Why women have always been vital in brewing

By Rebecca Weller

- Last updated on GMT

Stories of hope: author Dr Christina Wade (pictured) discusses new book and representation of women in the brewing sector
Stories of hope: author Dr Christina Wade (pictured) discusses new book and representation of women in the brewing sector

Related tags Beer Camra Brewing

More needs to be done to showcase the brewing industry as a viable option for women, and connecting with the past is a great way to do this.

That’s the message from beer historian Dr Christina Wade in her newly released book, The Devil’s in the Draught Lines​, which looks back on 1,000 years of women in Britain's brewing history and includes interviews with those currently working in the sector.

Meeting the author on International Women’s Day​ on Friday 8 March was more than appropriate.

Wade’s passion for the past, including dispelling myths as far back as the witch trials hundreds of years ago, as well as championing the inspiring women in the sector today was evident immediately.

The beer historian told The Morning Advertiser​ how imperative representation is within the brewing world and how the “amazing and wonderful” stories of women from all corners of the sector need to be told to showcase the industry as a viable career path.

She said: “For other women in brewing to hear from other women in brewing is really important; to be able to relate to those stories and hear how they do things and share ideas.

“When I asked my interviewees what we can do [to showcase] brewing, one of the first things they all said was just to simply ‘tell people about it’ to make it a viable option.

More conversations 

“[We need to] yell it from the rooftops to show if you want to work in beer, that doesn’t mean you have to be a brewer.

“You can work in marketing or sales or finance, there are so many other jobs in brewing besides being a brewer, if you love beer and are passionate about it but don’t want to brew, there are so many amazing ways to be involved in beer.”

Wade also cited recent research from SIBA​, which she claimed revealed only 8% of brewers in the UK are women, a number she would like to “see grow”.

Though she added there were also a lot of positive stories within the sector.

“A lot of the women I spoke with emphasised the industry had been very welcoming to them, but there absolutely needs to be more conversations where women are invited within beer to make sure they realise it is a possibility for them.

“That needs to be one of the first things, whether that is going to schools or colleges for open days and [showcasing the sector], the more we shout about it the more women will know it is an option"

Wade explained this was why she felt it was important to make sure her book was a “conversation between women past and present”, to make connections that help people feel supported as well as inspire innovation.

“All of their stories are so unique and fascinating, they all tell a broad range of stories when put together."

“We need to acknowledge the past because sometimes those connections can reveal really exciting and interesting things.

“For example, I just crated a collaboration brew with Torrside Brewery, called Eliza Smith, based on a 1727 recipe by the brews namesake, in her book, involving a strong ale with rosemary".

The author, who runs the Lady’s Craft Beer Society of Ireland and is part of the Beer Ladies Podcast, also homebrews historical ales, including an ancient Sumerian ale and Medieval small ale, though her favourite beer to drink is a mild on cask.

“Making that interactive living history is something people can really relate to, it is tangible, it’s there, it’s not something so nebulous and far away.

“People get excited about it and rightfully so, it is a way to reinvigorate a love of brewing history and its future", she continued. 

By going back, the author was able to find unexpected connections, as well as some more predictable ones, between the modern and historical world of brewing, “even in the strangest of things”.

Wade went on to tell a story about two people who were accused of witchcraft during the witch trials in the UK for brewing ale, which was thought to be “murderous ale”, and how she did not expect to find any similar stories today.

Stories of hope

“I tongue in cheek asked one brewery [after telling them this story], have you ever made a beer that killed anyone?

“And they said ‘well actually, one time, when we were removing the alcohol from the beer, we closed all the doors and realised we had so much ethanol in the air that we were hot boxing ourselves’.

“While brewing is a safe profession and this happened during an experimental time for this brewery, I found it fascinating because I did not expect to get that answer.

“Of course, there were plenty of things I did expect to find, for example experiences with possible sexism and misogyny, those things have been around for a long time and unfortunately still are, but there were so many stories of hope as well.”

Wade concluded by describing her book, produced by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA​), as a “tiny portion” of brewing history in the UK, but one that showcases so many iconic and inspirational women, past and present, with hope it can help further the representation of women in beer for generations to come.

She added: “All of their stories are so unique and fascinating, they all tell a broad range of stories when put together.

“I really enjoyed talking to all the women working in brewing and hearing all their stories, it was absolutely fascinating to chat with them and ask them if they related to something that happened in history, having those stories come through was amazing.”

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