Women invented beer, so it’s no surprise that in a year of unprecedented challenges for pubs, bars and hospitality, women have been at the heart of the innovations that have seen their breweries through.
Whether that’s coming up with creative mixed cases to market to a pub-deprived public, or taking the lead on Covid-secure processes, or launching a Crowdfunder to get through the worst of lockdown, women have been helping craft beer survive both at and away from the mash tun.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the plans for this year’s International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day, which celebrates women in the beer industry. Held on 8 March to coincide with International Women’s Day, the world-wide celebration usually sees teams of women put their professional rivalries aside to brew some of the best beers of the year.
Undeterred by the pandemic, women in 2021 are still taking part, albeit in a socially-distanced way. The inimitable Jaega Wise and her team at Wild Card have turned out a hazy IPA named for Ada Lovelace, the first woman computer programmer, while Cloudwater, half of whose brewing team are women, has three beers on the go.
Two, a pale ale and a vanilla and cocoa stout, were voted for by members of the collaborating Facebook groups, Beer & Brewing Professionals and Crafty Beer Girls. The third, a triple IPA, will be finessed and brewed by Cloudwater’s women brewers on Women’s Day.
There’s no denying, though, that this has been a challenging year for the industry. “I honestly don’t know quite where to start,” said Chloe Brooks, of Stroud Brewery. Stroud, which has used the furlough scheme to keep staff employed, is best-known for its casks and kegs, which are usually sold straight to pubs and restaurants, and preferred independent traders – all of which made the hospitality shut-down particularly challenging.
“However, since the start of the first lockdown small pack sales have rocketed and people have been amazing at supporting us through online orders and collections from the brewery itself,” Chloe said.
Sophie de Ronde, of Burnt Mill, is one of the best-known advocates for women in brewing. “Luckily, most breweries are small enough to be dynamic and adaptable and are managing to stay afloat,” she said, but noted that Brexit was making it hard to source raw materials.
“Despite all this, we as an industry are ploughing on and with the International Women's Brew Day coming up, we will hopefully see communities pulling together and making the best of a collaboration that they can. The theme for the 2021 Unite brew is Compassion, with the hope that the industry can show and give compassion to the world. It certainly needs it.”
Perhaps more so than ever before, now is an excellent time to support the adaptable, courageous and compassionate women making waves in the craft beer scene. Here are nine of the best brews to sample.
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Stroud Brewery big cat stout, 4.5%
An outlier in a craft beer scene currently dominated by sticky-sweet, wine-strength milk stouts, this is a proper dark beer, and we loved it. Stroud’s production manager Chloe Brooks promised us an old-fashioned stout, and she delivered: it pours thick and dark as midnight, with an enticing fizz. Toasted oats and burnt caramel hit you first, on the nose, then a clean, bold glassful of dark chocolate and bitter liquorice. It’s everything you look for in a classic stout, which has become puzzlingly hard to track down. Cracking with a cheese board.
Marble Brewery agua de Jamaica, 4.3%
A typically creative brew from Salford-based Marble, led by the brilliant Janet Rogers since its inception in 1997. Floral, zingy, with depths of fruit sherbet fizz, it’s a Berliner weisse, but not as you know it. Its unique hibiscus kick is inspired by agua fresca, and works brilliantly, pouring an attractive rose with a whisper of foam. Don’t be fooled by the rolling fruit on the nose: this dry sour is sharp and refreshing. We tasted it on its own, but this would be a fantastic beer to serve as an aperitif.
Wild Card passionfruit gose, 4.8%
One of the UK’s most exciting brewers, Wild Card’s Head Brewer Jaega Wise just keeps getting better. This fantastically on-trend Gose (a kind of sour beer) showcases this brilliantly: a tricky style to make moreish, our reviewer could happily drink a pint of it, even in the middle of winter. It pours with a lovely light cloudiness, and its quintessentially Gose-y sourness is layered with a delicious passion fruit salty-sweetness. It smells mouthwatering, like warm flowers and freshly-peeled passion fruit.
Wild Card Brewery table beer, 2.7%
A delicious, full-bodied beer that’s ideal if you’re trying to cut down during lockdown or carrying on your dry(ish) January. Given its low abv it packs an amazingly flavourful punch, pouring a light, cloudy gold that’s easily the equal of a stronger hazy ale. Refreshing and very drinkable, its sweetness is citrus, orange peel and sherbert, with a little maltiness and apricot to soften the sharpness. Great with a Sunday roast.
Burnt Mill pintle, 4.3%
Always near the top of our favourites list, this brilliantly flavourful pale ale, by industry leader and women’s advocate Sophie de Ronde, is a true all-rounder. Evoking evenings in the pub and long lunches, it’s full-bodied, sweet and laced with tropical fruity flavour. But it’s not overwhelming: a full complement of hops – the beer is whirlpooled and dry hopped with Citra and Cascade – strike a more-ish, piney resin note that balances the beer out perfectly.
Beavertown double chin, 8.6%
One of the first wave of craft brewers, we always have a place in our heart for Beavertown – not least because its consistently recruited women brewers into its award-winning team. Double Chin is a kind of meta-commentary on its enormous success; a play on its endlessly popular pub staple, Neck Oil IPA, currently brewed under the watchful eye of senior brewer Ersi Emmanoulilidou at Beaverworld, the company’s new facility in Enfield.
Unlike Neck Oil, Double Chin is 8.6 per cent. Brewed annually to mark Beavertown’s birthday, it’s unapologetically hoppy – piney, tropical, with mango and grapefruit lurking in the background. Unlike some double IPAs, which feel like losing an argument with a glass full of hops, it’s subtle, drinkable, and still tastes like its inspiration, Beavertown’s landmark IPA.
Brewdog vs Cloudwater New England IPA, 6.8%
It’s high praise to describe this beer as our reviewer’s beer of the summer, given that the summer was in a pandemic. Somehow this remarkable beer – a strong, feisty can of tropical sunshine – managed to rise above the noise. Cloudwater’s Robyn Bell is one of our all-time favourite brewers, and Cloudwater beers are always a treat.
A collaborative brew with craft beer giant Brewdog means you can find one at your local supermarket, for a seriously unbeatable price. If you like IPA or pale ales, you’ll adore it: it’s full-bodied, with loads of lychee and mango, and unabashedly boozy.
Queer Brewing existence as a radical act pale ale, 4%
Founded by the brilliant Lily Waite in 2019 as a way to provide support and visibility for LGBTQ+ women in and around beer, The Queer Brewing Project has launched itself onto the craft scene, with a little help from Cloudwater, with this smashing and juicy pale ale.
The hops are classic craft pale ale, bringing notes of mango and sweet citrus, while the Kveik yeast – an ancient “super yeast” that’s making waves in the brew scene – adds a kick of spice. As Queer Brewing says, “this beer is for taking up space, and standing tall. We’ll be right there beside you.”
Brick Brewery Peckham Rye, 4.7%
One of south London’s best beers, this gorgeous malty beer is a fabulous balance of biscuity richness, zingy hops and toasty caramel. Perfect if you’re not into the super hopped, tropical tastes that tend to dominate craft beer, and want something a bit more evocative of a fireside seat in a traditional countryside pub. Not bad for a beer that started life in its founders’ – Sally and Ian Stewart – garden shed.
The verdict: Beers brewed by women
Out of a fantastic selection of beers, we obsessed over Stroud’s lovely stout – exactly what you want to drink on cold winter-y nights in lockdown. We loved everything about The Queer Brewing Project, and can’t wait to try more of their beers.
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