In 13th Century A.D, English “Brewsters” or “Alewives,” were women who made beer but often were not allowed to own taverns. Worse, if they were found guilty of serving “bad” beer, the sentence was flogging (going back to ancient times, alewives found cheating customers under the Code of Hammurabi were drowned in the river!). As Alan D. Eames points out “however, the license-holding husband bore the lash himself for his wife’s bad brewing.” About 8 % of English brewers during this time period were male. However, if you were a single or widowed woman it was a lucrative business for an alewife to own an alehouse.
Changes in the drink trade saw brewing turn from a female-dominated field to a male-dominated field. Brewing changed from a small-scale operation for a small-scale audience to a large-scale operation for a large-scale audience. The factory model of brewing, still in existence today, grew alongside the industrial revolution.
Do you know a “Brewster”? I went to High School with a Brewster, and I have no idea of her lineage save what she knew (a bit of English and Irish). Recently, the word “Brewster” has been separated from the surname “Brewster” as it seems to have different connotations in different areas in the United Kingdom. Beer historian Martyn Cornell, analyzed the Oxford English Dictionary entry on the –ster suffix in 2007. While many beer historians always believed “Brewster” to be a term indicative of a female brewer, his research brought forth further questioning. “If you see ‘brewster’ in a Southern English context in the Middle Ages, it probably means a female brewer, but in the North of England and Scotland it could be female, it might just as likely be a male.”
So where does this leave Americans today? Well, while beer is still a masculine-dominated field, we have a host of female business owners and brewers who are ardent supporters and practitioners of the brewer’s art. Beyond craft beer many local female fermentationists are brewing excellent beer at home.
Kristi Mathews Griner, former head brewer at Hops Grill and Brewery in Alexandria, is now a brewer for the Vintage 50 Brewpub in Leesburg, Virginia. Likewise, Lindsey Miller is head brewer with Baying Hound Aleworks in Rockville, Maryland. Megan Parisi, former lead brewer with Cambridge Brewing Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has recently been named head brewer of the soon-to-open Bluejacket in Washington, DC.
The brewery, Bluejacket, will roll out kegs from an old naval yard in Southeast, a few blocks from the Navy Yard Metro. Other notable, female-owned breweries that are worth checking out (please pick up their products!) include Stoudt’s Brewing Co., Intercourse Brewing Co., and New Belgium Brewing Co. All make delicious beverages with distribution throughout the Mid and North Atlantic.
If you want to learn more about women in beer check out the Pink Boots Society.