Fellow Dea Latis enthusiast, beer sommelier, alcohol historian and blogger, Jane Peyton, has just had an article published in the Huffington Post and she has kindly allowed us to publish it here in time for International Women’s Day on 8th March – let’s say ‘cheers’ to that!
Here’s the irony – many women do not drink beer because they think it is masculine but of all alcoholic drinks beer has more female elements and connections than any other. So, to celebrate International Women’s Day March 8, let’s raise a glass of something that our female ancestors invented. Yes – women were the first brewers of beer. For thousands of years women were the primary brewers and even today in parts of Africa and the South American rainforest where beer is made at home or on a communal village basis they still are. In those societies men drink the beer but they have no role in its production.
No-one knows when beer was first brewed, or where but it was at least 9,000 years ago. Unconnected societies in the Amazon, Neolithic Chinese villages and settlements in the Middle East (what is now Iran and Iraq) brewed an alcoholic beverage made from whatever cereal was grown there. In the creation myths of many ancient cultures, beer was a gift to humanity from a woman or a goddess. The major deities of beer are female – Ninkasi and Dea Latis are two of them. More practically, the yeast that ferments cereal or fruit sugars and creates alcohol reproduces asexually -its offspring are daughters, not sons. And there is more. Brewers use hops to contribute aromas, flavours, bitterness and as a natural preservative. It is the female part of the plant that is used in brewing, not the male. Hops are also a rich source of plant based female hormones (phytoestrogens) which is a partial reason why some beer drinking men have moobs and big bellies. Hops also act to suppress the male sexual drive and performance. Brewers’ Droop exists!
Women who are put off beer believing they will grow a gut if they drink it should be aware of this fact. Measure for measure beer has fewer calories than any other alcoholic drink. A pint of typical pub beer at 4% alcohol by volume (ABV) is 190 calories. A pint of wine (just more than 2 large glasses) is around 400 calories – more than twice the equivalent of the 4% ABV beer. The calories in beer contain proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, no fat – and because they are fermented, those calories are four times more nutritious as beer than they are as barley in food. It’s more likely to be a burger belly than a beer belly because unfortunately beer and salad do not go together as well as beer and pork scratchings.
Some women say they do not drink beer because it is bitter flavoured. Women tend to be more sensitive to bitterness – most likely because of evolutionary factors. Bitterness in nature is often a sign of danger so early nomadic societies where the women were out gathering food and test tasting it would avoid anything that was bitter. Some beers are bitter, many are not. Styles such as wheat beer, barley wine, imperial Russian stout often appeal to people who do not like bitterness.
In most countries the brewing industry is dominated by men. But there is nothing in the job of brewing that precludes women from doing it. Brewing is like cooking, but with bigger vessels and more washing up. So any woman who enjoys devising or following recipes will find brewing satisfying indeed and the resulting beer makes people cheerful, and in moderation, is healthful.
On March 8th an international beer brewing celebration will take place when professional female brewers around the world all brew the same beer recipe on the same day. Profits from the sale of Unite Pale Ale will be donated to charity. The idea was the brainchild of Sophie de Ronde, head brewer at Brentwood Brewing Company in Essex and she persuaded dozens of her British counterparts and women in the USA, Italy Canada, Ireland, Israel, Australia and New Zealand to join in on the International Women’s Collaboration Brew as a way of enthusing women everywhere to drink beer or consider a career in brewing.
So lasses who are not already beer drinkers or brewers – come on let’s be having you! Beer is a gender neutral drink that is a gift from nature to all humans. It is the world’s favourite alcoholic drink and women were central to beer from the beginning. Let’s be proud and acknowledge the role of women in something that brings so much joy, goodness and happy times.