Tara Nurin, the official historian of Pink Boots Society, wrote a pair of fantastic articles outlining the history of women’s contribution to the world of beer. Check them out:
In the uber-dramatic introduction to the Discovery Channel’s trail-blazing 2011 documentary How Beer Saved the World, lightning flashes, fires rage, wort bubbles, and beer historian Gregg Smith tells the camera, “Beer has changed the course of human history. Not once, not twice, but over and over again.”
Calling it “the greatest invention of all,” the film producers credit beer for helping to originate math, commerce, modern medicine, refrigeration, automation, and even the first system of non-pictorial writing. As they explain, our literal dependence on beer and earlier forms of alcohol has likely shaped fundamental aspects of human existence for 200,000 years. Yet the producers ignore the fact that, until fairly recently as history goes, women were the driving force behind much of the world’s beer production.
Of Goddesses and High Priestesses
“Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat; it is [like] the onrush of the Tigris and Euphrates.”—Hymn to Ninkasi
In 2004, archeologists placed the discovery of the world’s first fermented beverage (a mixture of fruit, honey, and rice) in Jiahu, China, between 7000 and 5700 BCE. The finding overturned the conventional wisdom that humans had concocted their first grain-based drink in ancient Mesopotamia, located in modern-day Iran and Iraq. Historians now qualify the Mesopotamian concoction as the world’s first barley beer and remain committed to their original belief that civilization began in this so-called “fertile crescent” between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
In “How Women Brewsters Saved the World,” we explored the hidden-in-plain-sight history of women and beer from prehistoric times up through Prohibition. Here we bring this history of women’s contributions up to present times, spotlighting some of the women who have helped the modern craft-brewing revolution take root.
February 1986, Park City, Utah
Homebrewer Mellie Pullman is après-skiing at a condo being sold by a cousin’s friend when she spots a business plan lying open on a table. Nosy by her own admission, she picks it up and starts reading.
“It was a plan for a brewery,” she says. “I saw there was a position for a manager and I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
Within weeks, the professional engineer and former construction worker had convinced her new acquaintance to take her on as partner and brewery operations manager. Pullman spent the next few months training at Hart Brewing (now Pyramid) in Washington and taking classes at UC Davis before helping launch Wasatch Brewery. It took her a while to realize that she’d become the first female brewmaster in modern American history.