The Herstory of Beer

When it comes to women in beer history, the hieroglyphics are on the wall, writes Suzi Owen.

Women have been progressively stealing man-jobs for centuries now – politics, sport, science, fathering – chronically disrupting men’s ‘safe-spaces’ with their incessant blather and flailing chest areas. There’s nothing women won’t stop at to proverbially pop-a-squat on a fella’s pride, purpose and private time. Well, pull up your underpants ladies because there’s one domain that has always – and will always be The Melbourne Club of gentlemanly interests – beer.

It may seem like men are grasping onto one last frothy bastion for exclusion, but fair’s fair – women can lay claim to every other alcoholic beverage – from pinkish-wine to pinkish-cocktails to pinkish-spritzes. So, dainty uncoordinated hands off, ladies!

A statue of a female brewer, from a tomb in the Giza Necropolis, Egypt, circa 2400BC. The beer was prepared using fermented barley bread sprayed with date liquor. When fermented, the beer would flow from a hole near the base of the jar. Picture: Alamy

But history would have it that men have been had… had by history. Beer is women’s work and happens to be one of the many lady-chores men have industrialised and commercialised into blokes business. Once there are monies to be made, men roll up their sleeves, put their massive hairy noggins together and don an apron – taking small community enterprises out of domesticity and into bigger and bigger commerce. Men have been progressively stealing lady-jobs for centuries now – cooking, textiles, beer, mothering – chronically disrupting women’s ‘safe-spaces’ with their productivity-killing bromances and useless chest areas.

Historically, bros in beer is just a wee drop in what is a keg’s worth of lady labour. Unfortunately, decades of poor marketing and poor lager production has emotionally swindled our brothers. It’s like finding out your favourite sports journalist is writing under a male pseudonym or your nemesis on League of Legends is actually someone called Sandra – it’s jolting, it’s confronting.

Thousands of years before the Big J-Man bedazzled by turning water into vino (disappointing), ladies had their hands in the grain and their faces over the wort throughout all inhabited continents. This is due to brewing naturally aligning itself with gathering and baking rather than hunting.

Beer really was the Gatorade of antiquity.

The ancient female divinities that represent brewing are almost innumerable: from the legend of Yi Di in China, to the myth of Kamui Fuchi in Japan, to the goddess of Mbaba Mwana Waresa in Africa, it would seem powerful women just love getting on the gas.

One of the most well-known mythical beer baronesses, Ninkasi – of ancient Sumeria (modern-day southern Iraq) – was the only chick to watch over a profession, and that profession just happened to be brewing. The Slavs had Raugutiene – the protector of beer, the Finnish had Kalevatar – the inventor of beer and Egyptian’s had Tenenet – the goddess of childbirth and, yes, beer.

It’s little wonder giving life and giving beer went hand in hand. Whether barley, sorghum, rice, millet or maize – ladies used what the land giveth to prop up their communities with energy-giving ale. Beer for battle, beer for the bed-bound, beer for bartering – beer really was the Gatorade of antiquity.

But come the 14th century and a once cottage industry was transforming into the big cheese, thanks to the bubonic plague. It turns out that the effects of eating shit caused somewhat of a pre-industrial-industrial revolution. Invariably doing away with hundreds of millions of poor sods created the very first middle class. People had more time, more space and more money, and as beer had yet to be introduced to the preservation-giving hop, it was produced at a rate of knots to satisfy many a leisure-loving lout. An industry was burgeoning and women regressed from producers to servers and caretakers. Industrialisation ensued and it was done, ladies be gone – what is not in or around the home is just a no-fanny zone.

But flash-forward and a secondary Black Plague is upon us – women in the workforce. And as equal-ish rights cometh, chicks can again triumphantly raise a mash paddle and chant to Mesopotamian party girl (and winner of the 1800BC wet toga contest), Ninkasi.

When we think about the nature of craft beer – how we interact with it and how it interacts with us – it more resembles the ye olde days of lady labour than the machine/man/mass-production bent. Craft is community, craft is communication, craft is diversity – and chicks dig it.

Read more about the many awesome Aussie women in beer in the current edition of Froth magazine, out now. Grab one for free at your local bar or bottle shop, or subscribe at frothbeer.com/subscribe