Brewster…and I don’t mean Punky

brewstersI was doing some beer research and came across this gem:

“During early centuries the vast majority of brewers were brewsters — that is female.” (Sambrook, 1996:2)

What? A brewster is a female brewer? 

I am guessing some of the beer lovers who read this blog will already be familiar with brewster and its definition, but I was not familiar with it – had never heard it before – and I was very pleased when I saw it.  In what is today a male-centric industry here was an historical reference to female brewers – brewsters!

It turns out that females were largely responsible for brewing beer in the 1300s through the 1600s.  Brewing beer was a domestic chore, but in the early centuries women also brewed beer for profit.

In Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600 by Judith Bennett (1996) she tells the story of one of our early sisters in the beer industry:

“When Denise Marlere died in 1401, she left behind a thriving brewing business in the town of Bridgewater.  She bequeathed the bulk of her business to her servant Rose: half of a tenement, all her brewing vessels with a furnace, three sacks full of malt, a cup, a brass pot, a pan, a goblet bound with silver, a chafing dish, two silver spoons… She also left brewing utensils to other heirs…and [to] her daughter Isabel two more leaden vats, a brass 3 gallon pot, a pan, a mortar and pestle, and the proceeds of one brewing.”  (Bennett, 1996: 14). 

Bennett writes that “In the fourteenth century, when women did most of the brewing in most of the places, their presence was signified in the various languages of the time: braciatrices and pandoxatrices in Latin texts, braceresses in Anglo-Norman and brewsters in the English being used with more and more frequency.” (1996:3)

Bennett explores the historical, economical, and social reasons for the change in women’s role in brewing  beer.  I will write more about these reasons in later posts.  For my part, I put the brewster back in beer this weekend by brewing my own beer.  An IPA.  So I am continuing the tradition of home brewing practiced by my sisters so long ago…

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