Woman drinks beer

We’ve been conditioned to believe that beer is a man’s drink, but it hasn’t always been the case, says Annabel Smith

Let’s do a bit of word association here. When I say the word “beer”, close your eyes and what immediately springs to mind?

Pint glasses? Beer bellies? Pubs? In any of the images that sprung to mind, was there a woman featured – or was it all men? I guarantee no one reading this pictured a lady imbibing a beer. Take a moment and think about that. Beer is a man’s drink. Full stop. Or have we been conditioned to think this way?

Without doubt, the earliest brewers were women, and even today in certain cultures it is women who make the beer. Throughout history, different cultures believed beer was a gift to women from goddesses. All major deities of beer are female and all are worshipped in ancient societies by the act of communal drinking. One of these was Dea Latis, the goddess of beer and water.

Right up until the 1700’s, over three quarters of brewers in the UK were women. It was women’s work to brew the nutritious refreshing liquid that slaked the thirst of the farm workers.

Female toilets in pubs only appeared in the 1930s

The Industrial Revolution brought a massive change to the UK’s cultural landscape. Brewing changed from a localised, cottage industry to mass scale production. This was to satisfy the demand of a growing population in the newly formed towns and cities, which had emerged when the country became an industrial powerhouse. Within a generation, it became the premise of men to brew beer, sell beer and drink beer. Beer acquired a male identity.

Women were not encouraged to drink beer. Female toilets in pubs only appeared in the 1930s; advertising reinforced gender stereotypes: “I bet HE drinks Carling Black Label”. A generation of mothers told us that beer was “unladylike”. Maybe this is why British women consume far less beer than any of our European counterparts. We’ve got a lot of history to unravel.

I’ve worked in the beer industry for nearly 30 years. I started out pulling pints at a back street boozer, progressed to training people how to pour beer correctly (yes, it was a proper job). I went on to become the UK’s first female beer inspector and one of the first qualified Beer Sommeliers. Which I do for a living. Yet without fail, every day some bloke comments: “I could do your job”. This is usually followed with: “You don’t really drink beer, do you?”

It’s not sexist in their minds. Many people are surprised there are lots of women working in the beer industry. We don’t have beards, we don’t have pot bellies and we actually embrace and celebrate our femininity. Gender doesn’t even come into it: if you know your stuff, the industry doesn’t care if you’re wearing trousers or a skirt.

A few years ago, over a couple of beers, four of us industry-lasses had a natter about why so many women rejected beer as a drink of choice. We formed a group, and called ourselves Dea Latis. Our motto was “It’s far too good to be enjoyed ONLY by men”. Our aim – to re-educate people about beer and to re-introduce beer into a female’s repertoire of drinks because, ultimately, beer is a drink to be enjoyed by all, without prejudice.

Annabel Smith is Beer Sommelier and co-founder of www.dealatis.org.uk.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of LEAD.