Picture women and beer and you might think of the St. Pauli Girl or the Swedish Bikini Team. However, women have a long and illustrious history as brewers, not servers. The original beer-loving culture, the Egyptians, considered brewing the most womanly of culinary arts, creating statues and frescoes of female brewers in every stage of beer production. Even the deity in charge of beer was a goddess.
Nor were the Egyptians alone in considering brewing women’s work. For centuries, innkeepers and alewives produced their beer on-site, and the most talented drew visitors from miles around to appreciate their craft. The Industrial Revolution mechanized beer manufacturing, removing thousands of brewers, both male and female, from the workplace. Prohibition pushed them out of the business altogether. Although men returned to the brewhouse, women rarely did.
Brewing has come full circle as more women return to their beer-making roots, creating craft beers with distinct flavor profiles that appeal to male and female beer lovers. After years of advertising to men, mainstream beer has picked up a distinctly masculine vibe that steered more women to wines and mixed drinks. As advertisers have shifted their perspective and as craft draft beers that rely on flavor instead of bikinis to make sales have become more widely known, more women are enjoying beer today. With roughly half the population developing an increasingly keen appreciation for beer, it’s a short step to cultivate an appreciation for the art of brewing as well.
The craft beers women are brewing are more than curiosities. According to Scientific American, women smell better than men — literally. Most of what you perceive as taste is really smell. Your tongue may detect the bitterness of a hoppy beer, but your nose is where you detect the more ethereal flavor notes like citrus, spice or smoke. While the female palate hasn’t been put to the test like the female nose, it’s a fair bet that a more sensitive sniffer also comes with a discerning palate. Feminine brews tend to be subtle and complex.
It’s this sensitivity that makes craft beer brewed by women more than a novelty or hobby. Subtle, but real differences between male and female chefs make their artistic output unique. As brewing beer is no less an art than composing the perfect plate, female brewers likewise have something to say about fine beer. Seeking out the fruits of a brauer frau’s labors isn’t an exercise in feminism, but a chance to enjoy a taste of a long and noble history.
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