‘Colourful history’ of female brewers inspired me

By Sarah John, director, Boss Brewing

- Last updated on GMT

Colourful history: ‘Male brewers seized the chance to oust women from the market by spreading rumours that female brewers were witches’
Colourful history: ‘Male brewers seized the chance to oust women from the market by spreading rumours that female brewers were witches’

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Did you know the first ever brewers were women?

At the very beginning, brewing, associated with the kitchen and the domestic realm of cooking and ingredients, was the woman’s domain. 

Right back to when the Sumerians and Egyptians were rustling up some tasty brews, it was the women ‘mashing in’, with brewing being primarily a woman’s work.  

This carried on well into the 1700s where fermenting beer remained one of the daily chores for females. Then some sassy, entrepreneurial women cleverly took this domestic talent into the realm of trade and began selling their beer.  

They took advantage of the opportunity to earn some extra cash – epitomising strong, independent, and self-sufficient women back then.

While out and about in the marketplace selling their beery wares, they would wear tall, pointed hats to stand out and get noticed. They would move their beer around in cauldrons. 

We can guess what happened next right?  

Male brewers seized the chance to oust women from the market by spreading rumours that these female brewers were witches.  

Women increasingly had to step away from brewing to avoid being tarnished a witch and all the repercussions that would come with that, and male-domination of the industry became the order of the day.

It’s this fascinating and colourful history that inspired me to name my own brewery ‘Boss’ Brewing, harking back to the fact that the original brewers were women.  

We were the ‘bosses’ of brewing, the ones who developed beer as we know it and who ran the show for a while. 

I love this tongue-in-cheek, playful character of our brewery name (so no Hugo Boss, the naming of our business was nothing to do with you​. Anyway…)

Largely positive experience

Being a female-founder of a brewery, I am often asked if I experience sexism in the industry.  

On the whole, the huge majority of the men that I work with are massively supportive of women and don’t bat an eyelid about my gender.  

To them, it’s just not relevant – which to me is golden as the ultimate gender equality will be when we no longer talk about gender.  

I guess what I have​ experienced, on more than one occasion, is more ignorance than direct and malicious sexism.  

For example occasionally when I meet someone for the first time in a professional sense, there is the assumption that I am the ‘sales girl’ (I was once even referred to as the ‘promo girl’). 

What always follows on from this is complete and utter surprise when they learn that I have co-founded my own brewery and taproom.  

However, on the whole my experience has been largely positive surrounded by supportive men, and being a woman in what is still perceived as a male-dominated world has afforded me opportunities.  

This has included having a story unique enough (due to gender) to win profile-building business awards, and gaining some valuable news coverage and PR. It helps that I’m bold and confident and not afraid to put myself out there.  

Excited to see what the future holds

Granted, the latest figures by the Brewers Association state that still 77% of breweries are owned by men and 90% of brewery production staff are male.  

The picture over in hospitality is somewhat more even with front-of-house staff, bartenders and waiting staff showing a greater balance of gender.   

Women’s beer group Dea Latis have shown that only 17% of women drink beer in this day and age – so we still have a way to go.  

But my own personal experiences coupled with the rise of groups such as Ladies That Beer and Women on Tap, along with initiatives such as the International Women's Collaboration Brew Day, have made me so excited to see what the future holds for women in brewing.

So as it’s Women’s History Month, I’d like to raise a pint glass not only to all the women out there bossing it in the world of beer and pubs, but also to all the progressive men who are valuing women in the industry and recognising and appreciating their talents. Cheers!

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