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From craft beer in Helsinki to Micro Pubs in the UK worth visiting – we’re all a little beer obsessed. With craft beer being consumed on a predominantly male-dominated scene, the brewing industry is often seen as an exclusive boy’s club. The roots of the trade, however, belong to women. As far back as ancient Egypt, women have been brewing beer within the private confines of their homes. In fact, the Egyptian goddess Tjenenet was the goddess of childbirth and beer!
As the industry grew through the Middle Ages, female brewers—or “brewsters,” as they were known—remained central to the trade. It was only when beer began to move into the industrial age that men took over.
In the present, we have come full circle with an increasing number of women at the helm of Britain’s most significant breweries. And, as contemporary trends emphasise the local, women are spearheading the industry shift to craft beer. Check out these three female brewers who are currently stirring up the scene.
Sara Barton, Brewster’s Brewery
Much has happened since Sara Barton set up Brewster’s in 1998. More than 1,000 British breweries have opened, but she remains one of the respected names in the business. In 2012, she won the “Brewer of the Year” title from the British Guild of Beer Writers. Defying the norms of what constituted “female-friendly” beer, Barton—literally—refreshed the industry, defying the fruity, less alcoholic norm.
“There was always this thought with women that beer was brown, boring, and bitter.”
Her focus has always been on making easy-drinking, natural beer that showcases the delicate but delicious flavours of high-quality malt and hops. As it turns out, offering high-quality beer to her female and male customers has proven to be a succes. “There’s been a good few changes, but we’ve kept up with everything,” says Barton. “We’ve weathered the storm, and we’re still here!”
Photo by: Womanthology
Barton also set up Project Venus, inspired by the Pink Boots organisation in the US, which aims to showcase female brewing talent and to encourage women to try cask ale. Together, they are helping mould a new craft beer landscape.
“There was always this thought with women that beer was brown, boring, and bitter,” Barton recalls. “But now there’s so much more variety. The point of Project Venus was to say, ‘Women make beer, so maybe you might like to try it.'”
Georgina Young, Fuller’s
It’s not just in new breweries where women are leading the way. At Fuller’s, one of Britain’s most respected and well-loved family breweries, Georgina Young is in charge. Young became head brewer earlier this year, having been brewing manager in two stints, most recently since 2013. “It’s all still very new [to be head brewer], and it’s exciting,” she says. “It’s humbling.”
“[It helps that I can have] detailed conversations with the brewers about polyphenols and sensitive proteins!”
Her leadership comes at an interesting time for the Chiswick brewery. Their focus is gently shifting from their well-known traditional cask-ale brands, such as London Pride and ESB, to high-quality keg products, such as Frontier. A veteran of the industry, Young is well equipped to guide the brewery through some potential choppy waters.
Young cites her strong communication skills as elements of her success. “I can communicate with Joe Bloggs down on the cask-racking line, and I can also talk to [Fuller’s chairman] Michael Turner,” she explains. “It’s important that we make the right decisions in a period when we need to do exciting things without losing sight of our core values.” It also helps that she is an expert on the industry, who can also have “detailed conversations with the brewers about polyphenols and sensitive proteins!”
Fiona MacEachern, Loch Lomond Brewery
Scotland’s Loch Lomond Brewery has won a host of awards since Fiona MacEachern opened it some 6 years ago. Most recently, both the Silkie Stout and the Loch Lomond Craft Lager won at the SIBA BeerX festival in Sheffield. It’s a testament to the excellence and versatility of Loch Lomond beer.
“It’s not ‘them’ and ‘us, […] everybody is always really open and honest and genuine.”
“Our biggest sellers are four percent hoppy blondes, but our second biggest seller is a stout,” says MacEachern. “We’re still selling a lot of traditional beers: in the west of Scotland the bulk of what people drink is lager or Guinness.”
Loch Lomond is in huge demand in Scotland, appearing in many of the country’s best pubs, such as the much-loved Stagg’s Bar in Musselburgh. But MacEachern’s brew is making its way across the world as well.
For MacEachern, the brewing industry is actually a very easy place for women to thrive. “It’s not ‘them’ and ‘us,” she says. “Brewing is the only industry in the world where, whilst we’re very competitive, everybody is always really open and honest and genuine.”
While not every woman’s experience has been as pleasant as MacEachern’s, these three women have certainly changed the relationship between breweries and female brewers and customers. Let’s hope this diversification within craft beer continues as more women shake up the trade.