Witch’s Hat Night Fury
Tasting: July 21, 2018
Style: American-style Imperial Stout made with molasses and lactose
Beer #: 1,135
Women, Ale Wives, Witches and Brewing
For thousands of years, women were the primary brewers of beer. Makes sense, as the traditional roles had men doing the hunting and women doing the cooking and everything else.
The Sumarian goddess of brewing was Ninkasi and a 12th-century German nun, St. Hildegard of Bingen is the first person recorded to have recommended hops for brewing. St. Hildegard recognized their “healing, bittering, and preserving” properties.
So, how did we get from a noble endeavor to the familiar pointy hats and cauldron stirring witches?
It is said women brewers (or Ale Wives) of the Middle Ages would advertise themselves as brewers in markets by wearing pointed hats. Published drawings show brooms would be placed outside doorways to signify that a batch was ready. Of course, much like today, cats were needed to protect the grain stores from vermin.
But how did we turn Ale Wives into spell casting witches?
I have read conflicting pieces on how the negative connotations of these witches. They range from medieval temperance, to male brewer’s mud-slinging campaigns. I can see competitive male brewers telling tales that the boiling cauldrons of their witch-like counterparts contained adjuncts like eye of newt.
Of course, there was a magic in medieval brewing. You see, it wasn’t until Louis Pasteur’s 19th century work that solved that the tiny microbes were responsible for fermentation. Until this point, it was only known that the magic sludge (yeast colony) was needed to be transferred from successful batch to batch.
An image of Mother Louise, an Alewife in Oxford in the 1600s.
Ale Wife depiction c 14th century
Over time, men became the dominant influence in beer in western culture. It may have to do with the societal idea that young women should be pursuing more “lady-like” endeavors. In 1540, the city of Chester banned women between the ages of 14 and 40 from being alewives.
Witch’s Hat Night Fury
This Michigan beer delivers massive roasted flavors. At first, very obtrusive, muting any other complexity this imperial stout might have to offer. I do have to say that once my taste buds became accustomed and the beer warmed, it started to show some nice molasses sweet undertones and that roasted bitterness gave way to fudge and chicory. I’ll put Witch’s Hat Night Fury at 92 points.