Women in the Beer Industry

Did you know that some of  the first beer producers were women?  People have been drinking and making beer for over 7,000 years.  Women brewed beer for religious ceremonies and to make a practical, calorie-rich beverage for the home.  Some enterprising women also took this household skill to the marketplace and began selling beer.  Widows and unmarried women used their fermentation skills to earn some extra money, while married women partnered with their husbands to run their beer business.  According to Beerandbrewing.com, a nun, Hildegard von Bingen, who lived in modern-day Germany, is famous for writing about hops in the 12th century and added the ingredient to her beer recipe.

Women were the primary brewers of beer in the 1500s until many men accused women brewers of being witches.   From the pointy hat and black robes to the broom, this is why many thought women who were brewers were witches.  So they weren’t really witches, they were amazing women who sought to make delicious beer!  Sure they wore tall pointy hats, but that was so that when they were selling their beer, their customers could see them in a crowded market.  They also transported their beer in cauldrons and had cats to keep the mice away from their grain.  Male brewers saw an opportunity in this. To reduce their competition in the beer trade, some accused female brewers of being witches and using their cauldrons to brew up magic potions instead of beer.  Over time, it became more dangerous for women to practice brewing and selling beer because they could be misidentified as witches. At the time, being accused of witchcraft wasn’t just a social mistake.  Women accused of witchcraft were often shunned in their communities, imprisoned or even killed.

Times started to change in the 1700s.  Mary Lisle is known to be America’s very first brewmaster.   She operated Edinburgh Brewhouse from 1734-1751.  Her story has gotten lost with the popularity of the beer industry.  Even to this day, men primarily make up the beer industry.  A handful of women, including Just Ashworth,  blazed the beer trail in the 1980s.  Running a brewery meant working almost around the clock at the brewhouse, traveling to make supply runs and sales calls, while trying to raise a young family all at the same time.  In 1986, Judy Ashworth solidified her standing as one of the nation’s first craft beer bars when she stopped selling Budweiser and started selling Lighthouse Lager from Santa Cruz Brewing.  Her appreciation for local breweries helped pave the way for other craft breweries to open. 

Women are still trying to make their stand in the beer industry to this day.  Kim Jordan, the cofounder of New Belgium Brewing in Colorado was elected to be the first president of the Brewers Association in 2005.  Jennifer Newman is the CEO of Young Lion Brewing Company and is supporting the movement to promote more women to get involved in craft beer making.  As of March 2022, women now only make up 2% of brewery owned businesses in the US.  With the help of some strong women, supporting other women, the beer industry has a chance to empower women to open their own brewhouses.  If it weren’t for women making beer all those many years ago, we wouldn’t be here to talk about the love of beer!


A Woman’s Place is in the Brewhouse by Tara Nurin