Home | Restaurant | Gallery | Archive | Search | Contact
Brewing Up a Revolution
Women slowly making inroads as manufacturers of that great men's beverage, beer
|By Jayson Matthews|
Americans consumed over 300 million gallons of beer last year. A few of the 15 million resulting hangovers were likely a tribute to the fine work of Wendy Pound and Barbara Groom, owners of the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka. Since 1990, Pound and Groom have been brewing up a storm of high quality microbrews, coveting more than an occasional "Best of" reward and standing virtually alone in an industry where men dominate.
Unlike the wine industry, where women have made great inroads for more than a quarter century, brewing has not allowed for much progress. Though no comprehensive study has been conducted to determine how many women are employed in brewing, BrewingTechniques magazine made the first attempt to do so back in 1995. It ended up with 10 female brewers from nine different brew pubs, a statistical nothing compared to the estimated 1,400 microbreweries in the United States today.
"I do feel lonely sometimes," admitted Groom. "As far as women running or owning breweries, there's the same as there was 10 years ago."
Michaela Rodeno, chief executive officer of St. Supery Winery in Rutherford, blames the institutional nature of brewing. Rodeno says the wine industry, unlike brewing, has become quite a progressive venue for women.
"Women actually do very well in the fine wine business," said Rodeno, "primarily because it didn't actually get started until about 30 years ago."
The wine industry's growth has also been fostered by biology, says Kim Caffrey, owner and operator of Wine, Women & Laughs, a Napa Valley-based company offering "entertaining and educational" wine seminars.
"Women actually have an edge as far as tasting and subtleties because women, anthropologically, are super tasters," said Caffrey. "They have heightened sensitivity to taste and smell. Having that advantage, they are able to maintain more subtle aromas."
Such an ability might be presumed to embrace the elegant complexity of winemaking more than brewing, but Groom says that perception is misguided.
"More and more people are beginning to enjoy beer as something akin to wine," said Groom, whose brewery makes a heavy, rich brown ale. "I think as the higher quality beers continue to gain popularity, more women will become involved."
The evolution toward manufacturing higher quality microbrews found widespread popular appeal in the United States during the past decade. The number of small-scale breweries has exploded in that time, increasing more than 3000 percent in the last five years alone.
"People’s tastes and perception of beer are becoming more demanding," explained Jeff Murphy, a freelancer who writes frequently for BEERWeek magazine. "Microbreweries are able to find a niche, establishing themselves in a small but steady market."
Perhaps Groom and those few like her were simply born in the wrong century. In England during the 1700s, 78 percent of licensed brewers were women. It wasn't until the industrial revolution transferred brewing from the home to the marketplace, and men began claiming local taverns as their domain, that women began drinking and producing less beer.
"Taverns, of course, have been largely supplanted by bars," said Murphy, "which predominantly offer mass-produced product which has been trucked halfway across the country or further."
As the number of microbreweries grows, women have shown some slight evidence of becoming more involved in the industry. A "women only" brewing competition in Placerville in 1994 attracted about 55 participants.
A similar competition last year drew 62.
"Not much," said Groom, the lonely woman brewer, with a gleam in her eye. "But something."
It was the accepted practice in Babylonia 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer, and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the "honey month" or what we know today as the "honeymoon."
Before thermometers were invented, brewers would dip a thumb or finger into the mix to find the right temperature for adding yeast. Too cold and the yeast wouldn't grow; too hot and the yeast would die. This thumb in the beer is where we get the phrase "rule of thumb."
In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts. So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them to mind their own pints and quarts and settle down. It's where we get the phrase "mind your P's and Q's."
Beer was the reason the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. It's clear from the Mayflower's log that the crew didn't want to waste beer looking for a better site. The log goes on to state that the passengers "were hasted ashore and made to drink water that the seamen might have the more beer."