International Women’s Day: Women in the Beer Industry

Is beer really a “Man’s Drink”?

Well, did you know that beer was invented by women?

Without women, beer may not exist.

Since ancient times, up until 150 years ago; when Western Society portrayed brewing as a male-orientated industry; beer production was predominantly carried out by women.

Looking through history, the first piece of solid evidence of beer dates back to over seven thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, Iran. In almost all ancient societies, beer was always seen as a gift from a Goddess, never a male God. The internationally loved beverage derives from ’The Hymn to Ninkasi’. Not only was this a song of praise, but seeing as it was an era where very few were literate, it was a recipe that the brewers would sing to recite the process of brewing. So who were these original brewers? Women of course! ‘Brewsters’.

Statue of Ninkasi, Goddess of Beer in Ancient Sumerian religious mythology.

Hymn to Ninkasi [Translated]

“Borne of the flowing water,
Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,
Borne of the flowing water,
Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag,

Having founded your town by the sacred lake,
She finished its great walls for you,
Ninkasi, having founded your town by the sacred lake,
She finished its walls for you,

Your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.
Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.

You are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,
Ninkasi, you are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with July 14, 2020 – honey,

You are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,

You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,
Ninkasi, you are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,

You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.

You are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes,
Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes,

You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey [and] wine
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
Ninkasi, (…)(You the sweet wort to the vessel)

The filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.
Ninkasi, the filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.

When you pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates”.

These initial Sumerian ‘Brewsters’ were just ordinary women yet priestesses, as such, to Ninkasi; Goddess of brewing and beer itself; whose name literally translates to “the lady who fills the mouth”. They would sing this song as instructions throughout the duration of cultivating the beer.

Sumerian Beer Recipe, 3200 BC – First evidence of beer production

It is thought the original craft of brewing evolved in domestic kitchens, grains from bread making were left out and, subsequently, began to sprout and ferment. They were said to have drank it with long straws to avoid the barley hulls that tended to float to the top. They then began making it out of Bippar; a twice baked barley bread which was then allowed to ferment in a vat. This produced a thick, nutritious, porridge-like drink.

 

“He who does not know beer, does not know what is good” – Ancient Sumerian proverb.

Beer then became extremely popular, not only because of its effects or taste, but it was safer to drink than the contaminated water. The beverage was generally brewed at home, however, as it became more and more popular across regions and they started brewing on a larger, more commercial scale, men set about taking over. They mainly acted as supervisors whilst the women continued to brew; as only they were allowed; the only people who had the knowledge and experience to do so.

This continued on for thousands of years and beer production was becoming a global affair. Everyone was getting word and feeling the effects of this incredible invention. It was until the Middle Ages, where the brewing of beer took a new twist. Hildegard de Bingen, who has recently been canonised, is responisble for the radical discovery of hops and how it would contribute to beer, giving it the characteristic bitterness and preservative properties that allowed it to be stored for much longer.

 

“It is warm and dry, and has a moderate moisture, and is not very useful in benefiting man, because it makes melancholy grow in man and makes the soul of man sad, and weighs down his inner organs. But yet as a result of its own bitterness it keeps some putrefactions from drinks, to which it may be added, so that they may last so much longer.” – Hildegard de Bingen, “The Natural World”. Book I, Chapter 61, “De Hoppho”.

Throughout the eras following, women have been the original brewers in most countries.

Around the Eighth to Tenth Centuries AD, Vikings rampaged with rage and spread terror throughout Europe fuelled by female-made ale. Within this Norse society, the production of beer was purely a woman’s duty and all brewing equipment was their property by law.

In England, throughout history, women played a part in the brewing of ale in their own kitchens. They were commonly referred to as “ale-wives”. The production and sales of the beverage provided a substantial source of income for many households.

By the 16th and 17th Centuries, women began to be forced out of the industry and was overruled by men, although some still stayed involved with the sales of beer. As women were becoming more and more absent from the world of brewing, the creation of a false ideology began to form around female brewers; depicting an image that linked alewives with witchcraft. “Alewives” were said to ‘use her charms to induce men to drink’ and were ‘condemned to eternal punishment in hell’. In forming this stigma around woman brewers, men were essentially able to “justify the social control of women”.

Fast forward to modern day, this old ideology is dying off and there are fantastic breweries emerging all over the world; many of which are females making a comeback to their ancestral roots. We are also seeing a rapid increase in female fanatics who share their passion for craft beer on social media. They seem to be on the rise and hopefully they continue to do so.

Then you find us! Despite the fact we; seven men; are the founders and brand image, supporting us to run the whole business is an incredible team; many of which are strong females, all in high-ranking, senior roles. This International Women’s Day, we wanted to acknowledge and appreciate the women behind the success of the company. We thank them all for doing such an amazing job and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them.

Last, but most certainly not least, the matriarch of the family, our Mum Freda. They say that behind every man there is a great woman. Behind all seven of us, there she is. The woman who instilled in us incredibly strong diligence and a huge entrepreneurial spirit.

 

 

Happy International Women’s Day from all of us at Seven Bro7hers!

Keith McAvoy

Keith McAvoy

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