Beer 101: Meet The Brewsters

05-16-2016, The BeerVibe Crew

Brewster At Work

From the earliest discoveries of beer to around the late Middle Ages, the same time period known as the Renaissance, brewing beer was the duty and responsibility of the female members of society. This appears to be true in cultures as diverse as sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and while the men worked the fields, worked their trades, fought wars and played games, the wife and mother baked bread and made beer and prepared the meals for her household. She gathered the herbs and spices for her bruit, and what she learned from her mother she passed on to her daughters.

As drinking beer was somewhat safer than drinking water, she had to make a lot of it. It also didn’t last long, becoming undrinkable within a few weeks, so it had to all be drunk soon after it was ready. This was before the discovery of hops and long before the invention of refrigeration.

While the exact causes of many diseases were not yet known, there was a high suspicion that water carried whatever it was that could cause dysentery and other serious maladies. Since beer was mostly water, and the wort had to be boiled, the resulting beer was often safer to drink than water. All members of the family drank beer, from the youngest to the oldest. The alcohol content was weak by today’s standards, but the beer was also an important food, containing what the grains and malt and yeast had to offer: protein, carbohydrates, and some vitamins.

Beer making processes varied from place to place, and little is known of the recipes. Few in those days could read or write, so their secret recipes remain secret. It is known that some ancient beers in the vicinity of Germany were made with partially baked barley or wheat bread in the wort. It seems the bread acted like malted grain and the wild yeasts knew what to do with it. Bits of bread, it has been reported, floated around in the beverage as it was consumed.

Brewing beer required a specialized set of knowledge and skills to make a good product. The brewster had to know what quantities of what ingredients to throw into the mix. Modern brewers benefit from the science that really began during the Industrial Revolution, and they have very precise control of time and temperature, but the brewster could tell by the look or feel or smell when the roasted grain or the mash or the wort was ready for the next step in the process.

Let’s say your time machine put you to about the year 1550 in some typical town in England. You are in the crowded marketplace, you are thirsty, and you don’t dare drink the water. You could go to one of the numerous alehouses, where homebrewed ales are available at low cost, but you know you can find a drink right here in the marketplace. You search the area and see a tall pointy hat. Making your way there through the crowd, you see the brewster wearing the pointy hat that has a broad round brim. She has her broom displayed. You might see a six pointed star, a “stellated hexagon,” strongly resembling the Star of David. If she sold ale from her home and you dropped by for a pint, you might have seen her bubbling cauldron, her jars of secret ingredients, and her cat.

Being a time traveler from the 21st century, you might get a certain idea about all of this and decide to take your chances with drinking the water after all.


To read beer reviews click here.

To read more history, science, and entertaining humor click here.

We welcome and value your opinions and inquiries. Please contact us at