Beer today is typically associated with men, whether they are brewing beer or drinking it to fill their protruding beer bellies; which makes us wonder: was beer always a male-dominated industry?
The history of women in brewing
If you thought that brewing beer started with men, think again. Humans have been drinking beer for centuries and records show that the original brewers were actually women. From the Vikings to the Egyptians, women brewed beers for both religious ceremonies and daily consumption.
Image credit: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin
In ancient Sumeria (4500-1900 B.C.), women were the primary brewers, and they even had a goddess of beer, Ninkasi. Ancient Mesopotamia was a heavily patriarchal society, which meant that the Sumerian women there did not have many opportunities to earn a living. However, they were allowed to brew beer and even open their own taverns.
Image credit: Frans Vandewalle
Similarly, in ancient Egypt, goddesses were an important part of the brewing process. The ancient Egyptians worshipped the goddess Hathor, who was known as the “inventress of brewing”, and even had a yearly festival to celebrate her.
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Fast forward to the early middle ages, Hildegard of Bingen wrote about the preservative properties of hops in her book “Physica” and promoted their use in brewing. Hildegard’s book helped popularise the practice in the 12th century as it was the biggest innovation since the invention of brewing. Not only did her findings help preserve beer, but it also helped improve the flavours of the beer.
With Hildegard’s research, beer could now be brewed more easily on a larger scale and transported over long distances without spoiling. This led to the commercialisation of beer and the beverage is now one of the most lucrative products in the world!
Unfortunately, with the commercialisation of beer, women's role in brewing started to diminish. In the 19th century, brewing became an industrialised process, and men took over the brewing industry. Women were excluded from the brewing industry, and brewing was soon recognised as a male-dominated profession - a tradition that continues today.
Amazing breweries run by queens that you should support
Today, women are still underrepresented in the beer industry. According to a survey done by the Brewers Association in 2021, women only comprise 23.7% of the brewing workforce in the United States. In addition, only 2.9% of breweries in the U.S. are fully women-owned. However, that doesn’t mean that women aren’t trying their best to slowly infiltrate the beer industry.
In fact, there are many successful women-led breweries you can support:
Image credit: Lost Coast Brewery
Lost Coast Brewery: Lost Coast is one of the very few female-owned breweries in the world with an inspiring story that features the success of its founder, Barbara Groom, amidst the male-dominated industry of beer. While Lost Coast Brewery is not currently owned or operated solely by women, it has been a trailblazer in the beer industry and has helped pave the way for more women to become involved in brewing. Lost Coast Brewery offers a wide variety of craft beers, including ales, stouts, and porters. They are known for their flagship beer, Great White, a Belgian-style witbier that is light and refreshing.
Image credit: New Belgium
New Belgium Brewing: New Belgium is an iconic American craft brewery that was co-founded by husband and wife Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan in 1991. While Lebesch was in charge of the brewing process, Jordan was the brewery’s first bottler, sales rep, distributor, marketer, financial planner, and longtime CEO (we stan a multi-talented queen)! New Belgium Brewing offers a variety of craft beers, including IPAs, saisons, and sour beers, but they are most known for their American amber ale, Fat Tire.
Image credit: SGBC
- Specific Gravity Beverage Company (SGBC): SGBC is a Singaporean craft brewery that was founded by Kim Wong and Devin Otto Kimble in the second half of 2020. Instead of making intensely flavoured, palate-saturating beers that dominate the beer industry today, SGBC focuses on creating lighter, sessionable beers to attract more than just hardcore beer aficionados.
These are just a few of the many women-led breweries that you can show your support to! By supporting women-led breweries, you are helping to promote gender diversity in the male-dominated brewing industry.
Empowering women in beer!
Besides women-led breweries, there are also many inspiring women brewmasters who have not only shown their expertise in their craft, but have also paved the way and supported women in the beer industry.
Image credit: Stoudts Brewing Company
Carol Stoudt is a pioneering figure in the American craft beer industry who co-founded Stoudts Brewing Company, one of the first microbreweries in the United States, in 1987. Stoudt was one of the first women in the United States to become a certified brewmaster, earning her certification from the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago.
In addition to her amazing work at her brewery, Stoudt has been a mentor to many women in the craft beer industry. Stoudt encouraged many women to pursue careers in brewing and advocated for greater diversity and inclusivity in the beer industry. Stoudt also founded the Pink Boots Society as a way to empower women beer professionals. Today, the non-profit organisation has over a thousand members worldwide and provides education and support to women in brewing.
Image credit: RedDot BrewHouse
In Singapore, we also have our very own skillful female brewmaster - Crystalla Huang. Huang is Singapore’s first and only female certified brewmaster among roughly 15 other brewmasters. Huang is known for her innovative and creative beer recipes, incorporating local ingredients and flavours into her brews. Her Sauvignon Ale, a delicious and fruity IPA, won the "World’s Best Experimental Beer" award at the World Beer Awards in 2017!
Although the percentage of women in brewing today isn't as impressive as it was back then, there has been a growing movement to increase the representation of women in brewing. The efforts in supporting women in the beer industry have been beneficial, but women still face challenges in this male-dominated industry today. It is thus vital to continue to support and promote women in brewing in order to create a more inclusive and diverse industry!