Women and beer

This year I celebrated women's day with a beer in my hand, in the company of a group of female brewers. Well, I admit I had more than one beer in my hand that afternoon, but I was there to try, taste and discover all about the beer world and the role that women have played and are still playing in the industry.

The first Women and Beer day fittingly took place at the Brewer's museum on the Grand Place in Brussels. The event was organised by one of the most fascinating women I have recently met: Sofie Vanrafelghem. The beer world couldn't have asked for a better female ambassador to warm us for this artisanal and tasty product. Sofie wrote a book on Women and Beer and has a column on her favourite subject in De Standaard Weekend Magazine. She writes with a witty pen about the history and the future of beer and talks with knowledge and a brilliant sense of humour to an evergrowing crowd of interested women.
Sofie knows her subject inside out because she brews her own beer too! She started brewing her Eva beer a few years ago with a group of women that changes with every brewing session. I hope to join them one day and discover the beer making process from the front row. (hint for Sofie!)

With her infectious smile and energy she introduced the female speakers while we were served our first tasting beer by the men of the Brussels beer club 'Malt and Mout'. Clever Sofie had organised it that on women's day the men serve the ladies a drink.

What is it with beer and women? When you think beer you won't automatically think about women unless it's a bikini clad one in a commercial or the woman behind the bar serving the pints. The art of brewing beer however has been a women's work for centuries. From the middle ages when brewing ale was a common household task to now where we see women sitting on the board of directors of large beer companies. Two of those power women were at the event to talk about their work and how they make beer attractive again for women. It was an interesting discussion with Anouk Lagae, director of marketing at Duvel Moortgat and Sophie Vercammen, brand manager at Martin’s Finest Beer Selection. 
I admit, I am one of those women who rather order a glass of wine in a bar than a beer. I come from the land of beer and when I am abroad I always talk with passion about our pride product (see the website 'proudofbelgianbeers') but not always chose to drink it. I am not the only one and the beer industry, thanks to all the women working there, have seen this now and try to find ways of making beer interesting again for women.

First the glass. We are spoiled in Belgium with a vast selection of specially designed beer glasses. Every beer has it's own glass. But most are made for men's hands, strong and heavy and large. There is a tendency now to make more elegant and smaller 'tasting' glasses: beer that you can drink as an aperitif or to drink with your meal at a restaurant. You want to taste the special flavours and taste more than one in smaller glasses. The Timmermans Blanche Lambicus was served in an elegant glass and we all agreed this would be a perfect beer as an aperitif on a sunny weekend.

Then the taste. Women like beer that is sweeter, the fruity beers have been popular for a while now. But I also like a strong dark beer that is not too sour or a fresh white beer with a herbal hint. Affligem Blonde, the beer we drank as a welcome drink is made with the herbs that are found in the abbey's garden. I loved it!

In between the talks there were workshops to attend and the one that said 'Beer and chocolate' had us all running down the stairs to the workshop room. Brasser is a beer that was devised by Valentino Chocolatier especially to drink while you taste dark chocolate. And because they couldn't get enough of those complementing flavours they even created a new chocolate with beer in it. I don't know any woman who doesn't (secretly or openly) like chocolate, so...

The highlight of the day was when Rosa Merckx came to talk about her life as a beer brewer. Sofie had already told me about this fascinating woman, but it was impressive to see how the whole room hung on every word she said. Rosa started as the secretary of the beer company's owner in the 1940s, but soon was asked to give her (female) opinion about the rather sour beer they made then. The owner took her advice, made the taste sweeter and the rest is history. Rosa became the first official female brewer in Belgium and Brewery Liefmans one of the bestselling in Belgium and abroad. For more than 40 years she oversaw the brewing process of Liefmans and in her honour her signature is now printed on every hand wrapped bottle.

A big thank you to Sofie for organizing such an interesting event. I discovered new beers that I will definitely try next time I see them on a menu and I met interesting and inspiring people. Looking forward to the next edition!

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