history of women and beer
Beer in some form or another has been brewed for thousands of years. Traditionally it was brewed in the home by women. Everyone drank it – including children, as it was nutritionally superior and often safer than water. Traditional gender roles meant that everything within the home (including brewing) was the domain of the women. In certain remote African and Amazonian tribes, the women still do the brewing while the men hunt.
The earliest recorded evidence of the existence of Beer as a drink dates back to Ancient Egypt. During this time beer was made and sold almost exclusively by women.
Female brewers are termed Brewstresses. When the Americas were colonised, the women of the house were responsible for making the household beer, crafting nutritious brews from corn, pumpkin, oats, wheat, honey and molasses. Beer was often incorporated into the diet as a nutritional beverage and provided a change from the high level of salted and preserved meats often consumed.
There were even special “Bride Ales” created and sold for weddings, the proceeds of which went to the newly married bride, and “Groaning “ beers which were made for consumption during the labours of childbirth.
beer and witchcraft
Many of the symbols we associate with witchcraft today can be traced back to female brewers from the Middle Ages – a time when witch hunting was prominent and many brewers were branded witches. The role of yeast in converting sugars to alcohol was not understood in these times, and the process of creating ale was often attributed to magic – it is therefore hardly surprising that brewstresses were common targets for witchcraft accusations.
Cat – the animal most associated with witches was also the animal of choice for anyone brewing beer. Cats were kept in the malthouse by the brewstress to keep vermin from the grains.
Bubbling cauldron – the large metal kettle over a fire where ingredients were brewed. Once the liquid cooled, yeast would do its work and create a bubbling foaming mass on the surface.
Broomstick – laws of the time required that an ale house display itself by hanging a stick with twigs tied around it out the front – this also doubled as a broom to sweep up the grains
Pointed Hat – any beer that was left over was allowed to be sold at markets. Women selling this beer would adorn a tall pointed hat so they could be found easily in a crowd.