While both the production and consumption of beer have become masculinized over the past few centuries, the longer history of beer tells a different story. For millennia after the invention of beer, women were the first brewmasters in many societies and, in some places, the first tavern owners. Only after brewing became a profitable endeavor did men claim the industry as their own by leaning on existing patriarchal constructs and introducing new ones.
Artifacts from ancient Sumerian civilization suggest that beer brewing began as early as 3500 BCE. Beer was such serious business for Sumerians that Hammurabi’s Code included laws governing the production and distribution of beer. These laws specifically referenced women when describing the punishments tavern owners could face for legal violations, implying that most, if not all, tavern owners were female. Its classification as a domestic chore and a woman’s responsibility wasn’t unique to Sumerian society; later Egyptian and European civilizations would also consider brewing a domestic responsibility.
The history and disappearance of brewsters demonstrate patriarchy’s capacity to not only introduce but also sustain male dominance in a trade once considered “women’s work.”