Calla finally convinces Kara to do a beer episode – since women historically made beer for their families and villages. The biddies discuss the history of beer making from ancient times through the middle ages, a connection between beer and accusations of witchcraft, and much more. Grab a glass of something hopp-y and join them.



Study Notes for the Women and Witches and Beer:


  • Unlike fruit, grains have more starch that needs to be converted into sugar before it can be fermented.
  • If you get a grain (which is a seed) wet, it will activate enzymes inside the grain to break down the starch into sugar in order to feed the seedling during the sprouting process.


  • Possesses high levels of the enzymes that convert starch into sugar
  • It can be mixed with other grains to jump start the process as well
  • Very tall, tough grass that isn’t bothered by cold, drought or poor soil
  • Early people noticed that occasionally a barley plant would hold onto its grains, making them easier to harvest → led to domestication
    • People selected seeds from plants that held onto their grains, planting them and spreading these varieties around the world
    • Originated in the middle east but made its way to Spain by 5000 BC and China by 3000 BC
    • Columbus brought it to America on his second voyage


  • Beer is not made from hops, but hops are used to flavor beer
  • Hops are part of the cannabis family
  • Before hops, people used all sorts of herbal ingredients to flavor beer – even sometimes deadly herbs like henbane
  • This changed when hops made their way to Europe via China in the Middle Ages
  • Hops are full of a resin called lupulin that make beer foamy, give it its bitter taste and extend its shelf life
  • We talked about Hildegard von Bingen and she wrote about hops in the 12th century


  • WHYM – water, hops, yeast, malt
  • Stems from Reineheitsgebot – a series of regulations limiting the ingredients in beer in Germany and the states of the former Holy Roman Empire


  • Early humans probably accidentally made beer when they left barley grains in a bucket filled with water long enough for them to ferment with wild yeast, some time in the stone age
  • Early cultures organized around being able to intentionally produce more of this stuff → in the bronze age we get metal vats to store the stuff
  • Women were primarily in charge of making beer – episode 75 details the history of early beer making in both Mesopotamia and Egypt – these were in the BCEs and mostly came to an end when the ass Hammurabi ruined everything in 1754 BCE
  • BUT women continued to be in charge of beer in other cultures
    • The Vikings 800-1000s CE, while men were off sailing around, women were in charge of making beer
      • Women brewers were held in very high regard and had a totem stick that they used to mix the wort – the totem stick had both recipe information and endemic yeast
      • Aside from the very interesting totem stick, the viking women brewed with natural growing herbs, roots, grains, fruits and honeys to create their drink of choice. While barley would not be found in viking ales due to the regional climate
      • In a viking grave discovered recently, a woman was found buried with wine strainers, glass beakers, drinking horns, ladles and a cauldron.
    • 600-1000 AD the women of the Wari culture in Peru regularly make a beer from corn
    • Beer was considered a household staple throughout Europe, and many women brewed beer for their household’s consumption
      • Alewives would take their skill outside the home for extra cash – especially important for widows and unmarried women
      • In England, women selling their beer often wore pointed hats at the market in order to better identified
        • Stupid male brewers afraid of the competition spread rumors that they were witches
        • Even those who didn’t believe the rumors didn’t think making beer was a good pastime for women – too time consuming, young alewives might grow up to be spinsters
          • By the 1500s/1600s many english towns forbade women from making beer


  • As we mentioned, brewing was primarily women’s work until the 1500s
    • A smear campaign started accusing women brewers of being witchew
  • Much of the iconography associated with witches today comes from the connection to female brewers
    • Pointed hats – women wore these in marketplaces in England so customers could see them when it was crowded
    • Cauldrons – the brew was transported in cauldrons
    • Cats – a lot of their shops had cats (considered a demon familiar) to keep mice away from grains
    • Brooms – Signified the shop was open if the broom was hung outside
  • While they were establishing themselves in the beer markets of England, Ireland and the rest of Europe the Reformation was beginning
    • Preached stricter gender norms and condemned witchcraft
  • Male brewers saw an opportunity to reduce competition in the beer trade and began accusing women of being witches and instead of brew they were actually making magic potions in their cauldrons
    • The rumors took hold
    • Women used these charms or spells to intoxicate people and force them into buying more beer
  • Being accused of witchcraft wasn’t just a social faux pas, it could result in prosecution or a death sentence
    • Ostracized, imprisoned or killed
  • Even if a male brewer didn’t believe they were witches they still believed that the labor intensive process of making beer took them away from being a mother, housewife, etc


  • Beers Without Beards, organization that hosts events and tastings for women who like beer
  • Pink Boots Society, organization that supports women and non-binary individuals in the brewing industry