Return of the ‘brewsters’: Female brewers reinvigorate real ale market

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Brewing, Beer

Ffion Jones was appointed assistant brand manager for Brains Brewery earlier this year, making her the first female brewer in the firm's 130-year history
Ffion Jones was appointed assistant brand manager for Brains Brewery earlier this year, making her the first female brewer in the firm's 130-year history
The number of women involved in Britain’s thriving brewing industry is on the rise, with many opening their own breweries in response to a growing interest in ales.  

According to the 2014 Good Beer Guide,​published today by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), female brewers - known historically as ‘brewsters’ - are also rising through the ranks at some of Britain's biggest breweries, with women now accounting for 22 per cent of Camra’s membership.

“It is only in modern times that men have overtaken women as the main brewers of beer, as historically it was women who dominated brewing,” said Roger Protz, editor of the Good Beer Guide. “It is fantastic to see more women rejoining the industry and in many cases giving the chaps a run for their money, such as the award-winning Brewsters Brewing Company in Lincolnshire.”

In fact, one of the most important brewing positions in the UK is now held by a woman following a recent high ranking promotion. Emma Gilleland is one of the new breed of women now dominating the industry, having been promoted from head brewer at Marston’s to the head of its entire supply chain earlier this year.

Female-friendly beers

Gilleland believes beer has become more accessible to women in recent years. “The rise in interest in ales by women is because beer is far more interesting these days," she said. "Only 10 years ago, the perception would have been that ale was bitter tasting and dark in colour.

“These days, brewers are far more experimental and this has led to lighter beers with new aromas and tastes which are bringing women into the category. Once they have found a beer style that they like, they are hooked.”

Marston’s also employs Genevieve Upton at the Burton brewery and Rebecca Adams at Jennings Brewery, who are ‘coming up through the ranks’. Other recently-appointed Brewsters include Jennings Brewery's Rebecca Adams, and Ffion Jones (pictured), who earlier this year became the first woman ever to join Cardiff-based Brains Brewery.

Rising numbers

One female-owned and run brewery making a name for itself nationally is the award-winning Mallinson’s brewery. Founded by Camra members Tara Mallinson and Elaine Yendall as a small, six-barrel plant in Huddersfield in 2008, the pair moved to a larger 15-barrel site in 2012 to help meet a growing demand.

“Myself and Elaine set up Mallinsons in 2008 because we selfishly wanted to brew beers we liked to drink,” said Mallinson. “Brewing real ale is a great job, you get to experiment with new hops, re-brew old favourites and hopefully give the people who drink your beer a great pint.”

And it’s not just in the brewing world where women are making a name for themselves in the UK pub industry. Camra statistics show that the number of women enjoying real ale is on the rise, with women now accounting for 22 per cent of their membership – a growth of 20,000 in the last decade alone.

Seasonal selection

The amount of women trying real ale is also up, from 14 per cent to 34 per cent in the past three years, showing that wider availability and variety of beers is having a positive effect on the number of women giving real ale a go in the pub.

Sophie Atherton, who won the Beer Sommelier of the Year award earlier this year, was the first woman to become a fully-qualified beer sommelier in the UK. She now hosts beer-tasting events, often including beer and food matching.

"One of the things I love most about beer is that there's always a style to suit the season, the occasion or just my mood,” said Atherton. “Whether it's golden summer ales, autumnal reds, or a rich, chocolatey stout or porter by the fire in winter beer's always got something to offer and an incredible range of flavours that means it's a drink everyone can enjoy.”

Published today, the 2014 Good Beer Guide also raised a glass to Britain’s ‘brewery boom’.​The number of UK breweries is now at a 70-year high, with the Guide listing all of them; the beers they produce, and the 4545 real ale pubs that the beer is served in.

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