Until last night, I had never given much thought to the gender of the world’s ancient brewmasters. But while surfing the net in the wee hours, I came across a British newspaper article with an irresistible headline: “Men Owe Women for ‘Creating Beer’ Claims Academic.” According to the Telegraph, British author Jane Peyton now proposes that Bud Lite, Tsingtao and Victoria Bitter drinkers around the world owe their favorite suds to women brewmasters.
Peyton furnishes several examples in this article. Only women, she noted, were permitted to brew beer in Mesopotamia. Much later, among the Vikings, women owned all the equipment for beer making and controlled the entire process. And until the beginning of the 18th century, most of Britain’s ale came from ale-wives who worked out of their homes for extra income. But the mass production of beer during the Industrial Revolution apparently put a end to all these female microbreweries.
The Telegraph article made no mention, however, of who Jane Peyton is. So I googled her and stumbled upon a whole unsuspected world of beer pedagogy in Britain. Peyton is a tutor at the Beer Academy in London. She is also the principal of the School of Booze, an outfit whose model is “Think While You Drink,” (a splendid oxymoron) and which offers tutored beer tastings. Clearly there are a lot of beer connoisseurs out there who want parity with wine snobs.
I don’t know where Peyton is getting her info from or whether she has a book on the way on feminist beermakers. Her website offers few clues. And because of this, I might have dismissed the article entirely, but for one thing. Peyton mentioned that before the Industrial Revolution, people thought of beer as a food: as a result, many cultures deemed beer-making women’s work.
Although my knowledge of early brewing is very limited, I recently read a wonderful paper by Justin Jennings, a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, on the Andean art of making chicha, or corn beer. According to Jennings, Andean families have long brewed two types of this beer–one thin, the other quite thick. They reserve the thicker and more filling chicha for daily consumption as a food. But they prepare a thinner corn beer for festivals, so that celebrants can drink more and get pleasantly high faster.
As Jennings points out, “gender roles are often fluid in the Andes,” but “chicha brewing is primarily a female activity. ” He then goes on to note that “the preparation and serving of chicha, like all food, is central to women’s identity, and for women who sell chicha [today] the drink offers considerable social power and autonomy that they aggressively defend.”
I think Jane Peyton is on to something here.