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Gender equality in the brewing industry: "Perhaps men are also often overestimated"

Many sectors struggle with gender stereotypes. The brewing industry is no exception. Women rarely work here, beer is simply not for women, according to the common, superficially stereotypical and simply wrong opinion. There is certainly room for improvement here - but you can also take it in stride, like Nicola Buchner, Managing Director of the Beer Sommeliers Association and a female force in the beer world.

Nina Anika Klotz
Nina Anika Klotz
Gründerin & Autorin Helden Publishing UG (HOPFENHELDEN)

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Two eggs with painted male and female gender symbols Beer is (still) seen as a man's drink, although beer production was in the hands of women for centuries. (Photo: Dainis Graveris auf Unsplash)

Women invented beer brewing


Historically, beer was actually a woman's business for thousands of years. Not only were women responsible for brewing beer as far back as the Sumerians, but women have also been in no way inferior to men as beer consumers throughout history.

There are reports, for example, that the ancient Greeks and Romans, both of whom were known to be primarily wine drinkers, were quite familiar with beer, but it was seen more as the drink of "the weaker ones". Possibly this meant the economically weaker, so beer could have been the less noble, cheaper drink for the common people. However, there are also historians who are carried away by the assumption that this could be a reference to the supposedly "weaker sex".

In our latitudes, at any rate, beer was demonstrably a drink for women, who for the longest time brewed it as part of their household chores: Today's "Kaffeekränzchen", for example, can be traced back to a beer wreath that was served at afternoon gatherings of women from the neighbourhood right up to modern times. The brewing kettle was an integral part of the dowry, and women like Hildegard von Bingen, who advised everyone: "Cervisium bibat!" ("Drink beer!"), or Katharina von Bora, Martin Luther's wife, whose beer must have been so good that the epicurean Luther had her brews sent after him on his travels, made a name for themselves in the beer world.

And what happened then? What has happened that beer is now drunk by fewer and fewer women and brewed by very few women? When we talk about gender equality, as we often do these days, why does the brewing industry seem to be an unoccupied field? When did beer and women get so far apart?

Well, there is no clear answer to that. At some point, however, beer brewing became professionalised; it was no longer something women did in the kitchen like cooking dinner. Breweries were established, many in men's monasteries, i.e. per se without women, where physically hard work was involved, so that almost exclusively male professions developed here.

And the fact that women are drinking less and less beer may be due to the increasing choice of alternative drinks, but it may also be a self-reinforcing phenomenon: If you learn as a young person that "women just don't drink beer", then you just don't drink beer.

Nicola Buchner, however, drinks beer. And she brews beer. And above all, as managing director of the Association of Beer Sommeliers, she teaches both - and has gained a lot of experience with the topic of women and beer.

Portrait picture of Nicola BuchnerNicola Buchner: "It's actually quite nice to be underestimated, then you can surprise better by showing what you can do." (Photo: Verband der Diplom Biersommeliers)

Nicola, how often does it happen that someone on the phone of the Beer Sommeliers Association wants to speak to "the boss, please" when you answer?


Nicola Buchner: And then I say, "I'm the manager"? That happens from time to time. It's probably a generational issue, usually the person on the other end of the line is a bit older. But I can always laugh about it. Because it's actually quite nice to be underestimated. Then you can surprise better if you show what you can do. And anyway, many men are perhaps overestimated.

And yet there are actually a lot of women among you beer sommeliers, aren't there?


Buchner: It looks that way. But in fact it's "only" 16 per cent of all our association members. Only in inverted commas, because that's actually a lot for the beer world. In the brewmaster courses at the Doemens Academy, for example, the proportion of women is between six and eight per cent. There is usually one, maybe two women in the class. In comparison, our 16 per cent are already a lot. And: You simply hear a lot about our beer sommeliers, such as the world champion Elisa Raus.

Portrait picture of Nicola BuchnerNicola Buchner: "Brewing can be a profession that requires an extreme amount of creativity." (Photo: Doemens)

What do you think is the reason why so few women become brewmasters?


Buchner: Probably mainly because of the prevailing misconceptions about what brewers really do these days. To be honest, most people, both men and women, go into their training with the wrong images in their heads. Some think: Mei, you just drink a lot of beer! The others: I'll just do what my father always did. And still others think it's a safe choice for a job when they would have preferred to study biochemistry. And some girls probably also falsely imagine a lot of schlepping.


And what does the reality look like?


Buchner: Brewing can be a profession where an extreme amount of creativity is required. Where you can constantly develop something completely new. And where it's all about the senses. 


Whereas "something with the senses" would probably scare men off more. Women are said to be more capable when it comes to using all their senses. Is that all nonsense or is there something to it?


Buchner: You have to be very careful about that: Well, from a purely biological point of view, women are indeed the better tasters, because statistically they have more taste buds, there are more so-called "supertasters" among women. But I want to put that into perspective right away! Because the problem is rather: if you are not aware that you can do something well, then you can't do it. And if men don't think they can do so much "with their senses", then maybe that's also the reason why they can't do it. In general, the whole process of tasting is an interplay of so many different influencing factors. The biological preconditions, everyday life, external influences at the moment of tasting, interest in tasting in general, hormones - whether someone has more or fewer taste buds plays only a small role in all this. It would be more important for everyone, men and women, to be more aware of what we actually eat. Basically! Experience pleasure more consciously and pay attention to what tastes good and what is good for the body.

The younger generation is quite good at that. Living consciously, eating and drinking consciously...


Buchner: That's right. And what I've also noticed about them is that the young girls are much more accessible to beer as a stimulant than women of our generation. Because they don't grow up in this segregated way of thinking. Our mothers drank wine, our fathers beer. We're already doing it differently. And our children who observe this have fewer prejudices in their heads. They grow up in an environment where the topic of gender equality is constantly talked about. Plus: when young people start going to bars today, they already have a choice, a real variety of beers. While for us more than three beers is still "wow", they are used to the fact that a beer can have flavours ranging from cherry to honey to spices. And there is of course something for more people - regardless of gender.