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!


New Advances in Beerwear Technology

27 02 2010

Any one who has been watching the Olympics or College Basketball recently may have seen commercials for the new Samuel Adams Boston Lager Sensory Enhancement Glasses. These curvy glasses trap aromas, aerate your sips, control temperature, retain head and encourage carbonation. These beers are scientifically designed to make your beer taste the best it can. Here is a video of the glasses being made in Germany.

The good folks at Bottoms Up! have a good breakdown of how the glass works. You can see it here. Right now, a set of 4 retails about $30 from the Sam Adams site and on Amazon. But the distributors plan on selling them individually for $4.99 each soon.

On the other side of the pond, England is figuring what to do with their 877,000 alcohol related fights a year. One Member of Parliament is proposing a ban on glass pints. The logic being that if we cannot prevent the fights, we can at least prevent injuries caused by broken bar glasses. One company is proposing a shatterproof pint glass using the same technology as car windshields. By fusing two ultra thin sheets of glass to a plastic resin form or coating the inside of glasses with plastic, one would have a light and safe pint glass that resembles the ones we already know and love. The benefits include: no razor sharp shards of glass, an increase of weight to the glass for improved sensory benefit, decreased cost for pub owners who will not need to replaced broken glasses as frequently, innovative advertising opportunities, and–in the case of the latter design–a wide variety of shapes and sizes are available.

Picture Credit: Make Magazine Creative Commons

(Via Make Magazine)

Who knows, maybe someday soon, we will be seeing a new Sam Adams Sensory Enhancing Glass made with shatterproof glass.

A Decade of Beer Ads: The 1980’s

3 01 2010

Today is the forth of a series of posts where we will hastily derive sociological statements about American Beer Culture through beer advertisements found on YouTube.

Beer in 1980’s- The Official Beverage of Neo-Conservativism: In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran for President on the idea of “Morning in America”. We were on the dawning of a new era of American prosperity. Through hard work, sacrifice, and American ingenuity, we would persevere in the Cold War. We would have a renewed economy. And once again, Americans would feel good about being Americans. Beer companies were already marketing themselves as the good, clean, American drink of choice. Through the 1960’s and ’70’s, beer commercials were painting themselves as the beverage of the “Average American.” Here, they were able to capitalize on this feeling.

Notice how in the following ads, the emphasis is on “American Tradition,” the “American Way,” and on images of cowboys, factories, and construction sites. America was on the upswing and beer would be there at the end of the day.

As America began to make its way back to the top, and Americans had more disposable income, the type of beer one drank became a status symbol. Americans began drinking fancier, more expensive imported beers. Notice the subtle comments on class distinction of the beers below. It is no longer about men who work with their hands. Its now suits, ties, long days at the office followed by sophisticated imported beers. For lack of better terms, domestic beers were for rednecks and imported beers were for yuppies.

And speaking of Amstel Light, the 1980’s saw a rise in lite beer sales. While lite beers had been around since the late 1960’s, the exercise and fitness craze of the 80’s had seen a marketing upsurge in lite beers. However, at this point, lite beers had gained a reputation for being colorless and flavorless. This was a problem that advertisers had to overcome.

Miller lite solved this problem jam packing their ads full of celebrity spokespersons and brought in a very catchy catch phrase: “Tastes Great! Less Filling!”

Whereas Budweiser made their lite beer much more  about a lifestyle beer the promotes fun and excitement. When you are drinking Bud Light, everything else is just a light.

And really, what would be a post about 1980’s beer commercials without Spudz McKensie- The Original Party Animal?!

A Decade of Beer Ads: The 1950’s

6 12 2009

Today will be the first of a series of posts where we will hastily derive sociological statements about American Beer Culture through beer advertisements found on YouTube.

Post-War America and its relationship to work and leisure: After WWII, the United States pulled out of the Great Depression to see the first major growth in GDP in over twenty years. For the 1950’s American, the return to leisure was important. Note in the following ads how beer is used for a symbol of wealth and free time.

In the ads above for Stag Beer, Mr. Magoo is on vacation and enjoying a session with the BBQ. Not only is he *not* working, but he is also partaking in leisure activities. No doubt the financial and emotional troubles of the Great Depression and War are behind him.

Let’s say you are home, watching the big fight on you your brand new television, “What’ll you have?!” Why, Pabst Blue Ribbon of course! At this point, television was still a relatively new invention and becoming increasingly more popular. For the first time ever, the middle class could afford TVs and it was becoming an important medium for socialization and leisure alike. Or, perhaps, you are on the links after a game of golf. How will you celebrate? A PBR of course! Note how the golfer is apparently playing and drinking alone. It points to the stoicism common to the masculinity of the 1950’s. No need for friends when you have yourself!

But nothing says “leisure time” than this Budweiser ad from the 1950’s. No annoying announcer, no complex story line. Just a beautiful woman, a beach, some smooth smooth jazz, a little bit of grilled meat and, of course, Budweiser. This ad was part of a $40 million campaign produced by Anheiser-Busch and it paid off. To this day, Budweiser is still considered “The King of Beers” in the United States. And all it required was some relaxing images and some smooth jazz.

Rheingold Brewing Company attempts to bring people to their product not by tapping into their desire for leisure or glamor, but through patriotism. In post-war America, the pride of winning the War as well as the threat of the Communists instilled a new sense of pride and patriotism. Here, Rheingold recreates images of a ticker tape parade through Times Square in New York City. But rather than war heroes or politicians, the subject of this parade is their beer!

With America on top again, there was a certain sense of destiny coming manifest. Here, we see this represented in a Ballentine ad, where a creepy stop motion animated bartender gives beer to what appears to be a lumber jack, a cowboy and a gold prospector, three symbols of the wild west. (But, man, those characters are creepy!)

Hamm’s Beer, from Minnesota, was all too happy to cash in on its reputation of being “from
the land of sky blue waters” by riffing off a fake first nation’s song. By showing a funny bear and including some tom tom drums and some cheesy, pretend chanting, Hamm’s was able to create an image of wide open space, untouched by the White Man and open to all the possibilities of the future.

We finish today by continuing this train of White Man’s relationship with the Other by looking at two more ads. One deals with race relations in the 1950’s and the other deals with gender roles.

Any one familiar with the film adaptation of “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” will recognize this common and offensive portrayal of Chinese immigrants. In a decade where the civil rights movement was just getting started, it is important to note just how race relations played out on nightly television.

Finally, we close out with this ad from Canda’s Black Label. While I suspect it is a bit tongue in cheek, we still see a strong gender binary in which the man comes home from work at the office and his wife, after working all day, brings him a beer to relax with. Merely a whistle and Mabel comes with that Black Label.

What do you think of these ads from the 1950’s? Do you think they speak to a greater truth of the way the average American man wished to see himself? Does it still? Have we made any progress since then?