Did women create beer?
Beer is thought to have been invented by the Sumerians, who lived in what is now Iraq, around 8,000 BC and ancient tablets have been unearthed showing the original brewers were women. The Sumerians even had a goddess of beer, Ninkasi.
Beer was considered the drink of the gods, with Ninkasi both a brewer of the beer and the beer itself.
Interestingly, there is archaeological evidence to suggest that when cereal crops were first grown in Neolithic times in Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago, the grains were used for both baking bread and brewing beer. Indeed, barley may have been specifically grown for fermentation, and it is likely beer was enjoyed daily before this in Sumeria!
There is also another goddess of beer – the Celtic Dea Latis. Worshipped in Roman Britain, Dea Latis was named after the Proto-Celtic word ‘lati’, meaning 'liquor', which is what brewers still call water used to brew beer today.
Until the 16th century, when hops first came into use in England and brewing developed into a substantial industry, most ale and beer was still produced by women, known as brewsters. Records from our home town of Faversham in 1327 show all 87 brewers operating in the town were women.
The late 18th century saw the decline of brewing as a household art and the rise of the male-dominated ‘beer business’ had begun, with commercial, large-scale brewing. Women made a brief return to the industry during the First and Second World War, however, when they filled many of the brewery roles typically occupied by men.
The past decade has seen radical changes in the industry, with the craft beer revolution prompting a surge in the number of new breweries and variety of beers available. This diversification of the beer market has attracted a new generation of male – and female – drinkers, keen to experiment with the wealth of new products available.
And we aren’t just seeing an increase in the number of women drinking beer. More and more women are pursuing careers in the industry, brewing beer.