For a long time, beer was seen by many women as a drink of little interest. However, they are now back “stirring at the old brewing kettle”, training to become qualified beer sommelières and choosing careers in the brewing trade – all thanks to the craft beer movement.
Although an increasingly large number of women are drawn to the field of beer production for their careers, this female affinity with tasty beers is actually nothing new at all: From ancient times to the Middle Ages, brewing tended to be done by women rather than men, after all. Inscriptions from Ancient Egypt 4000 years ago also showed women at the brewing kettle. The Babylonians, who allegedly invented beer, even wrote songs dedicated to the goddess of beer, Ninkasi. What’s more, the Spanish word for beer, “cerveza”, is named after the Roman goddess Ceres. In times gone by, many women would even receive brewing kettles as wedding presents. It was only later that monks increasingly squeezed the female brewers out from their position behind the kettle, when monasteries realized that beer could provide a source of income.
Things are so different now on the global craft beer scene though, as an increasing number of women choose careers in the brewing trade or even take on the management of entire breweries. Furthermore, beer universities such as Weihenstephan and Berlin in Germany are receiving growing interest from female applicants, an increasing number of women are placing orders with home brewers and online beer stores, and the number of female beer sommelières is growing rapidly. Christoph Kämpf, President of the “Verband der Diplom-Biersommeliere” (Association of Qualified Beer Sommeliers in DACH region) can confirm this trend. He attributes some of this enthusiasm to the clear increase in beer diversity and the interesting aromas that many international specialties now have. For Kämpf, one thing is clear, however: “Women have a much stronger affinity with the finer things in life and usually have a much keener sense of taste than men.”
That said, it is also clear that the craft beer movement has triggered a thirst for the finer things in life across all German-speaking countries – and that creative female master brewers have played a major part in this. Prominent females in the DACH brewing industry who fall under this category include sisters Kathrin and Stephanie Meyer from “Braukatz” in Nesselwang in Germany’s Allgäu region, Sabine Thaler from “Camba Bavaria” located close to Lake Chiemsee, Tanja Leidgschwendner from the “Brauerei im Eiswerk” in Munich, and the “Bierfeen” (“beer fairies”) in Hof, Upper Franconia, who all create exciting specialty beers. Others, such as Martina Gastager, from the Gusswerk brewery in Hof near Salzburg, and Elfriede Forstner, from the Forstner brewery in Kalsdorf near Graz, Austria, keep their own growing fan base happy with their own very special brews. Forstner, for example, took over her brewery after the death of her husband, running it successfully ever since, and even stirs the vats herself: “I knew almost nothing about brewing at the start,” confesses the 46-year-old hop artist, “but now I’m really proud of my beers.”
Another female brewer, Lisa Luginger, is also proud of her work. As a beer sommelière she holds seminars and tasting sessions in which she passes on her knowledge to others. But what is it actually like being a woman in a supposedly male domain? Elfriede Forstner, the Braukatz sisters and Lisa Luginger all maintain that they have not as yet had any serious problems with sexism. At the same time, none of them want to be pigeonholed and the idea that beer is a man’s world puts a knowing smile on their faces.