The sixth and most recent beer festival at Jacobs Beer House in Bradford was yet another creation from the head of licensee Christina Wagstaff. The theme this time was a festival entitled “The Female Hop” that was a celebration of beers brewed by women - Brewsters. With the aid of knowledge from a friend she gathered together a list of female brewers and asked them if they would supply beers for her festival. The result was seventeen beers from ten breweries.
Why “Brewsters” you may ask? The number of professional women brewers in this country and no doubt the world is on the up which just illustrates that brewing has come full circle. From ancient times until the Industrial Revolution, making beer was the domain of women as part of their role in the home. Just as food was home prepared in the kitchen for the family (including children), beer was too. For many years water quality was poor and the only safe way of drinking was to partake in alcohol. Anything left over was usually sold, often providing a valuable income for households. Indeed a survey of an English town in the 13th century found that only 8% of brewers were men. Alehouses were most often run by women and that often meant that there was a room made available in the house for the consumption of “home brew”.
However the social and economic change brought about by the Industrial Revolution generated a huge change. With the scientific understanding of the brewing process and the introduction of large scale equipment into what amounted to factories (the domain of men), beer was taken out of the hands of women and the family home and produced on a massive scale by men, for men!
In recent years there has been an upward trend of more women drinking real ale and this has been reflected by the increasing number of brewsters in the industry, nowhere more so than in God’s Own County. Of the ten Brewsters breweries showcased at the festival, seven were from Yorkshire and the other three from not far away. Women brewers tend to think outside the traditional box and its often called boring bland brown beers (although still liked by some) and these are no longer the norm. Many have brought imagination to their craft and just as there is a trend to experiment with flavours and tastes with food, they have been as innovative with beer and have not been afraid to be creative. With this inventiveness has come commercial success and recognition too. Many female brewers have won awards all over the country for their beers and perhaps the pinnacle of these successes was the title of “Brewer of the Year” being awarded by the British Guild of Beer Writers to a woman for the first time in its twenty year history to Sara Barton in 2012. Sara owns and runs Brewster's Brewery in Lincolnshire and provided a great beer for this festival.
And what of these brewsters and their beers? In brewery alphabetical order:
Guest appearing at the festival launch was local lass Leigh Terry from the Baildon Brewery who had supplied her Brunette, a 3.9% ABV Ruby True Ale made with English hops. Although she had only been running her brewery for about a year, Leigh had previously spent ten years performing various roles at Britain’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame in Kent. She was on her way to drop a wooden cask also containing Brunette to the Oddfellows at Shipley and so a photograph just had to be taken. She had this to say about being a brewster “This may seem like a male dominated industry but in practice is more like a club where women are accepted as equals. That is the beauty of brewing. All true brewers are supportive of each other. We leave the cutthroat business to the salesmen. For these reasons there is no other industry I would rather work in and I am very proud of our heritage. Read the story of Leigh and her Baildon Brewery in the article written by Jeff Utley MBE in the Tyke Taverner from July/August 2014.
The beer from the newest and most local brewery was a lovely 5% ABV Strawberry Pale Ale brewed by Maria Barrett at Bradford Brewery. Called Jaspa, the strawberry flavour was very subtle and monies raised from sales of this festival special were donated to Children's Liver Disease Foundation charity.
In the business for over twenty years, Sara Barton founded her Brewsters Brewery because she had a raging desire to brew fine innovative beers on an artisan scale. She took a Masters degree in Brewing at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, and spent several years working for Courage mainly in the Berkshire Brewery as a production manager. With her brewery team she continues to develop new beers and put a twist on old styles by incorporating the latest hop varieties. She heads an all round brewery developing the experience to produce an array of beer styles with great flavours for all occasions. On the bar at the festival was Aromantica (4.2% ABV), a light amber beer with a slightly sweet nutty flavour.
Brown Cow Brewery
Sue Simpson at Brown Cow had supplied two beers for the festival, the multi award winning Thriller in Vanilla (5.1% ABV) and the ever popular (if you are lucky to frequent the great pubs of Selby) White Dragon (4.2% ABV). Sue had this to say “I brewed my first Brown Cow Brewery beer eighteen years ago on the 17th July 1997. Back then it was pretty unusual to be a Brewster, there was probably only around a handful of us in the country and sometimes I admit it could be hard to be taken seriously. These days though it’s not so unusual and it’s great to see a growing band of brewsters joining the industry. I’ve just brewed my 1,432nd beer and I don’t intend to hang up my mashing-in paddle any time soon!”
Normally, Russ Beverley does all the brewing down at Empire in Slaithwaite (Slawit to train conductors and us locals). However half the brewery team are two redheaded “ ladies” and they thought why not get stuck in and came up with "Double Hop, Carrot Top" (4.3% ABV). Brewed by the “Empire Bunny Boilers” (their words not mine), it is what it says, a doubled hopped pale ale with tongue tantalizing notes of mango, passion fruit and lime - what's there not to like. Well if this is their first attempt there should be more to come in the future. Lovely.
Head brewer at Ilkley Brewery, Christa Sandquist has been with the company for almost two years after two year’s brewing at the Harviestoun Brewery in Scotland. She has brought a wealth of knowledge and experience, endorsed by a degree in Brewing and Distilling at Herriot-Watt University as well as a Chemistry degree from the University of Washington. The Invader is a 4%ABV crisp, peppery and light rye pale ale that is a revamped and improved recipe developed from Rye Pale brewed for Le Tour (Bike Rye'd) last year.
Former teachers Tara Mallinson and Elaine Yendall love beer and their inspiration in establishing their brewery in 2008 was to develop and brew beers that they like themselves. Over the years, they have gained a reputation for producing crisp, clean flavoured hoppy ales, their speciality being single hopped variety ales of which those supplied to the festival are prime examples, namely Citra (3.8% ABV), Bramling Cross (3.7% ABV), Baby Mosaic (3.7% ABV) and Ella (3.9% ABV made with Stella hops – don’t ask!).
Kathy Britton is the managing partner at Oldershaw Brewery in Lincolnshire. She runs the brewery on a day to day basis: brewing, recipe devising, selling beer, handling the office and pretty much anything else that needs doing. She has developed many new beers including those which are part of Project Venus – a collaboration by brewsters to raise the profile of women in the brewing industry. On the bar was Mosaic Blonde (4.3% ABV), a lager-style beer featuring three hop varieties including the formidable ‘Mosaic’, a relative newcomer to the hop scene and the current favourite of many including myself. Waiting in the wings was the American Hopquad IPA (5% ABV), a beer with striking orange, citrus and herbal notes.
After two years as assistant brewer at the Riverhead Brewery in Marsden, Lisa Handforth has been going solo now for around four years making some wonderful beers. Her brewery is a two brewers barrel plant producing just eight firkins per brew, meaning that she can experiment and produce a massive range of styles of beers, including many one-off, limited edition brews. Lisa says “each and every brew day is full of challenges and as a result I have become the Mistress of multitasking, but for me, knowing that people really enjoy the end product is the greatest reward.” Well said. Lisa’s beer for the festival was the flavoursome Dandelion and Burdock Mild (3.6% ABV) with herbal and floral notes.
Welbeck Abbey Brewery
The career of head brewer Claire Monk all came about by chance. Having studied microbiology and bio-chemistry at Sheffield University, she was unsure about a career path when a lecturer friend suggested the food and drinks industry. She soon found herself at Kelham Island Brewery in Sheffield training as a brewer. It was the ideal role, made even more appealing by the fact that she’d always had a passion for beer encouraged by her father’s love of real ale. When Welbeck Brewery opened in April 2010, Claire moved to become Head Brewer. A dream come true job indeed. She is now relishing the routine of brewing and managing the brewery's day-to-day business. “It’s very demanding, but great fun”, she says. Three of Claire’s beers were available: Portland Black (a rich black porter at 4.5%ABV), a delicate golden ale called Aphrodite (5.2% ABV) and a malty amber beer called Red Feather (3.9% ABV).
Thus the Brewsters festival provided a multitude of styles with something for every palate. Well done Christina for organizing it. What will she think of next? Perhaps a tap takeover from a brewery that only puts its beers into wooden casks!