A burly man with a long beard and a flannel shirt. That’s become the stereotypical image of a brewer in today’s world of craft beer.
However, according to UNC Greensboro Archivist Erin Lawrimore, it’s an inaccurate image – and one that discounts the work of women.
Many beer aficionados are unaware of the historic and present-day roles of women in brewing, says Lawrimore. From medieval alewives to 19th-century home brewers to today’s brewery owners, women have always had their hand in beer making.
“Until the brewing industry was industrialized after Prohibition, women brewers were plentiful,” Lawrimore says. “Brewing was considered ‘women’s work.’”
For the past year, Lawrimore and University Libraries colleagues Richard Cox and David Gwynn have documented the history, business and culture of beer and brewing in North Carolina as part of their digital project “Well Crafted NC.”
It was through this work that Lawrimore found women’s beer recipes dating back to the 1800s. These recipes spurred Lawrimore to expand Well Crafted NC by exploring the role of women in the industry today.
Thanks to a UNCG Faculty First grant, Lawrimore traveled across the state during the summer, conducting oral interviews with 23 women brewers and brewery owners.
What were some of the themes that emerged?
First, Lawrimore found that many women have come to brewing from other traditionally male-dominated industries, such as construction and IT. Second, most of the women have completed formal education programs. And third, they rely on a strong support network.
“Women are still fighting stereotypes. They have to have the formal training and work really hard to prove that they belong.”
She argues that women have remained an integral part of the industry since industrialization – they just haven’t always been as visible as men. But with the shift to craft beer and the recent focus on the “craftsperson,” we’re starting to see the women behind the beer.
“The brewer has gone from someone quietly brewing beer in the back to a public face for the business.”
While many of the previous Well Crafted NC oral history interviews focused on the history of the breweries, Lawrimore is focused on the personal stories of these women.
“This project allows these women to share their stories in their words, without any editing,” she says. “Fifty years down the road, we’ll have a snapshot of this industry in this moment in time – the women and men who are driving it and how the industry came to be.”
Want to learn more? Visit wellcraftednc.com to watch the oral history interviews and read more about the history of brewing in North Carolina.
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography courtesy of University Libraries