Suds and Sudsability: Jane Austen brewed beer. Women are back, reinvigorating the trade.

Mixing barley, hops and yeast is no longer purely a man's world, just as it wasn't in years gone by. Business is picking up with a new flowery touch.

Jane Austen is best known as an early 19th century English novelist who wrote classics such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.

But what did she do when she wasn't weaving yarns of romance and social criticism?

She brewed beer, as did many women of her time.  As the BBC writes, "In Austen's day it was part of her household duties and had been women's work for thousands of years." By the mid 20th century, however, beer had assumed a male gender.

Well, the dames are at it again. Only this time, rather than fermenting up malty elixirs as a matter of necessity, they're doing it with an enterprising spirit that is lifting the British beer trade out of the doldrums. The BBC notes:

Female brewers, or brewsters as they are traditionally known, are said to be on the rise again and are being credited with helping reinvigorate the beer industry in the U.K., where last year a record 197 breweries opened and the the total has hit a 70-year high of 1,147.

Women were a driving force behind the new establishments, many of which are part of the "craft beer" craze that has arrived from the U.S. The story quotes Roger Protz, editor of the 2014 Good Beer Guide:

"More and more women are setting up their own breweries and becoming head brewers at well-established ones," he says. "Their influence is really growing in the industry, just look at Emma Gilleland. It's exciting to see."

The article claims the most influential brewer in the country is Gilleland, who is head of supply chain at leading independent brewer Marston's, which produces over 60 ales. Another woman, Sara Barton, won the the British Guild of Beer Writer's Brewer of the Year award in 2013; Barton owns and operates Brewster's Brewery in Lincolnshire, about halfway up England's east coast.

Melissa Cole, author of Let Me Tell You All About Beer, says that brewsters are embracing a general food trend of tapping homegrown, fresh ingredients. 

"They use local, seasonal fruit, vegetables and spices to brew and play with flavours and people like that. They think of beer and how it goes with food, like you would with wine. They are also collaborative, into sharing ideas and innovating."

Mmmmmm. It's Friday afternoon as I write this in the southwest of England. Maybe I'll get to sample some of these fruits tonight.

But first, I'm going to put on an apron and wash some dishes. A man's work is never done.

Cover image is from the University of Texas via Wikimedia

More British tales from the tavern:

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