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Renowned chef Angela Hartnett MBE has visited Shepherd Neame’s Faversham brewery to find out about women’s role in brewing for part of a BBC TV series.
The second series of BBC Two’s Great British Food Revival will see chefs continue their quest across the UK investigating forgotten food traditions. The 20 episode series is due for broadcast in the autumn.
Canterbury-born Angela was hosted by head brewer Richard Frost, who coached her through a brew of Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale. With more than 34,000 pints of the brewery’s flagship ale at stake, the pressure was on for first-time brewer Angela as she mimicked the women brewers of yesteryear – also known as ‘brewsters’ or ‘ale wives’.
With poor sanitation in medieval households, beer was a safe alternative to water thanks to hops’ natural antibiotic qualities. Brewing was an important household task, almost exclusively performed by women as part of regular chores in the home. They were also frequently appointed as official government ale tasters – a position which, sadly, no longer exists.
After finding out the important role women played in the early days of British beer, the former protégé of Gordon Ramsey also learned the nuances of beer tasting before selecting some Canterbury Jack for trial by a group of women new to beer drinking – which will also form part of the programme.
Head brewer Richard Frost said: “It’s always great to teach people about beer and Angela was an enthusiastic pupil. The history of ale wives is fascinating as they’re very much the unsung heroes of British brewing.
“I hope we opened Angela’s eyes to beer’s potential. To have an ambassador of her calibre supporting beer and food matching would be tremendous.”