After some 7,000 years of beer making, finally “Sisters are “brewing” it for themselves…!”
Thursday 8th March is International Women’s Day. People all over the world will be marking this event in ever greater numbers as we have so much to celebrate, so much to continue fighting for and with existence of social media, the messages are far more reaching than ever before.
I was interested in how it affects us as CAMRA members. Last year I spent the day at Brewhouse and Kitchen in Poole with a group of other women I had never met before, simply to make a beer. It was such an inspirational day and we all got on so well, we shared the tasks of the individual stages of the process, we sipped our way through the ales that had been already made on the site and laughed and chatted and learned a lot about each other, how real ale is made and many of us made new friends that day. Brewhouse and Kitchen ran the same event in each of their bars around the country on the same day and I love the thought that there were scores of women having the same sort of day that we were.
The result was a wonderful brew that was a careful balance of malt and hops, with a large handful of elderflowers. A new ale was born, and it was called “Unite Local”. When we came back six weeks later we found a pleasant, easy to drink, not too sour and not too boring ale waiting for us to drink and proudly share with our partners, friends and relations. And to cap it all, a donation from every pint sold went to the Breast Cancer Awareness charity.
I found out that the wonderful day that we had was actually a part of a much grander scheme: International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day which started in 2014 with the purpose of creating a virtual “get together” of women brewers, globally, to simultaneously brew the same beer according to the same recipe. The aim is to generate awareness and appreciation of women involved in brewing beer and “…to normalise the idea that women can and do work in the brewhouse…” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Women%27s_Collaboration_Brew_Day).
Brewing beer is a male dominated industry, it hasn’t always been like that and women are now wrestling back their right to brew. We see gender equality everywhere we look, in the workplace, in the boardroom, enterprise, sports, to name but a few, but there are still raised eyebrows at the mention of certain occupations – lady plumber, bricklayer, pilot, captain, brewer….
However, history tells us that the making of beer, in a variety of cultures across the world and eras throughout time, has traditionally been the role of the woman. It would not have been a career choice of course, as it is today, but in the way that tasks were apportioned according to the demands and needs of that particular society. If the men were out hunting and gathering, it made sense that the women were grinding corn, making bread, preparing meat and veg for sustenance and making beer for refreshment and maybe for relaxation and celebration too. I should imagine there were some Neanderthalic raised eyebrows if a man fancied having a dabble with brewing, his life probably wouldn’t be worth living if discovered!
Apart from a period in the medieval times, when beer production was taken over by monks in monasteries, it had always been made on a domestic basis. Ales houses and “tippling houses” sprung up wherever there was a cottage, with an able and willing individual or couple who was happy to make ale and turn the living room over to a thirsty, local, work force to earn a few shillings to make ends meet. My cousin, Tree and I can trace our shared family tree back to a small Essex village, where there stood a cottage next to a field where Sarah and Joseph Thorn lived and carried out this very activity. With a windmill nearby as well, they probably did a pleasing and brisk trade.
It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the production of beer changed into a culture that we recognise today. Maybe it was to do with the introduction of hydrometers, thermometers, and other technical apparatus, or maybe it was increased scale of production which necessitated the need for people that could physically stand the heavy, dirty labour, of making and carrying beer barrels and transporting them to male dominated public houses. Whatever it was, the way that society lived and worked meant that women no longer had a place in the world of brewing.
This year, thanks to a determined and resilient group of women from that same era, we celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote. Since then women have been slowly but steadily striving for and almost achieving full gender equality. Nowadays, a woman can make and drink beer if she wants to. Very simply, no one is making her, and no one is stopping her. After some 7,000 years of beer making, finally “Sisters are “brewing” it for themselves…!”