So I recently became the director of studies and main lecturer on Sweden's first extensive beer sommelier education. I think it's probably the most fun I've ever had work-wise. Travelling back and forth to southern Sweden was an amazing experience, getting to know more of Malmö and most importantly the wonderful people there.
I'm incredibly proud of my students who have learned so much, worked hard and have really impressed me with how competent they grew to be in such a short time span - the course spanned over three months.
The program was (is) hosted and made possible by Gustibus Wine and Spirit Academy, a well-reputed academy in Skåne, southern Sweden. Since this was our first time setting up this kind of course, we faced many challenges concerning methodology, syllabus for the course, and all the details that go into planning something like this. But the main goal for me was to send out these beer sommeliers out into the world with reliable, objective tasting skills and allow them to keep the ship steady at sea, even when the storms of different trends and patterns transform the beer world. During ten full days, we dived into everything from sensory knowledge, beer styles, brewing theory, draught systems, quality control, food pairings, and much more. They were also trained in basic knowledge about wine, mead, cider, sake and whisky.
The main thing I've learned through teaching this course, and what really keeps my energy up, is how complex and hard it is to define, boil down and explain the beer world. Sometimes I had to explain quite arbitrary things to the students, shrug my shoulders and say, "That's just the way it is". The confusing world of beer styles, and who decides what, is one of those subjects where there's really very few short, easy answers. Some of the times I think the students became more frustrated and confused than enlightened. But we kept on fighting and I'm now proud to say they have a genuine base for understanding and analyzing beer. I thrive on learning how to define beer in a more concise way.
For those of you who have followed me and know my long-term ambition, you know how much I nag about creating a common foundation of beer knowledge and beer standards in Sweden. By teaching this course and sending out beer sommeliers, I think we've started building that foundation. I truly believe the beer business and culture in Sweden will benefit from having more educated beer people out there.
If you, or anyone you know, would be interested in becoming a beer sommelier, I'll be teaching it in both Stockholm and Malmö during the fall semester of 2019. Check it out here: http://www.gustibus.se/information-olsommelierutbildningen/
Okay okay I know, this is supposed to be a lager blog, but something's been on my mind lately and I just need to set a few things straight. I've heard a lot of different claims going around on women in beer history, some are more doubtable than others. I believe it's important to see the complexity of the matter and to connect it to economical, technological, political and cultural factors all at once. I will in the future do a more deep-digging analysis on this, but just to give you a hint on what I believe is a reasonable theoretical frame, this is a good place to start.
So, I'm going to share with you an excerpt on a study that I did on women in brewing back in 2016. I will post it first in English and then in Swedish, so please scroll down for the Swedish version.
HOW WOMEN DISAPPEARED FROM BEER
To summarize the historical process of how it came to be that the beer industry would be male-dominated, I’d like to visit medieval England. It was then, and up until the point beer and brewing became industrialized for real, that the perhaps most dramatical changes in the industry occurred. The context was of course different in every country and society, but I’d like to claim that parallels to other economies can be made of how this came about. In England in the 1300’s, brewing was a common frequent trade that didn’t generate a lot of profit for whomever sold it, and it wasn’t something that required much advanced equipment, capital or an especially developed skill (no more than cooking). Because of this, brewing was an accessible occupation for women, and a much better alternative for women to make some money. The female brewers, also called brewsters or alewives, completely dominated the production of beer for a couple of hundred years in England.
If we fast-forward to the 17th century, however, brewing had in many places developed into a highly specialized trade that required investments and technical training, and had also (or therefore) been associated with social prestige. For the first time, it was a very profitable business and with that came regulations and guild-formations. One consequence this brought along was that the beer industry was slowly but surely taken over by men, shutting women out of the industry. How? The answer to that question is complex and multifaceted. The process is a combination of a technical and economical development, just as much as it was implicated in social and cultural circumstances. It’s hardly arguable that women were forced out the beer industry with violence, or that they left it willingly, the answer lies somewhere inbetween. As the commercial and capitalistic opportunities in England were increasing, women had very little capital that they could invest in equipment, leaving them out of the business world. They also had a very limited authority on the labor market and to little of a circle of contacts to expand their brewing operations. When the brewer’s guild started asserting their occupational status, the female brewers often found themselves left out or as less valuable members due to their husbands who took an unproportionate number of seats in the guilds. The husbands of the brewsters often also directly excluded the women from joining the guilds.
A new type of beer, called “beer”, started to be brewed in a larger scale. What differentiated “beer” from the previous brews was, among other things, the boiling of the wort with hops. This new, hopped beer (that stayed fresh for longer than the older, unhopped ales and therefore could make a more serious entry into the market place), gained more and more popularity in the diet. The brewsters, however, no matter how delicious and well-made their ales might have been, didn’t have access to the new technology that was required for making the newer hopped beer, and they weren’t able to meet the demands for this new beer. Brewing and selling beer became more and more regulated and was more than ever before in control by the state, and women’s smaller brewing enterprises were considered more tedious and problematic to control and regulate than the larger beer companies owned by men.
Side by side with this development, an unfavorable cultural representation of alewives and brewsters was spread throughout the country. Alcoholism, and other problems implicated in the production and consumption of beer, were of course issues that were important to deal with, but it was the female brewers that were blamed for these problems, even though they were already losing the business to men. Brewsters became scapegoats for social issues. Grotesque depictions of ugly, horrible alewives who were working with Satan and luring poor innocent men into alcoholism and despair were common. The combination of insufficient trust in the producers, the fear of alcoholism, and the misogynist representations of brewsters really hit female brewers hard. The meld of all these circumstances (and certainly many more that I don’t have the space to write in a simple blog post), gave men the upper hand in the beer world. The brewsters were forced to find other ways to make a living, and they disappeared from the beer industry.
HUR KVINNOR FÖRSVANN UR ÖLVÄRLDEN
För att ge en sammanfattning av hur det gick till för att ölbranschen skulle bli mansdominerad vill jag göra ett nedslag i det medeltida England med hjälp av Bennett (1996). Det var då och fram tills dess att bryggarbranschen på allvar blev industrialiserad som den kanske mest dramatiska omställningen i bryggarbranschen skedde. Självklart var omständigheterna annorlunda i Sverige och det är svårare att veta hur utvecklingen såg ut i en svensk kontext, men jag vill ändå hävda att det går att dra likheter till hur branschen utvecklats här. I 1300-talets England var bryggning en allmänt förekommande handel som inte gav så hög avkastning för försäljarna men som inte heller krävde varken avancerad utrustning eller särskilt utvecklad skicklighet. Tack vare detta var det 2 en lättillgänglig syssla för kvinnor och ett bättre alternativ än många andra möjliga vägar för kvinnor att tjäna pengar på. Kvinnliga bryggare, även kallade brewsters eller alewives, dominerade produktionen av öl under några hundra år i England. Men på 1600-talet hade bryggning på många ställen utvecklats till en i hög grad specialiserad handel som krävde investering och teknisk träning, tilldelats social prestige med regleringar och skråväsende, och börjat erbjuda avsevärda mängder profit. Med detta hade även handeln slutat vara dominerad av kvinnor för att istället tas över av manliga bryggare. Hur gick det till? Svaret på frågan är spretigt och komplext. Processen har varit en kombination av teknisk och ekonomisk utveckling likväl som sociala och kulturella förhållanden. Det går varken att påstå att kvinnor motades ur bryggarbranschen med våld eller att de lämnade den frivilligt (Bennett 1996, 146). När de kommersiella möjligheterna i England ökade hade kvinnor väldigt lite kapital att investera i ny utrustning, begränsad auktoritet på arbetsmarknaden och för litet kontaktnät för att expandera sin verksamhet. När skråväsenden för ölbryggare började hävda sin yrkesstatus och komma med nya strategier, fann ofta kvinnorna sig som mindre värdefulla medlemmar till fördel för sina äkta män som ibland även exkluderade kvinnor från att vara med i skråna. En ny typ av öl som kallades “beer” började bryggas som krävde mer utrustning bland annat för kokning och användning av humle. Det här nya, humlade ölet (som höll sig fräscht längre än den tidigare alen, och därför mer på allvar kunde bli en handelsvara) tog allt större utrymme i kosthållningen. Kvinnorna hade dock i stor utsträckning ingen tillgång till den nya teknologin och lyckades inte i sin produktion svara på den växande efterfrågan på den typen av öl. Bryggning och ölförsäljning blev mer och mer reglerat och hamnade under allt noggrannare inspektion av staten, och kvinnors små ölföretag ansågs mer besvärliga och problematiska att kontrollera än de större företagen drivna av män. Alla dessa förändringar fortlöpte, samtidigt som en ofördelaktig kulturell representation av kvinnliga ölbryggare spred sig i hela landet. Alkoholism och problem kopplade till framställningen och konsumtionen av öl var viktiga problem att ta itu med, men det var i hög grad de kvinnliga bryggarna som fick 3 skulden av att ha orsakat alla dessa problem, snarare än alla som bryggde öl. Groteska skildringar av fula kvinnliga bryggare som samarbetar med Satan och lurar in män i fördärvet var vanliga. Kombinationen av bristande tillit för livsmedelsproducenter, en rädsla för farorna med alkohol, och kvinnohatet slog hårt mot de kvinnliga bryggarna. En blandning av dessa omständigheter (och säkerligen flera andra som inte får plats att redovisas här) gjorde att männen fick fördelarna i branschen. Under sådana omständigheter var kvinnor alltså tvungna att hitta andra sätt att försörja sig på, och försvann därmed från ölnäringen (Bennett 1996, 145-146).
Further reading and references:
This blog post is a shorter version of the lecture I gave at Nolia Beer about the future of beer in general, but more focused on lager brewing.*
The heat wave and drought took almost half of the crop yield in a few important barley growing regions in Northern and Eastern Germany this summer**, and Sweden's cereal harvest was at its lowest since 1959 with barley yields dropping to only 45% of the average numbers.*** Climate change also poses big threats for hop yields, for example one of the most important lager hops, Saaz.
What challenges and issues does this entail for the future of lager beer?
At Humlegårdens Ekolager's brewers' conference in 2018, I asked this question to representatives from malt houses and hop distributors, and despite the very different answers there was one aspect of the future of the beer industry that I made out from all the answers - the importance of flexibility and adaptability in the future. A unique situation in climate history will force brewers worldwide to adapt their brewing procedures while still maintaining quality (and to a certain extent, stay afloat economically). Here are three key points I've identified so far:
1. Flexibility and adaptability - readiness to change malt bills, working with different types of barley crops, high malting expertise
2. Adjunct lagers - with cereal yields in decline, the above mentioned flexibility will have brewers adapting to many different types of crops, depending on which crops can make it in the drought and heat, or milder winters, or the new upcoming ice age when the Gulf stream stops [just kidding, there is no certainty whatsoever that that will happen]. I'm no expert in brewing with every different kind of starch and sugar source, but if I were a brewer right now in it for the long run, I would start looking into brewing with rice, corn, millet, sorghum, among others. Same thing goes for being flexible in spicing, why not take the opportunity to get more aquainted with gruit while we're at it?
3. Quality control will be even more crucial than earlier. As fun and amazing the boom of microbreweries is, the stakes and the necessity for unrelenting quality control is going to become higher with the increase of the uncertainty of possible crop usage. If push comes to shove, the smaller artisanal breweries might start to decline rapidly, and we might see a faster rate of consolidation and centralization of brewing to the most affluent big breweries.
I believe lager beer has an advantage compared to some other beer styles since lager brewing is already the perhaps most versatile in cereal usage and starch sources on a larger commercial scale. I just feel extra bad for the German lager brewers if (or when) their barley yield keeps declining. That might take a real turn for them and the fundamentals of the taxation laws might have to be completely overlooked. No matter what will happen in the future, it is absolutely crucial that brewers all over the world start taking this into consideration for the future world of beer.