Home » Brew Time » Women’s History Month Craft Beer Edition

Women’s History Month Craft Beer Edition

Who run the world? Girls. Beyoncé definitely said it best.

March is Women’s History Month with March 8th marking International Women’s Day. 

So, you might be asking yourself, “What does craft beer have to do with women?!” The answer is: EVERYTHING. Like or not, believe it or not, come to grips with it or not, that beer in your hand, starts (and ends) with women. 

The earliest written recipe for beer hearkens back to ancient Mesopotamia, year 1800 B.C., known as The Hymn to Ninkasi. Ninkasi is the Sumerian goddess of brewing, whose name literally means “you who fill my mouth so full.” Contained in this ancient writing, the hymn praises the goddess while also providing a recipe on how to make beer from barley bread and discusses brewing techniques. 

Ancient Mesopotamia was largely a patriarchal society, and whereas Sumerian women did not have many opportunities outside of being a wife, mother and keeping house, women did brew beer, and were allowed to open their own taverns. The Code of Hammurabi, which contained approximately 300 laws governing this ancient land, gave complete and total jurisdiction over brewing and beer to women, even going as far as to use the word “she” in describing every tavern owner. 

In ancient Egypt, study of hieroglyphics, sculptures and other art forms, note that brewing was performed mostly by women as a domestic chore, with ancient goddesses being important to the process of brewing as well. Hathor is such a goddess, being depicted as the “inventress of brewing,” and even having had a festival every year in her name to celebrate her “drunkenness.” 

In South America, especially in the Incan Empire and culture, corn beer or chicha, was brewed as a part of every day life, used as a form of currency, held importance at feasts and festivals, and held significance in religious practices. In this culture, the elite women of society brewed beer. 

Moving to the Medieval Ages and through the Renaissance, women continued to be the primary producers and sellers of beer. Throughout England and much of Europe, beer was brewed not only for social occasions, but also as a necessity to supplement a person’s diet with vital nutrients. The term for English women who brewed beer were referred to as “Brewsters.” Still with little opportunity outside of the home during this period in world history, brewing gave women an ability to make a living, in addition to running taverns, boarding houses, and more primitive versions of restaurants.

Eventually, moving into the modern era, as the profession of brewing beer became marketable and profitable, women would be cut out almost entirely. Technological advancements which allowed for beer brewing to be done on a much larger scale starting in the 18th century, did not allow for women to move upwards within the industry due to women not having the capital or investment opportunities that men did. In addition, during the 19th-century, the “new science” of brewing was touted as a “man’s realm” which had no place for women and their “feeble minds,” regardless of the fact that women had been creating beer with said “new science” since the dawn of time. 

Today, that notion is ever-changing as women continually fight an up-hill battle against the outdated view of beer being “for men” while staking-out their territory within the heavily male-dominated beer and craft beer industry. One only has to open their eyes and take a look around the Syracuse and greater-CNY area to see that growth in-action as women are prevalent and continue to grow in number and influence.

Middle Ages Brewing Co. opened its doors in 1995, making it the oldest standalone or “production” brewery in Syracuse. At the time, it was one of only 858 breweries in the entire United States – compared to a whopping 9,500 today. Marc and Mary Rubenstein, a husband-and-wife team, opened the brewery together, expanding upon their mutual love and hobby of home-brewing. Mary held the title of company President, and while she has since passed, her passion for beer lives on with her son Isaac who continues to grow the brewery, while her legacy continues in the community by having paved a path for other women in the craft beer industry who have followed since.

Red Hawk Brewing Company, situated in a big red barn, overlooks the countryside on Onondaga Hill. Kathy Dodge, who was once working a career as a nurse, is Founder and Head Brewer specializing in Old World and Belgian-style beers. She and her husband Bob, opened the brewery in 2015 after many years as homebrewers. Kathy also credits her love of brewing and innovation to her grandmother, Anna, an immigrant from Russia, who created her own beer, wine and other spirits at home.

Seneca Street Brew Pub and Erie Canal Brewing Company located in Manlius, NY and Canastota, NY, respectively, are owned by the Menikheim family. Seneca Street opened in April 2016, and Erie Canal in the fall of 2015. Brooke Menikheim is the head Brewmaster, who studied at Seibel Institute of Technology’s World Brewing Academy in Chicago. Her wife, Heidi Menikheim is Assistant Brewer and oversees service and operations of the brewery, along with Brooke’s mother and father, Joyce and Bob. Together they are producing some of the best beers in the Syracuse area – I personally suggest the Black IPA!

ONCO Fermentations opened in the spring of 2019 by Brian and Erin Bullard, a collaborative husband-and-wife duo. Brian does the brewing, while Erin runs the rest of the business as the Vice President and Tasting Room Manager. These co-founders started out as homebrewers and were partners in a hops farm, and now run the wildly successful brewery with recent expansion of both their taproom and kitchen in Tully, NY.

Freight Yard Brewing Company, located up in Clay along Route 31, is co-owned by Lou Sotherden and her husband Bryan, but it’s Lou who creates all the original recipes and brews all the beer as head brewer for this taproom, open since 2019. She learned how to brew at Chatham Brewery, south of Albany, NY, and currently, this is still where she brews all the beer for Freight Yard. She hopes to eventually be able to brew on location. Lou’s brewery also proudly carries the title of being a NYS Farm Brewery which means that the ingredients made to produce their beer are sourced almost entirely from New York State. 

Talking Cursive Brewing Company, across the street from the historic Niagara Mohawk building in downtown Syracuse touts itself as a “woman and veteran-owned” brewery. Andrew and Patricia Brooks, another husband-and-wife team, along with friend and business-partner, Susan Kimmel, opened the establishment in 2019. Patricia and Andrew started off as home-brewers who had won numerous awards for their entries into several New York competitions. While Andrew is the main brewer, Patricia is one of the owners and Susan joined the brewery in a partnership and advisory role.

Crafted Minds, founded here in Syracuse in 2020 by Gloria Rakowsky, a 10-plus-year veteran in the craft beer industry as a writer, brand ambassador, sales representative, and current taproom manager at Willow Rock Brewing Company, is dedicated to beer education as a whole. The company she has created offers in-person and online classes from beginner to advanced, designed to teach everything from beer history and ingredients, to beer brewing and food pairings. Some of her most popular classes that she offers to the community are her beer pairing courses which combine beer from local breweries paired with food offerings from local businesses with The Curd Nerd and Nostalgia Chocolates as a couple of recent examples. Her next event on Sunday, March 5th, is a Craft Beer & Girl Scout Cookie pairing at Willow Rock Brewing Company. Tickets can be found on her website – www.craftedmindsllc.com 

Salt City Women of Craft Beer was recently founded in January of this year. It all came together after three craft-beer loving ladies (myself being one of them!), who didn’t know each other prior, met up at A.W. Wander in Manlius for a pint and a bite, and the rest, as they say, is history. A Facebook group was created, and the goal of the group is for women to be able to meet other women at both pre-arranged events and in casual, spur-of-the-moment settings to enjoy a craft beverage, socialize, and make new friends. Anyone can join, and anyone can initiate a meet-up. Our next scheduled meetup is at Bullfinch Brew Pub on Friday 3/10 from 5-7pm – please come on out!

Girls Pint Out – Auburn Chapter, is another local women’s craft beer group. Their group is part of a larger national organization, who’s mission is “to build a community of women who love craft beer and who are an active, contributing part of the greater craft beer community.” The original Girls Pint Out was founded in Indianapolis, IN in 2010 and today there are more than 90 chapters throughout the United States. The local chapter has a Facebook page, and they are an active group of women!

Pink Boots Society® is a national organization dedicated to “assist, inspire, and encourage women and non-binary individuals in the fermented/alcoholic beverage industry through education.” Every year, in partnership with Yakima Chief Hops, the Society formulates a special hop-blend that they promote just in time for March’s International Women’s Day. Breweries and groups around the country purchase this blend to create individually unique beers in celebration of women in the craft beer industry. Every year, Prison City Brewing Company and Girls Pint Out members schedule a day to brew – this year they are brewing on 3/3 – with the completed beer being released at a later date. ONCO Fermentations is doing the same with members of the Salt City Women of Craft Beer group and others in the community on February 21st. ONCO will be brewing a NEIPA using the Pink Boots hops-blend of Loral, Ekuanot and HBC 586, with the finished brew released at a date TBD. If you missed a brew day this year, keep your eyes peeled next January/February to join in on the fun, and remember, you can still show your support by purchasing a pint when these beers are made available for consumption! 

In addition, this month is boasting a couple of special women-oriented events:

Brave Brews 2023 – Located in Auburn, NY during March 3-5, this collaborative event supports women and non-binary individuals in the craft beer industry. There will be a Pink Boots Collaboration Brew Day® at Prison City, an ice carving competition, film screenings, yoga classes, special tours, food and beer tastings, live music, tap takeovers and more at this second annual event. Two special guests will be speaking during the event: Tara Nurin, a craft beverage expert and author of A Woman’s Place is in the Brewhouse, who will be speaking and conducting a book signing at the NYS Equal Rights Heritage Center from 5-6pm on Friday 3/3, and Teri Fahrendorf, an award-winning Brewmaster and Pink Boots Society® Founder, who is hosting a 3-course beer-pairing lunch and meet-and-greet from 11am-1pm on Saturday 3/4 at Prison City Brewery. 

The weekend also encompasses Prison City’s Fire & Ice Festival – on March 4th from 4-8pm. There will be ice sculptures, drink luges, outdoor games, and an outside bar in addition to fire pits, live entertainment, food trucks, plenty of beverage tastings, and a fireworks display at the end of the night! Tickets are $35 per person, they include a glass and tasting tickets, and must be purchased in-advance online. Proceeds of the event will be going towards local and global women’s charities. 

I would also be remiss to include myself in this month’s article, because I, too, am a woman in the craft-beer industry! I had always had a different palate when it came to beer, even in my undergrad days at Le Moyne College. While everyone else was drinking Keystone Light, I was drinking Molson Golden – or as my girlfriends used to call it: “Kristin’s man-beer.” Ever since then, my beer-drinking shenanigans have been continually expanding, and along the way I have brewed 2 different beers with a group of gals at IBU Brewing, celebrated Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany in 2018, and I have been writing for Table Hopping as their Brew Time craft beer columnist for over 5 years now, among so many more opportunities! I’ve met so many interesting and unique people, sampled exceptional brews, traveled around the world and experienced loads of fun in my craft brew adventures. I may be an RN by day, but when I’m not in the hospital, you can typically find me engaged somewhere within in the craft beer realm.  

Who are we?

What we run? 

We run the world

Who run the world? GIRLS. 


References: www.winemag.com/2020/12/22/women-beer-history/

Kristin Merritt
Just your average craft-brew loving gal slinging your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope to give a few recommendations for your grocery list, events to attend, and local hotspots to hit-up for shenanigans with friends, ideas for date night, or at the very least enlighten you with a bit of random knowledge to use towards trivia night or simply give you and your teammates a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! Cheers!