the female Belgian Family Brewers
In many Western societies, beer is still considered a man’s world. Ethnographic studies and archaeological records however indicate that brewing beer was primarily in the hands of women. The Babylonians already believed that the goddess Nin-Kasi taught mankind the secret of brewing. All the way into the Middle Ages providing beer was a female occupation. With the industrialization in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, women were however increasingly barred from the business and men took over. Today women are luckily claiming back their place in the world of beer with several strong women to look up to. Years before ‘women and beer’ was on the agenda, these female Belgian Family Brewers were gaining the respect of their male colleagues.
Let’s start with the story of Rosa Merckx, the first female brewmaster in Belgium. Rosa, now 92 years old, was involved in brewing beer for most of her life. Starting out as a secretary at Brouwerij Liefmans in 1946, her boss asked her to taste the Liefmans Goudenband and she honestly told him that the beer was much too sour. It became clear that Rosa had a particular talent for tasting beer and soon after Liefmans took on a milder taste. Rosa mastered the craft of brewing and became the brewmaster.
Did you know St-Feuillien was founded in 1873 by Stephanie Friart? At the time, she was brewing light beers that were winning numerous awards, most notably at the Antwerp International Exhibition in 1894 and at the International Exhibition of Food in Geneva in 1895. This young lady did not always have it easy. She was 20 years younger than her husband and became a widow just two years after they started the brewery together.
Today St-Feuillien is still managed by a strong woman. Dominique Friart and her brother have been running the brewery for almost 30 years. Holding a degree in literature Dominique started her career as an editor in a publishing house in Brussels, but soon returned to Le Roeulx, in the southern part of Belgium, to work in the family business. First she was involved in the marketing of the brewery and developed a product strategy. While working in the family business, she learned everything there was to know and became the co-owner of the brewery.
© Thierry du Bois
And let’s not forget that Brouwerij De Ryck in Herzele is led by the first woman in Belgium to get her degree as a brewing engineer. An De Ryck grew up in the brewery of her father. From the age of twelve she began to do chores in the family busines and dreamed of becoming a brewer herself. Her father did not agree but his resistance only inforced her desire. She enrolled at the brewing school KaHO Sint-Lieven in Gent and studied brewing technology along with chemistry and microbiology. Taking over the family business in the 1970s, she ran the brewery by herself for years. Not just the brewing but the promotion and commercial aspect as well. Today, she is teaching her son Bram and daughter Miek the tricks of the trade, so the female succession is secured.