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The Lady Brewsters Who Made Ale and Hearty Homes

The alewives, as lady brewsters were known, were the rallying point in the evening for men after a hard day’s toil in the sun.

| Indiwo.com| UPDATED: August 21, 2017, 9:59 AM IST
The Lady Brewsters Who Made Ale and Hearty Homes Photo for representation only. (Reuters)
News18 Tippling Point Behind every successful brew there was once a woman. Those were the times 4,000 years before Christ in places like Babylon and Sumeria where people merrily dunk themselves in ale (a relative of beer). The alewives, as lady brewsters were known, were the rallying point in the evening for men after a hard day’s toil in the sun.

Those were the times when a King (of Hordoland) could be so carried away by the evening bash that he decided to marry an alewife. History tells us he never had to go out for a good drink ever since.

In England, homes competed with alehouses in number. Men who couldn’t marry alewives spent more time at the taverns which eventually forced their wives to set up their own establishment rights at their homes to wean back the departed souls. More alewives came into being.

What a designation! Alewife…. But one must always read the small print, the catch.

Though an alewife sponged a lot from the drunken men in their neighbourhood and became filthy rich and fat, she always ran the risk of getting a taste of her own brew, especially if it went sour.

The first written laws (for the welfare of drunkards) laid down in 1700BC in the Code of Hammurabi saw to it that:

1) ‘Barmaids’ who don’t fill beer up to the brim of the glass shall be punished with death by drowning (an old notice must be procured and pasted outside the present bars in the city)
2) Barmaids who overcharged the customers shall be (again) put to death
3) And the most horrible of the crime; (drumroll) barmaids who produced beer of low quality (dramatic silence) should be drowned in the brew they themselves had brewed (final crash of cymbal)

Tell me... who wants to be an alewife now?

Come nuptials or birth ceremonies, ale-women played a significant role in history. Ever heard of the rituals Bridal Ale and Groaning Ale?

Bridal Ale

“Avoid all presents. Your presence itself is our present” — nothing like that would work in ancient marriages.

The day the marriage was fixed, the bride’s mother (bride and brew could have come from the same word) threw whatever came handy to her into the cauldron to make a sort of beer. It had to be put on the village meadow right on the nuptial day. For sale.

If you’re a traveler passing by, the ale would come cheap. But if you are one among the invited, you were required to buy it at an exorbitant price. Such was the rule!

The excess money gleaned from the invited guests formed the dowry at the end of the day. The more you drank the more you chipped in for the welfare of the new family.

Groaning Ale

The moment the local midwife got wind that somebody in her diocese got pregnant, she would start brewing a batch of strong ale.

The cask should be pried open only on the day of the childbirth.

Sorry, the drink was not for the public. When the labour pain began, the mother and the midwife would start guzzling down mugs after mugs of the beer.

The drink must save both of them from the trauma and the pain they had to go through soon. Others watched from the gallery and could only groan at the amount of drink consumed to invite the new guest into life. Thus, groaning ale.

Well, the child had come out. Now what? Your heart might leap to your mouth when you catch the midwife anointing the newborn with ale. The ale was far more pure than the sort of water people drank back then. Those were the days when children were baptised by beer in churches.

The weather did not stay pleasant for the womenfolk for long. By the end of the 11th century, members of a boy’s club who wielded crucifix and long robes chanting prayers in praise of the Trinity, marched on to the scene, knocked alewives off the throne, picked up the job and monopolised the production of ale.

The long tradition of beer-making in churches and monasteries thus began.

(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)
First Published: August 6, 2017, 9:55 AM IST


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