Top female brewers in the UK
From sommeliers, marketeers, writers, retailers and brewery owners, the UK beer industry is home to a large group of passionate women. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve rounded up some of the top female brewers, or brewsters, making their mark.
Women’s involvement with beer dates back millennia. Throughout the 9,000-year history of fermented drinks, archaeologists and historians have charted the role of women, both in the production and sale of beer.
In Medieval Britain, it was women that took charge of the production of beer, both for consumption within the home and for commercial sale. Referred to as alewives, brewesses or brewsters, brewing gave women a relatively lucrative financial means of supporting themselves in an age when they enjoyed neither the cultural nor legal standing of men. As brewing gradually became commercialised following the first major outbreak of the plague in 1347–50, the industry started to narrow and women were increasingly marginalised as the guilds took hold.
The presence of women in beer is evident in word etymology. The first written mention of the world ‘alewife’ is recorded in England in 1393, while historian Judith M. Bennett, author of Ale, Beer and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300–1600 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), notes how the term ‘brewster’ has disappeared from contemporary English when once it was a term that specifically referred to a female brewer.
Fast forward to 2019, with groups such as Women on Tap and Ladies that Beer, and initiatives such as International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day, today’s brewsters and female beer drinkers are celebrating women’s involvement in the industry.
Brewhouse and Kitchen marketing manager Gail Bunn said that she’s seen a rise in the number of women entering the industry and believes the changing attitudes in society are key reason for the change.
She said: “Women have greater ability to distinguish between high numbers of aromas and flavours, which is key to success in craft brewing. Along with this, beer companies are more aware of the importance of female beer drinkers and women now feel more comfortable to drink beer, attend pubs and contribute to the growth of the industry. We’re seeing this reflected in both our customers base and growth of women participating in our Brewing Academy, which fosters successful careers in brewing.”
“On International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate women’s contributions to the industry, encourage new ladies to consider the trade by introducing them to the brewing process, but most of all to just make the wonderful world of craft beer more approachable to women, and to encourage women to enjoy the wealth of styles and flavours available.”
Take a look at our round-up of female brewers paving the way in the UK.
Georgina Young, head brewer, Fuller’s
Young began work at Fuller’s in 1999 as its production brewer, working her way up to become head brewer in 2017. Having studied biotechnology at King’s College, London she also holds a Masters degree in brewing and distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland.
While working at Fuller’s, Young was instrumental in recreation of Gales’s beers, after Fuller’s bought the brewery in 2005 for £92 million. She has also been involved in the creation of Fuller’s beers including Honey Dew, Jack Frost, Oliver’s Island and Frontier Lager. In recent months, Young also supervised a collaborative project, working with brewers such as Fourpure, Cloudwater, Moor, Marble, Thornbridge and Hardknott, and helped install a ten-barrel pilot brewery at Fuller’s.
Young is chair of the southern section of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and a member of the Worshipful Company of Brewers.
Fuller’s is also home to fellow female brewer Hayley Marlor, who joined Fuller’s on the graduate scheme in 2012. Marlor now works as a shift brewer in the pilot brewery at Fuller’s.
Jaega Wise, head brewer, Wild Card Brewery
Nottingham-born Wise started out in chemical engineering, before using her knowledge to brew beer. Having worked as a process technician for General Electric’s water division, she moved down to London to take up a role in international chemical import and trading.
She left in 2012 to set-up Wild Card, which after two years of acting as a “cuckoo brewery” and sharing other brewers’ equipment, acquired its own site in Walthamstow in 2014.
Wise’s talents don’t stop there. Having recently tried her hand at television presenting, she most recently co-hosted the Channel 5 series The Wine Show, alongside Jancis Robinson MW, Joe Fattorini, Amelia Singer, James Purefoy, Matthew Goode, Matthew Rhys and Stéphane Reynaud.
Wise is also a musician with the band Hell & Hope. She is prominent campaigner against sexism in the beer industry and heads up the London chapter of the International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day. She was appointed director of The Society of Independent Brewers’ South East region in January 2018.
Katie McCain, brewer, Pressure Drop
One of three brewers at London’s Pressure Drop Brewing, McCain is mostly involved in wort production, but also helps out with lab testing and quality control. She also heads up the brewer’s sour and barrel ageing programs.
From Canada and Yorkshire, she’s been involved in projects such as a collaborative brew day with Herriot Watt students, alongside fellow brewer Jenn Merrick, to celebrate and profile women’s contribution to modern beer.
Charlotte Cook, lead brewer, Truman’s
Lead brewer of Hackney Wick brewer Truman’s, Cook started out at Scotland’s BrewDog after graduating with a law degree. Becoming production manager at Pohjala in Estonia, she moved back to the UK to join Truman’s in 2017. She holds a MSc in brewing from the University of Nottingham.
Cook oversees production of Truman’s range, including Swift golden ale, Zephyr pale ale and Raw lager at the 40-barrel brewery. Founded in 1666 in Brick Lane, for brief time during the 1800s Truman’s claimed to be the largest brewery in the world. However, in 1989, both the brewery and its pubs closed their doors. It was re-established by James Morgan and Michael-George Hemus in 2010, opening afresh in Hackney Wick.
Amy Cockburn, head brewer, Harviestoun
After graduating top of her class with a first class Honours degree in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot Watt in 2008, Cockburn joined Harviestoun as assistant brewery. After seven years of hard work, she was promoted to head brewer, overseeing the production of beers including Raspy Engine, a raspberry-flavoured porter.
Cockburn is a committee member of the Scottish section of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is secretary for the Heriot Watt Former Brewing Students Association.
Sophie de Ronde, head brewer, Burnt Mill
De Ronde began working in beer after a studying for a degree in equine science. After falling for the industry when working at real ale pub The Hoop in Essex, she became head brewer at Brentwood Brewing Company, a position she held for over seven years.
In 2014, she moved to join malt supplier Muntons, working as a brewing technician and focusing on new product development. Around this time, she discovered that she was gluten intolerant, not exactly an easy condition for a brewer to manage. This didn’t hold her back, however, and she joined Burnt Mill in Suffolk in 2017. Overseeing day-to-day brewery and cellar operations, she also helps with new product development, specifically the use of unusual hop varieties and the use of multiple yeast strains.
While she’s unable to taste most of what is produced, de Ronde has developed a naturally gluten-free beer that she is able to sample. She is the founder of International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day, an initiative where women are invited to take part in collaborative brews on International Women’s Day (8 March).
Amanda Cotoia, brewer, Wiper & True
Cotoia joined Bristol’s Wiper & True as a quality control expert from Molson Coors in Canada. Having been at the brewery for four years, in 2018 she was involved in a project called XX to celebrate the role of women in the beer industry.
Working alongside Wiper & True’s assistant brewer, Cynthia Toulouse, they brewed a gooseberry wheat beer, adding botanicals including heather and meadowsweet, traditionally used by female brewers or alewives before the advent of commercial brewing. Last year, Cotoia also teamed up with Georgina Young at Fuller’s to create a collaboratively brewed New England IPA.
Robyn Bell, cellar manager, Cloudwater
From a background in media and women’s studies, Bell discovered beer after while working bar shifts at Mountain Goat Brewery in Melbourne. Born in Canada, she then travelled back to her motherland to work at Sawdust City Brewery, leaving the country again six months later and moving to the UK in 2015 to join Manchester’s Cloudwater.
She now heads up quality assurance, fermentation, yeast management and cellaring at the cult craft brewer.
Jenn Merrick, founder and director, Earth Station
Former head brewer at the likes of Meantime and Beavertown, Merrick launched her own project called Earth Station in 2017 – a community brewery built on an unused patch of railway in North Woolwich. Born in Salt Lake City, she originally started out as a baker, with a bit of coffee roasting and horticulture thrown in for good measure.
In 2008, she crossed the pond to take up a brewing position at York Brewery where she remained for over three years before joining Sussex’s Dark Star as lead brewer and production manager. Merrick then worked her way up in roles at Meantime and Beavertown before launching Earth Station. The brewery-come-social enterprise in London’s Royal Docks in Newham will act as a community hub, providing jobs for local residents and giving the young and single mums the chance to get into the industry.
Chloe Brooks, brewer and production manager, Stroud Brewery
Brooks has worked at Stroud Brewery since 2014, and has a background in science and agriculture. Before heading into brewing, her previous roles were in geoconservation, biodiversity and gastronomy.
Having always enjoyed drinking ale, she joined Stroud and now takes care of brewing and oversees production.
Emma Gilleland, director of brewing, Marston’s
Gilleland has been at Burton-on-Trent brewer Marston’s since 1994, becoming the first female head brewer in the company’s 179-year history. A biotechnology student, she became head of supply chain in 2013 and later director of brewing in 2015.
Marston’s owns around 1,545 managed, franchised and leased pubs nationwide and operates six breweries in the UK.