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Julia’s Musing: The Historical and Modern Impact of Women in Brewing

Julias pondering pouring beer

It’s International Women’s Day, and the perfect opportunity to celebrate the contributions of women to beer. The most alluring aspects of this industry—community and creativity to name a few—wouldn’t exist without diversity. And beer itself wouldn’t exist without women.

According to a 2021 survey by the Brewer’s Association, only 23.7% of brewery owners are women. For years, the industry has held a male-dominated reputation, but this wasn’t always the case—the history of beer is a woman’s tale. 

Historical Contributions of Women 

Humans were brewing more than 5,000 years ago. In the grasslands of early Babylon, people gathered the abundance of grain that grew from the earth. They may have left pots of grain out in the rain accidentally, which caused the grains to sprout and ferment. When this product was heated, it became what we now call beer!

Back then, beer was a way of life. When unsanitary water was unsafe for consumption, brewing low-ABV beer was a way to get filtered hydration and calories. Beer, wine, and other alcohol was used in religious ceremonies. It was also a way to preserve grains before reliable refrigeration methods existed. It was such a way of life that it was considered just another household chore, as common as cleaning and cooking—which historically has been defined as a woman’s role. 

The reputation of beer changed significantly in the medieval times. It began to shift from a household necessity to a profitable industry. Around the same time, society started to see stricter gender norms—and so, brewing transitioned into a “man’s job”, leaving women more time to be mothers and housekeepers. This reputation stuck, and leaves us where we are today—with only 23.7% of brewery owners being women. 

Modern Contributions of Women

Of course, beer is much different than it was 5,000 years ago. Modern technology allows us to get creative with brewing. We have beer festivals, impressive taprooms, and means to transport beer across the world. In terms of gender in brewing, we are less confined to societal roles today. Still the historical impact lingers, which may contribute to the modern stereotype of brewing being a “boys’ club”. To some, this is trivial—why should it matter? Why do we need inclusivity in beer? 

I talked to some of the women I work with about the topic. I was curious about how they found themselves in a male-dominated field, the larger picture of diversity in brewing, and even what they personally thought they bring to the table above all else. Here’s my take on it all—

I went to college for Community Leadership and Development. While there, I started bartending at a cidery. (Wise Bird, and you should check it out!)  It was a part-time job to float me by until I graduated and found a career in what I thought would be the horse industry. However, I quickly found more than a paycheck out of this gig—there is an unrivaled sense of community in beer, and I started to wonder if taprooms are where I belonged. 

This industry is alluring. The people, the comradery, the creative outlet, the buzz of a highly-social atmosphere. The other day, I attended a Pink Boots Brew in Lexington and made beer alongside women from breweries all over Kentucky. There was no rivalry, no tension. No “my brewery is better than yours”—just collaboration. I believe this level of friendship and compassion is unique to women. 

These industry traits would not exist without diversity. And just as women pillared the history of beer, they created an industry that is full of so much community.

Thoughts From my Friends 

Lizz Hovey • Louisville Sales Representative

How Did you find yourself in the industry?

I became interested in this field by luck. I met the now head brewer of Atrium at a party. After talking to him I became super interested in the industry and they gave me a job at Akasha’s taproom. I fell in love with the community and the world that is beer. Also it tastes pretty good. 

Why is inclusivity important in the industry? 

There are a million good answers. Innovation and collaboration for starters. Every human on this planet has something beautiful to bring to the table. The hard part is being in a community that welcomes that kind of environment. There is an insane amount of creativity that comes from teaming up with people from all walks of life on this silly little planet we live on. 

What do you bring to the table that nobody else does?

I can’t say I feel like I do anything better than anyone else in this field. It’s an honor to work around everybody in this community. I think it’s important to remember that and be humble. To be able to absorb information for the incredible minds I see day in and day out is something I don’t take for granted. 

Candice • Public House Bartender 

How Did you find yourself in the industry?

My brother got a gig with Against the Grain. And I like working with non judgemental, open-minded people.

Why is inclusivity important in the industry? 

Diversity creates balance. Balance of perspective. It’s hard to not find solutions with a diverse group of people. 

What do you bring to the table that nobody else does?

Unmatched work ethic and compassion for serving my customers!

Today, whether you’re making a beer, pouring one, or sitting at a bar enjoying [more than one], remember that experience wouldn’t exist without women.

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