the provincial government at the time to impose certain rules under the guise of "industry advisors". The advice they provided basically assured that smaller competition operations that had existed before prohibition could not start back up-- meaning that those larger companies could walk back onto the beer scene with a virtual monopoly. Because everyone needed a drink, and when you're the only supplier, everyone drinks your stuff. Pretty canny (pun totally intended). 

Some of those rules, like the 500,000L minimum annual capacity repealed in 2013, took literal generations to shake off. Thank goodness we are finally making progress on this, there are still a lot of nonsensical rules that we have to follow thanks to that early 'advice'. 

With the abolishing of prohibition, many of the provinces formed Liquor Control Boards (ours is called the AGLC) to control liquor and (usually) gambling-- as these were seen as social vices that required their own special controllers to handle. Also, this is why in Alberta, Liquor Inspectors still have badges. They are literally Vice Cops (cue Bad Boys music). 

Liquor control Boards were set up to do a couple of things: control the amount and price of liquor being sold in their territory, administer taxes, and prevent too much fun (not really, but that's what some of the policies wound up doing anyway), all in the name of public safety and moral decency. 

So back to monopolies: because a lot of those brewing companies that boast of long histories: Molson- established 1786, Labatt - founded 1847, Coors - established 1873 -- they had distribution systems already in place to get their product to market quickly after the end of prohibition in each territory. They literally hit the ground running after booze was back in, and did everything the could to prevent smaller (what we now call micro and craft) breweries from starting back up. 

This is why the North American brewing industry is so damn weird. We literally made it so that certain companies got to make all the rules, then ignore the rules that inconvenienced them, because they literally ran the show. The kicker is... they still are. 

So what does this mean for the modern brewer? 

We keep hearing about this "Craft Beer Bubble" and it's formed a couple of times, even in recent memory. There was one in the 80s, that burst and the industry flat-lined. There was another one in the 90s, that also burst, why should the 20-teens be any different? 

Well we are optimistic. The world is changing at an alarming rate. Literally, technology advances every day, and while the world is still big, the communications networks are vast. Things go viral very quickly-- then also fade from view very quickly. Today the younger generations (go Millennials! [note Kel was born in '89, she can't help it]) is paying a lot closer attention to the way advertisement and marketing works. We are the most educated populace that has ever lived, and we are starting to see through some the old-hat tricks that corporations and monopolies like to play. It is getting harder and harder for those monopolies to survive and that has them running scared -- which means also getting super aggressive. 

Back to Beer 

If you take a look at Europe, most of which never underwent a 'Prohibition Era' the culture of drinking over there is very different. Yes, you still have large-brand beers (looking at Guinness, Heineken, and Carlsburg) but you also have a plethora of small, local, 'craft' brewers in your towns and small cities as well. These are brands that North Americans have never heard of, and will never hear of, unless you actually go and travel to those places. Entire breweries are sustained just within their local communities because that's what the locals drink-- they don't waste their time on brand-name beers because the beer they drink is made down the street. There are towns that exist in Europe that boast a population of 50,000 people (ok, cities, pick your nomenclature) and 10 breweries! 

Seriously...we picked a random location in Germany (Coburg-- population 41,000 people) and it has 9 breweries in it! (google it, seriously). That's insanely cool! Lethbridge, a city of 98,000 has just TWO, and it's still hard to make a go of it! 

So what does this tell us? It can be inferred from the statistics referenced in the CBC video that the shape of the brewing industry is changing-- and so it should. The spot talks about how beer sales have been declining over the last few years-- that people are drinking less beer, and this is true. It's also probably a good thing-- you don't need to drink a lot to have a good time, you just need to drink responsibly. 

However, the video also put up an interesting statistic and that has to do with market share: 90% of the Canadian market is still cornered by 'Big Beer' -- our Domestics. That means that despite the fact that there are upwards of 800 breweries operating in Canada, (and that number is on the rise! Awesome!) those 650 breweries that are NOT domestics (or owned by a larger corporation) share just that 10% of the market share. That's insane! AND we are splitting that market share with the non-independent craft brands that have been bought out like Granville Island, Mill Street, and Belgian Moon that still masquerade as "independent craft" despite the fact that, unequivocally, they are not. 

This all does tie together, we promise. 

So while we dig on the CBC shining some light on some key players in the Craft Brewing Industry (there is no argument that Toolshed and Troubled Monk are founding members of the Craft Beer Industry in Alberta -- thanks guys, for paving the way for boot-strapping little upstarts like ourselves) the narrative they chose to pursue is just...wrong. 

The Craft Beer industry isn't about to burst. There is no bubble to pop, in our opinion, we are just getting back to a very old-style of thinking: what can be produced locally ought to be consumed locally. While we wouldn't thumb our noses at the prospect of opening up new markets (will leave THAT to a future post) in BC and Saskatchewan, we do recognize that our local market in Lethbridge, and in Alberta does need to come first. 

This comes back to the heart of our argument: support local. The CBC spot talks about how craft brands are bumping other craft brands off of draft systems at locations, and that's brutal. We want to get on draft at bars across Alberta, we have kegs of beer sitting here waiting to be bought (cheapest way to get beer, by the way), but we don't really want to bump one of our friends to do it. Rather, we would like to see a bar take one of their 5 domestic taps and turn it into a craft brand tap. We want to see chain restaurants that have back-room deals with Coors and Molson (redundant, they are the same company), pull a draft line for the locally-produced stuff. 

This is something that the consumer can help with, and we implore you to do so! When you walk into a bar and you look at the draft handles, and your local breweries are not on a line-- we want you to ask why not? We want you to point out that Keiths, Labatt, and Coors all taste close to the same (because they are made at the same place), and we want you to demand better from your drinking establishments because that's how the industry changes. Also-- the AGLC really needs to crack down on the shady back-room deals going on, (but that's another post). Craft brewers should not have to vie for shelf space or draught lines when the domestics still have 9/10 lines in a pub, or 18/20 shelves in a shop. 

Thanks for looking, friends. We raise our glass to you. Please feel free to leave a comment below. We will be updating the blog section regularly as things in the industry progress. Also-- there will be occasional recipes.