What Do Witches and Brewers Have in Common?

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Grand Teton Brewing in Victor, Idaho, recently sent me a few samples of their Black Cauldron Imperial Stout and shared a bit of history that inspired the beer. The beer’s name does a great job of conjuring up scenes of witches and Halloween—which will be here before we know it—but there’s much more to it than just a catchy name! Black Cauldron was inspired by the often neglected role of women in the the history of beer.

For much of history, women were responsible for the majority of beer brewing, as it fell in with other responsibilities around the home. The current male-dominated brewing industry would likely be considered very odd by many cultures of the past and some cultures that still hold these traditions.

Grand Teton Black CauldronWomen’s connection to the history of beer is especially evident in the correlations seen between medieval female brewers (brewsters) and the modern-day witch. Here are a few examples:

  • Black cauldron: brew kettle filled with boiling wort.
  • Cat: brewers often kept a cat to keep rampant rodents out of their grain storage.
  • Broom: an ale stake was displayed above the door of a brewer with ale for sale. It consisted of a rod with many smaller sticks tied onto one end and happened to double as a broom for cleaning the shop.
  • Pointy hat: When brewers took their ale to market, they would wear tall pointed hats in order to stand out from the crowd and be easily visible.

Pretty spot on, right?

As the demand for beer grew, brewing was moved out of the home. Since laws in those times prevented women from owning property and starting businesses, the industry became dominated by men as they opened larger-scale brewing operations. Over time, the imagery associated with the brewster became morphed into our modern day Halloween costume.

Thanks to the folks at Grand Teton for shedding some light onto the role that women have played throughout brewing history—and thanks for the beer! As the craft beer industry continues to grow, we need to embrace women’s important role in the history and future of craft beer.

Dan started his journey in craft beer on the east coast exploring homebrewing and pale ales. Since then he's spent time in Colorado, working at both the Brewers Association and Upslope Brewing Co. and is now living in the San Francisco Bay area. His go-to beer styles are American IPAs and pilsners. Apart from beer, he can also talk your ear off about cars and tech. He enjoys hiking and biking with his wife and their dog.

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