Boil, Boil, Toil, and Trouble

Boil, Boil, Toil, and Trouble

After last week’s blog, I received a note from Julia Rosenthal of Pair O’ Dice Brewing.  She let me know that Pair O’ Dice is training Dominique Erwin “on the brewing side” and she is happy to report Dominique is doing great!  Leslie Shore used to work for ESB, but moved to Darwin Brewing in Bradenton, Florida.  Colleen Dingman is brewing at Barley Mow in addition to her job as a new mom.  Finally, Megan Michaels may be lending a hand at Rapp Brewing in Seminole, Florida.  I am glad I mentioned it!  I am happy to see so many women getting into the new age of craft brewing.

            There is a story that describes women brewers back in the day.  For millennia, women were the ones who brewed beer.  During the medieval period in Europe, brewing beer was a part of a woman’s household duties (Peyton, n.d.).  Brewsters—or alewives—ranked low in status and they were paid poorly even though ale was an important part of the diet for both nutrition and as a safe drinking source (Peyton).  Water was unsafe for drinking then.  One who drank the water might have ended up with dysentery, or worse.  The alewives’ brews were safe to drink—even for children.  I had a chance to speak with the Master Brewer of Wells & Young’s Brewing Company, James Robertson, yesterday.  He explained that the ales made for children were called boys’ beers.”  In spite of the importance of the role of the alewife, the role evolved into something quite notorious.

            One of the main ingredients in beer is some sort of grain.  The problem for alewives was that rats and mice would eat the grain, so they kept cats around to get rid of the rodents.  Alewives were required to keep a sign above their door to let officials and patrons know that ale was sold there.  The signs were ale-stakes.  An ale-stake is made of a wood pole with twigs or straw attached to one end.  The ale-stake resembled brooms.  Another sign of the alewives were their pointed hats.  This made them easily recognizable in the village.  Alewives made beer in a cauldron over a fire.  Part of the process of making beer is boiling the liquid which needs to stirring at certain points.  Finally, science was not as popular as it is today, so the transformation of the water, yeast, grains, and eventually hops was a supernatural, magical change. 

            Let’s see…cats, brooms, pointy hats, bubbling cauldrons, and magic.  That sounds like a description of a witch!

            At first, hops were not an ingredient in the beers made by the alewives.  The ales spoiled quickly.  With the introduction of hops, the ales had a longer shelf life, which increased the opportunities for selling and trading beer.  Profits increased, and men began to brew beer to sell.  Eventually, the authorities restricted beer making to small guilds, which women could not join.  Furthering the push to get women out of the brewing business, rumors about the alewives accused them of uncleanliness and cheating patrons.  The brewsters were accused of witch craft which made ostracizing them quite easy.

            All things in brewing are not quite equal between the sexes, but we’re getting there.  So, I propose a toast to alewives past, present, and future. 

Here’s to the goddesses of the brew.  May our cauldrons boil and our beer keep the world happy.



Peyton, J. (n.d.). A Brewster in witches clothing? School of Booze. Retrieved from



Kelley Conrad's picture Kelley Conrad | April 20, 2015 11:25 am MST

Attacged above is the picture of a breweress (?) being burned at the stake as a witch.  It was supposed to be part of Jenni's article but did not post originally.  Kelley

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Jennifer Mastal Adams



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