The history of beer goes back much further, to another part of the world. Fermentation of barley-like beer began about 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia.
Did women invent beer?
Most of the old brewers were women “They were responsible for grinding grain to make bread and beer; they often brewed and brewed in the same space,” said Theresa McCulla, curator of brewing history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “The oldest known beer recipe is ‘Hymn to Ninkasi’ (1800 BC), a song of praise and thanks to a brewing goddess.
While the brewing industry in Europe developed independently (McCulla notes that the main brewers in continental Europe were also women, until monks took over around 1000 AD ), beer production in the Middle East continued to develop using the same common combination of water, grain and yeast.
Women Owned Breweries
Now, in today’s world, we see a cool revival with breweries owned only by women. These places honor the early women brewers and add a new chapter to the story of women in the beer world. Looking at beer’s history, it’s clear that women have been a big part of making this drink beloved by so many of us worldwine.
But, even though women might have been the ones who created beer, the role of women in the beer industry has been nothing but vague for many years. For a log time not only has the beer industry been dominated by mostly men, but beer as a drink has been commercialized in to a drink men mostly drink.
In the past years though, things have started to change. Not only do we see more women wokring in this industry but we are also seeing women dominating the industry in ways we never have before.
Two exemplas are the co founders of TALEA Beer Co and the Founder of Back Homer Beer. They’re stories are inspiring and we are so happy to be sharing them with you.
In March 2021, a year after the coronavirus pandemic began, LeAnn Darland and Tara Hankinson took a leap of faith and opened Talea Beer Co, the first woman-owned brewery and brewpub and operates in Brooklyn, New York.
Today, more than 30 employees and 9,000 square feet later, the duo continues their goal of diversifying the craft beer industry. “We are passionate about creating the best product possible,” says Tara Hankinson, referring to the beer that she, co-founder LeAnn Darland, and their team design and brew at TALEA Beer Co. Unlike many craft beer startups, LeAnn and Tara don’t necessarily have a strong background working directly in the industry.
Hankinson and Darland, both 35, are avid home brewers and have taken their love of craft beer to the next level by opening one of the most successful women owned breweries in the world. The two met at brewing startup, Hopsy a few years ago, and after just three months of knowing each other, they knew they had found the perfect partner and idea so they founded TALEA, a brewery and brewpub, in a 9,000-square-foot space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Prior to entrepreneurship, Darland served for five years as a naval officer before working at Google and getting an MBA at UC Berkeley. Similarly, Hankinson obtained her MBA from NYU. Tara’s parents both worked in the hospitality industry for many years, which even though indirectly might have been one of the reasons why later on in life she followed a similar path as well. This familiarity drew Hankinson to do projects on the beverage and hospitality industry in business school, and even intern at Personal Wine Cellar during the summer.
Believing in the uniqueness of their brand, Hankinson and Darland spent eight months developing a business plan and raising funds before going door-to-door to deliver their craft beer to bars across the city. After years of browsing beer counters and visiting breweries, they realized that even though the craft beer market was booming, no other brewery was actively trying to talk to customers like them. Whether it’s confusing packaging, bearded men with attitude or dark industrial bars, the male-dominated industry lacks accessible and inclusive perspectives and voices. In an interview Tara did a few years back she mentioned: “Women are the fastest growing segment in craft beer but most women when you survey them are frustrated by craft beer brands that treat woman as an after thought because the typical craft beer consumer isn’t a woman.”
Tara and LeAnn knew there was an opportunity to reach a wider audience and launched TALEA, creating “an easy-drinking beer, perhaps to replace that glass of rosé” (Florence Fabricant, The New York Times)
TALEA beer is a cross between high quality and low bitterness with fruity flavors; a beer you can freely share with your bartender and wine-loving friends, or open with the most demanding beer connoisseurs.
Today, Talea Beer Co has more than 20 different beers, an online store and more than 25,000 supporters across social media platforms.
For most of her life, Zahra Tabatabai heard only whispers about her grandfather’s beer. Gholam-Reza Fakhrabadi died when Tabatabai was 3 or 4 years old, and her mother and aunts kept his memory alive by mentioning the sumac “Baba Joon” used in his recipes, and her widowed grandmother, Montaha, would recall the lime and orange blossom he picked from his own garden “back home” in Iran.
But for Tabatabai, “Baba Joon’s ab jo” (Persian for beer), was always a ghost. Growing up in her family’s kitchen in and around Atlanta, Tabatabai learned to flavor dishes with traditional Iranian ingredients; strawberries for cooking rice, dried black lemon and pomegranate molasses for stewing.
It was not until 2020, when Tabatabai became an adult, that a candid comment from her grandmother (“Mama Joon”) prompted her to realize her inheritance. “She said she missed the taste of my grandfather’s beer,” Tabatabai said
So at 40 years old, while working as a freelance journalist at the time, Zahra started to learn how to brew beer in her Brooklyn apartment. She had to analyze her grandmother’s fuzzy memories of flavors and ingredients and teach herself how to build a business from scratch by developing recipes, manufacturing, packaging and distribution.
In October 2021, after months of trial and error on her small gas stove, she stored and shipped the bottles to Atlanta to get her families feedback. With the support of the local brewing community, Zahra decided to open her own brewing business, Back Home Beer, in the midst of the pandemic. “I thought maybe I was creating something new and different; maybe that’s what beer needs right now,” she said in an interview fo CNBC.
Fifteen months later, contrary to her expectations, Back Home Beer had huge success with people loving and supporting the brewery.
According to a recent audit by the Brewers Association, fewer than 24% of craft breweries in the United States are owned by women and only 2% are owned by people of Asian descent.
Zahra is one of the few brewers influenced by a part of the world not closely associated with the industry. She believes her latest point of difference, her Middle Eastern roots with familiar beer styles, will be the secret to her success in a saturated market – and at the same time, help her empower immigrants and women in a beer world dominated by men.
“For me, sharing our culture and bringing something new to beer is really important,” Zahra said in an interview.