Give Mom This Book on Mother's Day
I have become attuned to the rhythms of seasonal book sales. Concerning The Beer Bible, there is a giant spike around the holidays, as gift-givers purchase a copy, and another in the weeks before Father's Day. But in May? Nothing. Sons and daughters do not purchase a copy for their mothers; spouses do not gift it to their wives. I would love to see that change. Women like beer! Moms would love to indulge this passion just as much as dear old Dad.
Moreover, although women's story is less often told, it is central to the continuity of beer. For long millennia, the only brewers were women, and they would be the only brewers today if men hadn't seen the enormous financial opportunity it in. Women were almost certainly the first brewers, and for much of human history, they were the only brewers. I will include a passage from the book below, but in sum, let me encourage you to pick up a copy today. Your Mom will admire your verve and discernment, your creativity. She will feel the love. There are many fine booksellers, like Powell's, Amazon, or your local independent. So give it some thought.
All right, here's one of the passages in the book that mentions women--moms in most cases--as a bit of inspiration.
Imagine an advertisement for the modern British home circa 1600. The kitchen area, domain of the lady of the house and her team of servants, is a beautifully-appointed space with all the necessities of modern life: the kitchen proper with attached larder, beer and wine cellar, herb and vegetable garden, and of course the hearth, flanked by the bakehouse and brewhouse. Yes, brewhouse. Such a facility was an indispensable feature of the Elizabethan home. Commercial sale of beer on a large scale is a relatively recent phenomenon; hundreds of years ago, brewing beer was just one of the many duties performed on country estates across England.
Pamela Sambrook, who wrote a wonderful history of the country brewery, Country House Brewing in England, 1500-1900, notes that “it is rare to find a country house of any size or age which had no record at all of the existence of a brewhouse.” In the years before the British had discovered coffee and tea, beer was the safe drink of choice (as opposed to water, which was not). Children were purported to have been weaned on it, and everyone in a country estate, family and servants alike, were given a daily measure.
Until the seventeenth century, home brewhouses were a domestic duty and the province of women. Over time, they became more elaborate affairs, often occupying professionally-designed out-buildings, and men began to get in on the act—a period that coincided with the rise of male-dominated commercial brewing.
Yet commercial brewing didn’t end the practice of estate brewing, and in fact, country ales had the highest reputation among all beers. One of the reasons was an expensive specialty known as “October beer.” Until refrigeration, brewing was a seasonal activity, done only in the cool months. The best time to brew were the crisp days of October, after the harvests of grain and hop had come in. (A similar beer, called “March beer,” was made in the spring, but was less prized because the ingredients weren’t as fresh.) The expense associated with all the time and ingredients required for October beer made it a poor candidate for commercial production, but the gentry could afford to invest in these luscious, heady winter brews.