Women and Brewing

24 03 2010

Ed. note- March is Women’s History Month and today (March 24th) is Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace was an English writer and mathematician. By many, she is considered the first computer programmer. On Ada Lovelace Day, bloggers are encouraged to write posts on women’s roles in the advancement of science.

It can be claimed that over 99% of humanity’s interaction with fermentation has been led by women. It seems difficult to believe in the modern West where beer and spirits have become a man’s space. But from the hunter gatherer’s day of fermenting honey to mead to even today where cheesemaking,  , and even in the case of many pre-industrialized cultures alcohol making has been led by women. If, for so long, yeast production was led by women, why is it that men have so successfully co-opted beer?

But first, a history of women and fermentation.

As mentioned above, women were most likely the first fermenters. In hunter/gatherer societies, mead was the first fermented beverage. Honey mixed with water and fermented with wild yeasts, it is the most basic of alcoholic beverages. Women would gather honey along with herbs, fruit and roots. And, as water gatherers and fire keepers, they were probably the ones to control the mead as well.

Fast forward several thousand years to the beginning of agriculture. It is a common theory among anthropologists and archeologists that agriculture was begun in order to increase fermentation yields. Records found in Mesopotamia (one of the first agricultural sites in the world) showed that farmers grew as much barley as wheat. If food was the main reason for farming, it would not make sense to grow so much barley. Barley is more difficult to grow than wheat. It is difficult to mill into flour due to its hard shell and is poor for making bread. On the other hand, wheat is not good for making beer because of its high protein levels and thin shell. To grow one and not the other would show agriculture was based for food instead of alcohol. But to grow both shows a selection of grains for multiple uses.

Beer was most likely discovered by accident. Malting grain (allowing it to sprout and then drying it) is the best way to preserve grains other than baking it. Women bakers at home most likely discovered some water in their malt storage and found the sweet, fermented liquid to be pleasing to the taste and constitution. For a vast history of subsistance lifestyle, women were in charge of cooking cheese, baking bread and brewing beer (the three forms of human led fermentation).

In the pre-industrialized world, much of the alcohol consumed in home was brewed at home. Each family had their own recipes, malted local grains, grew their own hops and re-used their own yeast. In Belgium, spontaneous fermentation led to the development of “farmhouse style ales” including Saison and Lambic. In England and the New World, a process of reusing yeast called “Kreuzening” was used. This was accomplished by taking the yeast filled foam off the top of the fermenting beer and putting it in the next batch.

In Ancient Sumeria all the way to the Industrial Revolution, women weren’t only the homebrewers, they were also the tavern owners. women, being the ones who knew how to brew, were responsible for the town’s beer supply. Owning taverns and brewing beer were seen as socially acceptable ways for widowed and orphaned women to support themselves. And in England during the middle ages women tavern owners were called “Alewives.’ Their breweries were recognized by the brooms hanging over their doors. These Alewives, with their brewed potions and brooms, may have been the early models for our witches myths. As Carolyn Merchant points out in “The Death of Nature” it was precisely these witch myths that men exploited in order to consolidate power and wealth during the rise of modern industrialism. Eventually, male brewers became so tired of competing with Alewives, they had laws passed to make it near impossible for women brewers to make money off their product. They even made certain vital ingredients illegal for women to own including more than one bushel of grains at a time.

In other areas, the responsibility of the town’s beer supply was to the clergy. Some monastic orders, including the Trappists and Paulanists, are recognized for their proud brewing tradition. But some nuns, particularly the Franciscans, were also accomplished brewers. To this day, many Franciscan nuns are still very accomplished brewers. In 1976, a 26 year old nun named Sister Doris took the Bavarian brewer’s examination and came in on top.

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen was a German Bendedictine nun and mystic who wrote many books about brewing and the brewing process. There is some debate on whether or not she is the first person to write about the use of hops. But she is definitely the first person to recognized the preservative nature of the plant.

St. Brigid, a patron saint of both Ireland and brewers is said to have turned her bathwater to beer so that the local lepers could drink potable water. And it is also said that when an easter celebration had run out of beer, she had turned water to beer.

In America, beer was slow to catch on. Barley was difficult to grow. By the time German and Czech immigrants began selling beer, most Americans were happy sticking to spirits and cider. Beer did not catch on until the mid- to late 19th century. At this point, beer and taverns had been designated as male spaces. American women generally did not brew beer at home. And thus, beer in the States had become a male dominated beverage.

In the twentieth century, women still bought beer for their family’s use. Beer at that point had been reduced to the sparkling macro brews we are used to today. The development of the beer can and the six pack was actually marketed toward women as an easy way to bring home the beer. And men, who’s beer tastes had been developed during WWII, were comfortable with the beer in a can.

As the American craft brew scene developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s women’s liberation and feminism brought women right back to were we began, in the brewery. Although a small proportion of modern brewers are women, it is growing. Stoudt’s Brewing in Pennsylvania is recognized as the first modern brewery with a woman brewmaster. Harlem Brewing Company in New York City is the first brewery in America to have a Black woman brewer.

In nearly every facet of brewing, there is a woman’s touch these days: women brewers, bar owners, distributors, sommeliers, and just drinkers. an organization called the Pink Boots Society works to support women in the beer world. As of last month, their directory contained over 320 members from around the world. Any woman who makes at least part of her income from beer is welcomed to join the Pink Boots Society.

Let us raise a glass in recognition of all the women who helped make beer what it is today!


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

14 03 2010

Wednesday is the Feast Day of St. Patrick, one of the Patron Saints of Ireland in the Roman Catholic Church. Having been to Dublin on St. Patrick’s day, I can say that Americans celebrate it very different from the Irish do. St. Patrick’s day is a religious holiday mixed with national and cultural pride. It is very much like Thanksgiving in the United States. Due to that fact, many Irish celebrate it by going to church and praying and being with family and friends rather than going out and drinking green beer and making fools of themselves. It was amazing to be in Dublin for St. Patrick’s and finding the usually convivial and congenial Irish suddenly angry and resentful of my presence. I guess I would too if every year thousands of foreigners descended upon my city for Thanksgiving for the sheer purpose of getting sloppy drunk.

If anything, I believe American’s attitude toward St. Patrick’s Day is evidence of our ability to first villianize and oppress another culture and then “celebrate” our ignorant stereotypes and prejudices with a bastardized version of their holidays.

But St. Patrick’s day is a big beer drinking day in the United States. And this a beer blog written in the United States. So I would be remiss not to mention it. But as we here at The Thinking Person’s Beer attempt to improve and enhance the rhetoric around beer drinking, we are going instead focus on cooking and pairing food with Irish beer.

Photo Credit: Wickenden CC

Corned beef is a staple at many St. Patrick’s Day dinners. The dish begins with a beef brisket which then brined in salt and then boiled or broiled. It becomes tender, juicy and salty. It is served with baked fingerling potatoes, carrots, onions and cabbage. I would like to pair my corned beef with Harp Lager from The Great Northern Brewery. Light, crisp and slightly spicy hops and generous carbonation, harp will scrub your palate clean between bites, setting you up for another. I could also pair corned beef with O’Hara’s irish Red. The malt of O’Hara’s Red has a slightly salty sweetness reminiscent of a seabreeze. This would pair wonderfully as it would play off of the salt in the beef.

Photo Credit: Sarah McD CC

Another great Irish dish is Beef and Guinness Pie. More like a stew than a pie, the beef is slowly cooked with carrots, potatoes and onions in Guinness stout and then served in a Yorkshire pudding. This is wonderful on a cool, drizzly spring evening. Instead of Guinness Draught, I would use the Extra Stout. The Extra Stout has more malt sugar to caramelize. It also has a smokier roast which would give your stew a deeper, warmer, earthier quality. Serve with a pint of Guinness Extra Stout–slightly chilled.

Fish and Chips are a staple in Ireland. It was often the go-to dinner when I lived there. Begin with a light, white fish like cod, halibut or tilapia. I would recommend making a beer batter with Smithwicks Ale. The malt is sweeter and will caramelize nicely to play off the lightness of the fish. It will also be accentuated by the malt vinegar. Save yourself the time and get frozen fries instead of making your own. And forget the tarter sauce. Serve with a pint of Smithwicks.

Photo Credit: @joefoodie CC

For dessert, try a stout float. Avoid the obvious and stay away from Guinness Draught which is too dry and smokey in my opinion. Instead, try Murphy’s Irish Stout which is creamier and more chocolaty. Pour about 3/4 of a pint and then add a generous scoop of French Vanilla Ice Cream and enjoy!

That should do it. English and Irish food both have a reputation for being bland. But by focusing on fresh ingredients and pairing well with a good beer, your food can be flavorful and delicious.

The Thinking Person’s Beer wishes you a very happy and safe holiday and Slainte!

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 09- Scottish and Irish Ales

2 03 2010

The British Isles are pretty funny. For a land mass smaller than the State of California, nobody seems to like each other. The Irish don’t like the Scots. The Scots don’t like the Welsh. And nobody likes the English. That probably describes why there are so many different types of beer in such a small area.

The UK and the Republic of Ireland were handed a stroke of luck geographically speaking. These islands are exactly where the cold, arctic winds and waters mingle with the warm, tropical Atlantic Gulf Stream. Whereas their latitudinal neighbors to the East and West are arctic tundras, the British Isles are relatively temperate. They grow barley and wheat relatively well here and as a result, they are the most northernly lying area to to have their own indigenous beer styles.

The craggy Irish country-side is not the best for growing grain. But they are renown for their red wheat and barley. That is what gives soda bread and Irish ale their coppery red glow they are famous for. And they are able to grow some fine and mild hops in the more southern and western regions. The result is a mildly hopped and malt forward but still well balanced red ale that is light and breezy with a hint of sea air.

Scotland, on the other hand, is not able to grow hops very well at all. The long, frigid winters and short, wet summers are not very conducive to growing hops–which prefer long, warm summers. The Scottish tend to look at hops with a bit of distrust. Hops are, after all, something the English put in their beers. Scotch whisky is built on a backbone of rich and bold barley. And scotch whisky is little more than distilled and aged beer. So, there is no surprise that Scottish ales tend to have the same creamy, peaty, and caramel notes that a finely aged scotch whisky would have. Some Scottish breweries have even begun spicing their ales with traditional local herbs such as heather, seaweed, and elderberries.

In Scotland, much like in England, beer was priced by quality and strength. But they did not use the Bitter system discussed last week. Instead, their system was an explicit price ranking. 60/- (Shilling) was also known as “light” and often came in under 3.5% ABV. 70/- was also “heavy” and came in around 3.5 to 4%. 80/- was also called “export” and came in around 4-5.5%. And the 90/- was also known as “Wee Heavy” or simply just “Scotch Ale.” Wee Heavies are anything above 6% ABV.

Category 09- Scottish and Irish Ales:

Photo Credit: @Joefoodie Creative Commons

Subcategories: 60/- Light Scottish Ale, 70/- Heavy Scottish Ale, 80/- Export Scottish Ale, Irish Red, 90/- Wee Heavy Scotch Ales

Aroma: Low to medium roasted maltiness with some in kettle caramelization. Wee Heavies will have a deep and strong malt nose with rich caramel notes. Irish reds will have low maltiness light caramel or buttery notes. Low to no hoppiness present for any style. Scottish ales may have an earthy, smoky peat moss nose from malt or spicing. Wee Heavies may have a slight boozy front end.

Appearance: Scottish ales will be deep amber to light copper. Wee Heavies will lean darker brown with ruby highlights. Irish reds will be dark amber to deep copper with ruby red highlights. Quite clear with a low, creamy off-white head that fades quickly. Wee Heavies will have a larger, bloomy tan head that persists. Some larger versions may even have strong legs.

Flavor: Scottish ales will be malt forward but the malt will not be too strong. Some caramelized sugar from the in-kettle boil will help brighten the sweetness. Light to no hop notes. Some fruity esters and peat smoke can be present. Irish reds will have a moderate caramel front. Mid-palate will have some toffee or buttered toast quality. Some English or Irish hops can be present for bittering but generally there is no flavoring or aroma hops. Flavor should be very dry and clean. Wee Heavies are richly malted. With big caramel and some nuttiness. Hop flavors should be low to none. This is a beer definitely balanced toward malt. Some smoke, dried purple fruit (raisins and prunes) are acceptable. While sweet, it should finish clean without any cloying stickiness on the back end.

Mouthfeel: Generally medium to medium-low body. Wee Heavies will be big, chewy and viscous. Some diacytl will cause a silky, smooth, slick feeling in all of these beers. Irish reds may have a warming alcohol finish. All should be very dry on the back end.

Ingredients: Malts from UK (Scottish, English, Irish) with some specialty malts to add color and flavor. Smoke flavor often comes from yeast but sometimes comes from smoked malt or, rarely, an addition of peat moss. Irish and English hops are common. Noble and American hops rare if ever used.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.010-1.056
SRM (Malt Color): 9-25
IBUs: 9-17
ABV: 2.5-10% (See Classification System Above) 4.0-6.0% for Irish Red Ales

Commercial Examples:
60/- Light:
Belhaven 60/-, McEwan’s 60/-, Maclay 60/- Light (all are cask-only products not exported to the US)
70/- Heavy: Caledonian 70/- (Caledonian Amber Ale in the US), Belhaven 70/-, Orkney Raven Ale, Maclay 70/-, Tennents Special, Broughton Greenmantle Ale
80/- Export:
Orkney Dark Island, Caledonian 80/- Export Ale, Belhaven 80/- (Belhaven Scottish Ale in the US), Southampton 80 Shilling, Broughton Exciseman’s 80/-, Belhaven St. Andrews Ale, McEwan’s Export (IPA), Inveralmond Lia Fail, Broughton Merlin’s Ale, Arran Dark
Irish Red: Three Floyds Brian Boru Old Irish Ale, Great Lakes Conway’s Irish Ale (a bit strong at 6.5%), Kilkenny Irish Beer, O’Hara’s Irish Red Ale, Smithwick’s Irish Ale, Beamish Red Ale, Caffrey’s Irish Ale, Goose Island Kilgubbin Red Ale, Murphy’s Irish Red (lager), Boulevard Irish Ale, Harpoon Hibernian Ale
90/- Wee Heavy Scotch Ale: Traquair House Ale, Belhaven Wee Heavy, McEwan’s Scotch Ale, Founders Dirty Bastard, MacAndrew’s Scotch Ale, AleSmith Wee Heavy, Orkney Skull Splitter, Inveralmond Black Friar, Broughton Old Jock, Gordon Highland Scotch Ale, Dragonmead Under the Kilt

Guinness Turns 250!

14 01 2010

As the calendar switched over two weeks ago, we mark yet another milestone, the 250th anniversary of the Guinness Brewing Company at St. James Gate Brewery. To mark the occasion, Guinness has released a celebratory Guinness 250 edition of their stout. I was originally going to review the Guinness 250. However, It is not worth the time. I am sad to say this is a pathetic beer. I am not quite sure why Guinness thought this was worthy of the 250th anniversary, but here it is. It is watery and thin. The flavors are shallow. With barely any complexity to the roast. It is traditionally carbonated instead of using the nitrogen widget so it falls somewhere between the Guinness Extra Stout and Guinness Draught. My only guess is that they wanted to to produce a product similar to the original, but it just does not hold a candle to the Guinness we  all have come to love.

So, instead, I have found some interesting facts and trivia about Guinness and the St. James Gate Brewery.

Photo Credit: Loimere Creative Commons

A Millennium of Guinness-
Arthur Guinness bought the brewery in 1759 with £100 he inherited from his grandfather. He felt so confident on his product, he signed a 9000 year lease on the property for £45 (about $73) a year. In 2007, current owners, Diageo, announced they were going to sell the St. James Gate Brewery for development in order to cash in on the high cost of land in Dublin. But the public outcry was so large, Diageo had no choice but to keep the brewery open. With Guinness celebrating its 250th year, they have hardly completed 1/18th of their lease.

The Guinness Book of World Records-
Originally published by the Guinness Brewing Company in 1956, this book was created in order to help settle bar bets and disputes. The book was first developed by Guinness’s managing director, Sir Hugh Weaving, who came up with the idea when he got into an argument over which is the fastest game bird in Europe. The book was owned and published by Guinness until 2001 when it was sold to Gullane Entertainment.

The Guinness Cascade-
When one gets a poured Guinness, one may notice something very fascinating, namely the bubbles go down!

Commonly known as the “Guinness Cascade,”  one notices that many of the bubbles appear to be defying the laws of physics by floating down instead of up. In reality, it is not that the bubbles are floating down, per se. It is that the bubbles on the outside edge of the beer get stuck to the side of the glass and slow down as compared to the center of the beer. This creates a current where the beer nearest to the glass begins to flow down, taking some of the bubbles with it. This current eventually slows down, allowing all the bubbles to float back to the surface.

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

Going Nitro-
In 1998, Guinness Draft in a can was released. In order to recreate the effect of a freshly poured Guinness from a keg, the brewery developed a nitrogen filled “widget” which releases the gas into solution. In 2001, the Guinness widget received the Queen’s Award for Technology Achievement.

My Goodness, My Guinness!-
Throughout most of the 1930’s, Guinness had a very popular ad campaign which touted the strength giving, life affirming, and all around wonderful properties of the drink. “My Goodness, My Guinness!” featured the art of John Gilroy. The famous works included pictures of animals enjoying a pint. Gilroy’s work was so popular, Walt Disney tried to hire him away from the Guinness company for the Disney animation studios. Gilroy decided to stay with Guinness rather than work for Disney.

Guinness Gives You Strength!-
Before the popular “My Goodness, My Guinness!” campaign, Guinness used the slogan “Guinness Gives You Strength!” It is rumored the slogan came from Arthur Guinness’s wife, Olivia Whitmore, who gave birth to 21 children!

I’ll Have Another Round, Please!
Guinness is one of the most popular beers in the world. The St. James Gate Brewery makes about 50.7 million UK barrels a year. Or about 100 million kegs of beer a year. That comes out to be roughly 8 pints a day for every man, woman and child on the Island of Ireland.