Cheers to Pink Boots & the Purity Law of 1516

Tracy at work.

Cheers to Pink Boots & the Purity Law of 1516

Women in the beer industry have a long history dating back to ancient Sumerian and Egyptian cultures when brewing beer was among a woman’s daily chores. Today women are a minority in the brewing industry and beer is perceived as a “man’s drink”. It is exactly why female brewers, like me, are active members of the Pink Boots Society, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the advancement of women in the beer industry. 

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This past October, I travelled to Bavaria with my fellow female colleagues for a trip of a lifetime called “Beer, Bratwurst and Beyond”. The purpose of the trip was to foster relationships with North American and German brewers and it took us to German breweries many of whom are owned or led by women. 

Just over a year ago I left my career in Human Resources with the dream of opening my own nano brewery and enrolled in the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations program at Olds College in Olds, Alberta. Besides having a passion for beer, what drew me to a career as a brewer was to be part of an industry that challenges mainstream thinking. Here in Alberta, breweries are pushing the boundaries and producing styles previously unheard of and it is fascinating to see many German breweries do the same.

The Pink Boots trip took us to Kloster-Scheyern, a nearly 1000 year-old Benedictine Abbey located in the tiny town of Scheyern, about an hour off the beaten path from Munich. Kloster-Scheyern, like many abbeys in Germany, has a brewery where traditional Bavarian styles of beer are produced such as a Helles, Weissbier, and Bock in accordance with the German Beer Purity Law of 1516. The law restricts brewers from using ingredients other than yeast, water, hops and malt and was created in part to protect crops used to make bread from being squandered on brewing. 

Under the Purity Law there are no restrictions on the style of beer produced, only that additives used in the brewing process must be filtered out of the final product. Meaning you will have to travel elsewhere to find your Pumpkin Spice ale or chocolate coffee stout. This has implications on methods that brewers in North America take for granted. The practice of injecting carbon dioxide to carbonate beer for example, is not permitted. Rather brewers must use a method called kräusening which is when a small amount of fermenting wort is added to a newly fermented beer to provide the sugars necessary for natural carbonation.  

By way of contrast, it was fascinating to visit a German craft brew house, Giesinger Brewery, in the heart of Munich. Craft beer is generating a quiet following and Giesinger is brewing styles out of the norm from the Bavarian classics such as a Baltic Porter and a Belgian Trippel. Owner Steffen Marx, having a passion for beer, began brewing out of a garage. Today, Giesinger produces 12,000 hectoliters per year and takes pride in brewing unique styles all within the Bavarian Purity Law. 

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Many of the breweries we visited are owned or led by women making their mark in a male-dominated industry. Isabella Mereien, who took over from her father as the lead brewer at Drei Kronen Brauerei completed a brewing apprenticeship like her father and believes she is as qualified as any male brewer in the industry. Recently Isabella brewed a Spelt Pale Ale called Bier Fee (meaning Beer Fairy) in collaboration with Gisi and Moni Meinel, two sisters who own and operate Meinel-Bräu in the Franconian town of Hof. The women had the idea for Bier Fee to get women interested in beer. According to Isabella, all their friends would drink Aperol Spritz, which is a wine-based cocktail and feel that beer is traditionally a drink for men.

Although in my experience the industry in Alberta is inclusive on the inside, there is still a beer drinking culture that prevents a lot of women from considering entering a career in brewing. Sexism in advertising or assumptions that beer is a male drink, creates an invisible barrier and is one of the reasons why the efforts of the Pink Boots Society are so important. In Germany, many brewers such as the Meinel sisters are working hard to change the culture and it is exactly the reason Bier Fee was not brewed to be a sweet light lager, but instead is a 7% ABV, highly hopped beer double fermented with Bavarian wheat and French white wine yeast. A new wave of German brewers including Giesinger and the women behind Bier Fee are working to affect change from the inside, challenging what has been previously accepted as the norm for generations and is something I plan to do back home in Alberta.

Tracy Vornbrock is a brewing student at Olds College and aims to open the Calgary based nano-brewery Bag Head Brewers
 

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