Diva (UK) - - Contents -

A spot­light on the fe­male brew­sters

In case you hadn’t no­ticed: beer has changed. No longer is your choice at the bar limited to ei­ther a bland, yel­low lager or a warm, flat bit­ter. A new world of flavour has opened up in bars and bot­tle shops all across the UK. Re­cent fig­ures in­di­cate that over the past 10 years the num­ber of women en­joy­ing beer has more than dou­bled, and at the fore­front of this move­ment – drink­ing, serv­ing and some­times mak­ing the beer – are les­bians and bi women. If you’ve been out for a pint re­cently you could be for­given for feel­ing a lit­tle over­whelmed by the range of beer on of­fer. Real ale is in­creas­ingly avail­able in most good pubs, and “craft beer” – a term of­ten used to re­fer to beer pro­duced by smaller, in­de­pen­dent brew­eries and some­times served from a keg rather than the tra­di­tional Bri­tish cask – is pro­vid­ing a level of choice not pre­vi­ously seen in the UK.

Beer is usu­ally made from four main in­gre­di­ents – malted bar­ley, hops, water and yeast – but de­pend- ing on the type and vol­ume of raw ma­te­ri­als the brewer uses, more than a hun­dred estab­lished beer styles can be cre­ated, in­clud­ing saisons, porters, IPAS, smoked beers, wheat beers and sour ales. They range in colour from pale straw to rich black, and in flavour from lightly spiced to bit­ter choco­late, trop­i­cal fruit or bit­ing sour­ness. When ad­di­tional in­gre­di­ents or tweaks to the brew­ing process are thrown into the mix, what is pos­si­ble in terms of aro­mas and flavours in beer be­comes al­most lim­it­less – as


you’ll know if you’ve ever tried a peanut but­ter milk stout, a donut pale ale or a goose­berry gose!

Women have al­ways brewed beer. In fact, for much of beer’s 7,000 year his­tory women were its pri­mary cre­ators. In pre- in­dus­trial so­ci­eties, women of­ten brewed beer as part of the reg­u­lar house­hold chores. Be­ing a safe source of drink­ing water and some es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents, it was an im­por­tant part of the daily diet for the whole fam­ily, in­clud­ing chil­dren. It was only with the ad­vent of ur­ban­i­sa­tion, in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and the sub­se­quent eco­nomic restric­tions placed on women that men came to dom­i­nate the craft. But fe­male brewers (or “brew­sters”, as they’re known), in­clud­ing les­bians and bi women, are in­creas­ingly cre­at­ing beer at some of the UK’S top brew­eries.

Cloud­wa­ter Brew­ery, based in Manch­ester, was re­cently named the fifth best brew­ery in the world in the pres­ti­gious Rate­beer Awards. Robyn Bell is a brewer there. She says that, al­though the in­dus­try is still largely male, she has never felt ex­cluded or out of place among her fel­low brewers. She ex­plains, “I find the craft beer scene to be dis­pro­por­tion­ately filled with thought­ful, well- ed­u­cated, kind and open-minded peo­ple. The kinds of peo­ple who get into craft beer are gen­er­ally look­ing for the same kind of thing: to work cre­atively and with our hands, to work with good peo­ple, and to make some damn good friends along the way”.

Robyn’s job ti­tle is “tank man­ager” (al­though she prefers to call her­self the “Tank Com­man­der”!), which means she’s re­spon­si­ble for the beer through­out the fer­men­ta­tion and con­di­tion­ing process. As Cloud­wa­ter does not have a core range of beers that it re­peat- brews, each beer is unique and comes with its own set of chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties which need ex­plor­ing. Robyn spends roughly half of each day in the lab­o­ra­tory, deal­ing with qual­ity as­sur­ance and record­ing mea­surements in­clud­ing ph and yeast cell counts. The rest of her day is spent car­ry­ing out “tank ac­tions”, such as crop­ping yeast and dry- hop­ping the beer.

Robyn says she wor­ried about the man­ual side of brew­ing be­fore she started work­ing in beer. “I’m only small – 5’2”– and quite pe­tite, but I built up my stamina pretty quickly and have al­ways found my co-work­ers to be in­cred­i­bly in­clu­sive and thought­ful. I’ve never felt in­ca­pable, and my fe­male-ness has never been brought up in terms of the work.”

These sen­ti­ments are echoed by Sarah Hughes, head brewer at Tiny Rebel, a multi-award-win­ning brew­ery based in New­port in South Wales.

Sarah got in­volved in brew­ing af­ter an­swer­ing a job ad­vert in the lo­cal pa­per look­ing for mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy grad­u­ates, and says that within a day she knew that this was what she wanted to do. She says, “I’ve al­ways felt ac­cepted in the in­dus­try and I love what I do. It’s still male- dom­i­nated, but the craft beer scene is def­i­nitely chang­ing things”.

That’s not to say that there are no prob­lems at all. Women are grossly un­der­rep­re­sented in the beer world, sex­ism and ho­mo­pho­bia still ex­ist within the in­dus­try (of­ten ap­par­ent in the names and pump clips as­so­ci­ated with cer­tain beers), and there re­main pre­con­cep­tions about women as both cre­ators and con­sumers of beer. How­ever, some women are com­ing to­gether to chal­lenge this.

So­phie de Ronde of Burnt Mill Brew­ery in Suf­folk is a highly re­spected brewer who has been in­volved in beer and brew­ing for more than a decade. In 2014 she joined forces with the Pink Boots So­ci­ety – a Us-based or­gan­i­sa­tion sup­port­ing women in the brew­ing in­dus­try – to set up In­ter­na­tional Women’s Col­lab­o­ra­tion Brew Day. This takes place on 8 March (In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day) each year and brings to­gether women across the world to brew beer and raise the pro­file of women in brew­ing. She says: “I think the im­por­tance of the day has proved it­self by the vol­ume of brewers and brew­eries that get in­volved. One of the most im­por­tant things in the in­dus­try is the net­work­ing, see­ing other brew­eries and hav­ing the sup­port. It al­lows us brewers to de­velop and cre­ate new and won­der­ful brews and im­prove our tech­niques.”

An­other event aimed at cel­e­brat­ing and pro­mot­ing women in beer is the Fem.ale Brew­ster Beer Fes­ti­val which runs each May at The Plasterer’s Arms in Nor­wich and at Brighton’s cul­tural queer hub, The Marl­bor­ough. Fem.ale serves ex­clu­sively brew­ster-brewed beer whilst also show­cas­ing fe­male-fronted bands and host­ing discussion pan­els fea­tur­ing his­to­ri­ans,

aca­demics and beer pro­fes­sion­als. Erica Hor­ton ex­plains that the idea for Fem.ale came from the de­sire to “cel­e­brate those women who are re­ally at the heart of the cre­ative process, de­sign­ing, ex­per­i­ment­ing and de­vel­op­ing new tech­nolo­gies”. She says The Marl­bor­ough is a per­fect venue for Fem.ale as it’s “a safe space for all gen­ders to come and en­joy beer in a non- pa­tri­ar­chal set­ting”.

More and more women are choos­ing to drink beer, par­tic­u­larly a di­verse range of craft ale, rather than other drinks when they go out. A re­cent sur­vey on be­half of Ni­chol­son’s Pubs found that 57% of women chose beer over other drinks op­tions. As women become more con­cerned about the prove­nance of their food and drink, they ap­pear to be choos­ing to spend their money on lo­cal, nat­u­ral and eth­i­cally-pro­duced goods like craft beer.

Many who work on the re­tail side of brew­ing agree that spe­cial­ist beer venues are great places for les­bians and bi women to drink and so­cialise. Sarah Brick man­ages craft beer house, The Fox, in east London. “I think the con­tem­po­rary beer scene has an open mind,” she says. “Try­ing new beers and new brew­ing meth­ods is all part of craft beer. I think this open mind trans­lates across to the craft beer com­mu­nity in gen­eral, mak­ing it wel­com­ing to the queer com­mu­nity.” Melinda Brodelis, as­sis­tant man­ager at the Craft Beer Com­pany in London’s Covent Gar­den agrees. “It’s a scene that wel­comes ev­ery­one... I feel it’s so broad it doesn’t mat­ter if you’re gay, straight, trans, bi or what­ever you feel most com­fort­able be­ing. It’s the beer that’s im­por­tant.”

The won­der­fully-named Bit­ter Women is a so­cial group for LGBT+ women who en­joy real ale and craft beer, which meets reg­u­larly at var­i­ous venues in both London and Brighton. Founder Elaine Mcken­zie says she set the group up in re­sponse to les­bians and bi women’s love of beer. She says, “Gay women are renowned for their con­sump­tion of beer, so I de­cided let’s cel­e­brate that! We like a pint, so why not?”

So why not? There are so many new trends in beer in­clud­ing mas­sive hop bombs, beers that taste like choco­late and sour beers so sharp they’ll turn your lips inside out. Even if you’ve never thought that beer is your thing, you might find one or two you fall in love with. And don’t worry if you think you only like lager be­cause – with more than 20 dis­tinct styles of lager to ex­plore – that’s hav­ing a re­nais­sance too. If you’ve not yet tried what the con­tem­po­rary beer scene has to of­fer, this sum­mer is most def­i­nitely the time. Be­cause whether it’s the real ale re­vival or the craft beer revo­lu­tion, the world’s most pop­u­lar al­co­holic drink is most def­i­nitely back in fash­ion.

Find out more about the con­tem­po­rary beer scene by tun­ing into Emma’s Fer­men­ta­tion Beer & Brew­ing Show, broad­cast monthly on Brighton’s Ra­dio Re­verb ( ra­diore­ or catch up via itunes.

“The beer scene wel­comes ev­ery­one ... gay, straight, trans or bi. It’s the beer that’s im­por­tant”

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