Book Review: A Woman’s Place is in the Brewhouse – A Forgotten History of Alewives, Brewsters, Witches, and CEOs (Tara Nurin)

Book Review: A Woman’s Place is in the Brewhouse – A Forgotten History of Alewives, Brewsters, Witches, and CEOs (Tara Nurin)

A Quick Note

Before jumping into the book review by Paul R. Kan, a quick note from myself (B. Kline). Like with his last book review (Book Review: Beer and Society: How We Make Beer and Beer Makes Us (Eli Revelle Yano Wilson and Asa B. Stone), Paul Kan reached out to me asking to do another book review, and I happily said yes. Unfortunately since the time of his last book review, his brewery Burd’s Nest (in Carlisle, Pennsylvania) has closed. We look forward to what his future brings and we offer our condolences to his business. We appreciate his dedication and commitment to craft beer and wanting to stay active in the community. He has expressed interest in writing some semi regular blog posts here for The Beer Thrillers and we are so happy to oblige and have him on board writing with us.

Paul chose to take his picture of the book at Wolf Brewing Company – a brewery co – owned by a woman (Elaine Wolf). Wolf Brewing Company is a wonderful brewery in Mechanicsburg, with Derek and Elaine Wolf owning it. Derek is the head brewer. (See end of article for other articles about Wolf Brewing Company.)

On a somewhat related – but unrelated – but related – note, I had gotten Amy this book and she has been reading it when finding time (Scarlet keeps her a little bit busy right now) and she has been meaning to review it as well. So sometime in the near future, you should be able to find here on the blog a review by Amy as well. Will be interesting to see the contrasts between Paul and Amy’s thoughts on the book.

And now, onto the review….

Paul R. Kan’s Book Review of A Woman’s Place is in the Brewhouse – A Forgotten History of Alewives, Brewsters, Witches, and CEOs by Tara Nurin

Jessica Fierro is the owner and head brewer of Atrevida Beer Company in Colorado Springs, CO. With its motto “Diversity. It’s what’s on tap!”, her brewery became an important center of community life in the city. The Colorado Springs Business Journal named her a “2022 Woman of Influence” and her beers have won awards for their taste and quality. But what earned her brewery national attention was the shooting at the Club Q nightclub in November 2022. Her husband Richard, an Iraq War veteran, was instrumental in subduing the gunman. The positive attention that fell on him quickly fell on his wife’s brewery as well. Soon, the brewery was racing to meet the online demand for its merchandise.

Atrevida’s sudden increased profile illustrates one of the core points of Tara Nurin’s book—men have often overshadowed women’s accomplishments in brewing. Nurin, the beer and spirits contributor to Forbes and adjunct Beer 101 professor at Washington University, plows through history up to today in a lively way to demonstrate that women have always brewed beer, but their global contributions to beer have been overlooked, ignored or sidelined. The belief that brewing has always been the domain of men has “erased women from beer’s timeline of the past two thousand years.” (p.7)

Nurin’s book reminds us that women’s role in brewing goes even further back than two thousand years ago. The first recipe for beer is from 3900 years ago; it was part of a hymn praising the Sumerian brewing goddess, Ninkasi. For Nurin, women have had an “ancestral right to brew” and men have been the late participants. In fact, many of our common words like “bridal” (referring to the “bride ale,” a traditionally made wedding beer for women by women) and “brewster” (the female equivalent for “brewer”) have their roots in the role of women in brewing. Given archaeological and anthropological evidence, beer “may have been birthed by the discoveries and collective consciousness of women who across the globe had, at varying times, reached a similar level of human development.” (55). As civilization grew, so did women’s responsibilities associated with brewing and serving beer. In Babylon, women not only ran taverns, but were critical in keeping political order. Women as tavern keepers were required to report any talk of rebellion against Hammurabi or face execution. In ancient Egypt, women brewed beer for key religious ceremonies.

Brewing was also part of mundane “kitchen work” associated with women making meals. In early American history, women routinely made beer at home or in taverns that their husbands or fathers owned. In pre – Civil War United States, some slave women who brewed were often able to purchase their freedom…at least for a time. Patsy Young lived free for 15 years in part by using the profits from brewing exceptional beer to pay for her emancipation before she was hauled back into slavery.

For those of us who live in present-day Pennsylvania, we can boast about Carol Stoudt’s trailblazing work to open craft brewing to the nation and that the four great-great-granddaughters of Yuengling’s founder currently own and operate America’s oldest continually operating brewery. However, Carol was often mistaken as an employee; male customers regularly asked her for some of “Ed’s beer” (Ed being her husband). (47). Debbie Yuengling admitted, that “people look at us and think we need to prove ourselves because we are women working in what has been thought of as a man’s business.” In PA’s beer industry, out of approximately 400 breweries, over five dozen breweries are fully-owned or partly-owned by women.

While Pennsylvania can celebrate its proportion of brewsters, it is still below the national average of over 40%. As for the percentage of fully women-owned breweries in the U.S., it shrinks to a shocking 2.9%. Nurin shows how women in craft brewing have been routinely overlooked by pointing out that the Brewers Association only started keeping stats on women – owned breweries eight years ago. When we don’t account for women in today’s brewing world, it’s easier to overlook how they’ve counted in the narrative of beer’s history.

What happened? How did the visibility of women become rare in the brewing world when they created it and ran it for centuries? Without too many spoilers, Nurin engagingly explains how witch trials, capitalism and industrialization all played their roles in pushing women out of the realm that they once dominated. Once beer was viewed as something that could be sold to more people and at a greater profit, men who controlled the levers of society swooped in and pushed women to the margins.

But other chapters in the book are reminders that women today are not forfeiting the brewing realm to men. Nurin’s chapters “These Boots are Made for Brewing;” “From the Back Office to the Boardroom;” and “Sisters are Brewing it for Themselves” tell the stories of women in craft brewing who are supporting one another through mentoring, scholarships and collaboration. These efforts are paying off. When the Pink Boots Society of female brewers began in 2007, it had just over 60 members; it now counts over 2000. There is also the fast-growing Alliance for Women in Beer which seeks to unite suppliers, distributors and retailers to create more opportunities for women in the beer industry.

Brewster Jessica Fierro named her Colorado brewery Atrevida because it’s Spanish for “bold, daring, audacious woman.” After reading Nurin’s important book, you’ll be convinced that all women in brewing have been, and are, Atrevidas.


A Woman’s Place is in the Brewhouse by Tara Nurin

You can find more information about A Woman’s Place is in the Brewhouse at GoodReads: A Woman’s Place is in the Brewhouse – A Forgotten History of Alewives, Brewsters, Witches, and CEOs by Tara Nurin. It currently has a global average rating of 3.68 on GoodReads (as of 1.5.23).

The GoodReads description reads:

• North American Guild of Beer Writers Best Book 2022

Dismiss the stereotype of the bearded brewer.

It’s women, not men, who’ve brewed beer throughout most of human history. Their role as family and village brewer lasted for hundreds of thousands of years—through the earliest days of Mesopotamian civilization, the reign of Cleopatra, the witch trials of early modern Europe, and the settling of colonial America. A Woman’s Place Is in the Brewhouse celebrates the contributions and influence of female brewers and explores the forces that have erased them from the brewing world.
It’s a history that’s simultaneously inspiring and demeaning. Wherever and whenever the cottage brewing industry has grown profitable, politics, religion, and capitalism have grown greedy. On a macro scale, men have repeatedly seized control and forced women out of the business. Other times, women have simply lost the minimal independence, respect, and economic power brewing brought them.
But there are more breweries now than at any time in American history and today women serve as founder, CEO, or head brewer at more than one thousand of them.

As women continue to work hard for equal treatment and recognition in the industry, author Tara Nurin shows readers that women have been—and are once again becoming—relevant in the brewing world.

GoodReads: A Woman’s Place is in the Brewhouse – A Forgotten History of Alewives, Brewsters, Witches, and CEOs by Tara Nurin

Paul R. Kan

Paul R. Kan is a beer lover and a lover of stories. Which goes hand in hand. Sharing stories over beers is as old as time, and now Paul gets to help others share their stories over beer. He’s been able to do both as a beer writer and former owner of Burd’s Nest Brewing Company. He’s also a brewery taproom consultant, helping others create their own beer stories.

Other articles by Paul R. Kan on The Beer Thrillers are:

Wolf Brewing Company

As I mentioned earlier, I would link down here other articles about Wolf Brewing Company, a local female co – owned brewery.

Beer Related Book Reviews

For other beer related book reviews, check these out (and don’t worry – more will be coming soon!):

Thanks For Reading

As always I end every article with my ‘thanks for reading’. I (B. Kline) appreciate all of you reading all of our articles, commenting, liking, following, subscribing, it means so much to us.

I want to thank Paul R. Kan for reaching out to me and submitting this book review. He also has a fun series of articles he wants to write. I can’t wait to get them running on the blog, I think… no, I know… you’ll all love them.

In a few days our podcast with Central PA Pour will be uploaded. I will make sure to make an article and link it here on the blog so you can all watch it. Josh and I had a blast with the Central PA Pour crew; their a great bunch of guys.

And one last time, thank you all for reading. It is so very much appreciated.

Cheers All!

-B. Kline


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