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I recently submitted an article about women and beer to an agent for our collaborative project, BeerbyTanisha (now defunct, read article here).  Admittedly, however, I wasn't able to say anything that hadn't already been said by other authors. And like most academic research, for every answer I found, I unearthed two more questions.  In-depth research on the subject could be endless and would best be saved for a book, not a four-page article. 

I would like to briefly describe, though, two questions which still tug at my sleeve - questions that I cannot answer nor say that any definitive answer exists.  Though it could be that I just haven't found the answers yet.

The first question is: what is the relationship between women brewing beer and women's status in society - over various geographical regions and throughout history?  Is there a pattern, as it appears?  Or is it only coincidental (or simply false) that women's high status in society ran parallel to the times and places in which they brewed beer?  And if so, which came first - the status? Or the beer?

My second question is: Is there a connection between the re-introduction of women to brewing in the United States and the nearly-simultaneous emergence of the craft beer movement?  And if they are related, how so?  I would imagine that people generally assume that it was the rise in women's status in our society that led to women's increasing involvement in the brewing industry - but, from a philosophical standpoint, is there any reason to assume that it was the egg which came before the chicken?

Women's Beer Brewing and Women's Status: a Parallel Lapse in Time


"Gilgamesh, whither are you wandering? Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands. Gilgamesh, fill your belly. Day and night make merry. Let days be full of joy, dance and make music day and night. And wear fresh clothes. And wash your head and bathe. Look at the child that is holding your hand, and let your wife delight in your embrace. These things alone are the concern of men."  This was Siduri's advice to Gilgamesh as he was lost in mourning, about to embark on a perilous and futile journey in a desperate, greedy search for immortality. 

Siduri was a wise mythological figure and an alewife - a female brewer and beer monger.  While there are several versions of The Epic of Gilgamesh - some illegible and lost forever - all versions agree that in the end, Gilgamesh chooses not to heed Siduri's advice and suffers great misfortune as a consequence.  What's most interesting to me about this story, however, is not what happens to Gilgamesh but that the moral of the story provides insight into how the ancient Sumerians viewed both women and beer 5000 years ago. 

It's well known that women were the first beer-brewers, from ancient times into the middle ages and as late as the end of the 19th century in the U.S.  And - at least in ancient Sumeria, Babylon, Egypt, and among the Vikings - women enjoyed great status as a result.  Does it only appear, from our perspective - looking out across the passing of so many years - that women had higher status in the early brewing days?  Could it be possible that modern societies should devolve, becoming less egalitarian over time?

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It was around the end of the middle ages when women in Europe were slowly pushed out of brewing - once their taverns could turn a profit.  And it was the end of the colonial era when, in the United States, the industrial revolution had taken hold of the economy, putting beer brewing into the hands of men with large-scale breweries.  The simplified version of a complex story is that women were forced out when men saw they could make money.  Beer brewing became a full-fledged industry and a lot of the regional nuances of the beer itself were lost as a result.

Craft Beer: a Coincidentally Parallel Evolution to the Re-introduction of Women in Brewing


Everything changed in
1987, when Carol Stoudt became the first female brewmaster in the United States since prohibition.  She was shortly followed, in 1989, by Teri Fahrendorf, who went on to found The Pink Boots Society.  Is it coincidental that the craft beer movement has moved in parallel with the rise of women in the industry?  And if it's not just coincidence, what is the connection?  As I said, I don't have the answer.

However, I would guess that because brewing was, up until only recently, performed manually and on a large-scale, women were shut out because they were thought too weak for the job.
  The fortunate introduction of craft beer drastically reduced the scale, making it easier and more acceptable for women to re-enter the brewing scene.  Although the beer industry is still dominated by men, there are an increasing number of women in the industry - including some truly exceptional award-winning brewers.  These women act as role models for younger women (who don't put up with the shit my mother's generation did) and I don't believe it'll be long before women's contributions to the craft beer industry will ignite. 

I also believe that the social, community-based and small-scale nature of the craft beer industry is particularly conducive to supporting its community members - men and women alike.  Because we know one another personally, we know what our colleagues are capable of - and with demonstrated passion and dedication, respect is easily earned.  Between the respect and support of male colleagues within the craft beer industry and groups dedicated to the education and support of women in the industry, craft beer is breaking down barriers. 

And this is why the question "How do we market craft beer to women?" seems almost rhetorical to me.  The fact is, we're already doing it.  Not through sexy advertisements or gimmicky beers, but through action.  And actions speak louder than words.
 

Craft Beer generally celebrates its female leaders, who are both paving the way for a craft beer revolution and also, unintentionally at times, serving as role models for an increased number of women in the industry.  Here is only one small example, which inspired me to write this article:
 

 


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