While beer is often thought of as a man’s drink, the history books record that the fairer sex has always played a hand in the production of the golden nectar.
Some of humanity’s earliest writings refer to women making beer. Historians have translated what is known as the “Hymn to Ninkasi”, thought to be a way for illiterate Sumerian people to remember the recipe for beer. Ninkasi, an ancient Sumerian goddess of the beverage, was one of the first recorded cases of a woman brewing beer.
The Code of Hammurabi, a Babylonian law, reveals that women tavern-keepers could be tossed into the river if they cheated their customers. Clearly, their work was taken seriously if laws were made about it.
In the hunter-gatherer family model, men took on the hunting role while the women gathered wild barley and stayed at home brewing beer. During these years, beer was still thought of as a food and provided a considerable part of one’s daily calorie intake.
In the mediaeval period, female brewers appeared in literature of the era, such as Betoun the Brewmaster in Piers Plowman, by William Langland. The masculine term brewer was developed for male brewmasters, while women could choose to be called ‘brewsters’.
In New England, history shows that as soon as men became aware that there was money to be made from brewing, they began to limit the ladies’ control over said liquid.
As civilisation moved towards the industrial age, making beer became more professionalised and less of a domestic chore and the numbers of brewsters started to decline.
In the modern world, women in more traditional communities, such as the Zulus in KwaZulu-Natal, still brew beer, but a new wave of female brewers has started to rise again across the world since the 1980s.
About one third of all SAB’s brewers are female, and South Africa can boast about having the SABMiller Taster of the Year for 2012 in the form of Frieda Dehrmann, the South African Breweries Consumer Science and Sensory Manager, who beat out competition from 1 100 male and female beer tasters around the world to clinch this year’s title.
While the number of women who appreciate beer appears to be on the increase around the world, at the same time the number of female brewers making their own beer on a small scale is also rising. The Queen of Beer, an all-girl brewing competition, is held in California each year, proving that women can romance the grain.
In South Africa, female brewers include Imke Pape from Brauhaus am Damm and Natalie Meyer from Clarens Brewery and SAB’s Kate Jones.
So if you are raising a glass to celebrate women during the month which is dedicated in honour of them, drink to female brewers from the past, the present and the future.
By Martin Brooks, SAB Chief Brewer