It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of a woman enjoying a schooner, pony or pint of beer was a cultural aberration in this country. Indeed, until very recently, beer was (symbolically in the least) almost exclusively the domain of the drinking bloke: insipid, unfussy, mass-produced lagers that quenched the thirst and soused the soul.
Similarly, the idea of a female brewer was anathema to the otherwise macho-charged industry – an era defined by ‘promo girls’, ladies’ lounges and those notorious Victoria Bitter advertisements that informed the nation that a hard-earned thirst needed a big cold beer.
While traditional lagers such as VB, XXXX and Carlton Draught continue to command the mass market, the advent of the craft beer sector over the past 15 years has not only opened a pathway for women – it has in large been defined by them as both consumers and protagonists. Whether it’s highly respected female beer writers such as Pia Poynton who blogs as Girl+Beer, or professional basketballer-turned-microbiologist-turned-brewer Kerry Claydon, who has wrestled with the wort at some of the country’s most illustrious labels, including Newstead (where she was head brewer) and Balter (now as production manager), the landscape of beer in this country has irreversibly changed.
Today Claydon also heads up Chicks With Ales: a Queensland-based group aimed at supporting and celebrating women working in the beer sector. Chicks With Ales was inspired in part by the Pink Boots Society (pinkbootssociety.org), a US-based women’s beer association with chapters now pockmarked across the globe, and whose Australian chapter is captained by Allison McDonald, a brewer at craft progenitor Little Creatures.
While advocating for women in contemporary brewing, Pink Boots has also charged itself with reminding the beer industry of women’s indispensable role in the history of the golden elixir: from the ancient Egyptians, where brewing was the sole domain of women, through to Baltic and Slavic mythology – where the goddess Raugutiene was charged with the divine protection of the venerable drop.
And of course, in medieval England, the ‘alewife’ – also known as a brewster – was a position of notable social status (if not occasional scandal), ensuring each citizen received their freshly brewed and essential daily gallon of liquid nourishment… before the gin craze seduced and eventually razed the country.
In Australia, few people have left a mark on the domestic craft brewing scene quite like Sam Fuss – a pioneer who helped brew up industry icons out of both Little Creatures and Young Henry’s over the last two decades, and now heads up her own artisan concern Philter Brewing (philterbrewing.com) in Marrickville, Sydney. Brewing under the motto “No bulls**t, just great beer”, Philter has rattled the foundations of Australian brewing since its emergence in 2017 – with its XPA taking out a number of accolades and inspiring a rethink to the enduring craft creed that ‘bigger is better’.
Fragrant and invigorating, the XPA’s canny combination of Mosaic, Galaxy, Simcoe and Citra hops with a modest ABV of 4.2% has helped defuse the testosterone-fuelled IBU and ABV arms race that has feverishly plagued so many of the country’s male-led artisan breweries.
Melbourne duo Danielle Allen and Jayne Lewis, aka Two Birds Brewing (twobirdsbrewing.com.au) founded in 2011, have similarly ingrained approachability and finesse at the core of their concerns, with a pale ale that’s now commonplace in bars and bottle shops the country over.
While the ‘pale’ sector has become somewhat overcrowded (and with it IPAs), the Two Birds Pale Ale is a standout for coalescing both exotic tropical notes and a lingering body thanks to the addition of oats, making it both refreshing and textural. And the pair’s Taco Ale has become a thing of folklore, infused ever-so-subtly with corn, lime peel and coriander leaf for that heady Mexican kick.
Along with maverick contemporaries such as Tanya Harlow at Beard & Brau on Queensland’s Tamborine Mountain and all-female outfit Sparkke (sparkke.com) in Adelaide, the lady-led revolution in Australian beer has truly been untapped.