It’s 1842 and the settlers are walking around the plaza visiting and gathering goods . Imagine an old farmer’s market. Woman in long skirts, babies on the hips, hold large baskets and chat with the other woman as children dash to and fro playing games. Makeshift booths are set up offering eggs, chickens, furs, vegetables, spirits, and any other thing one might need on a homestead on the vast prairie.
I was standing on the site of the original El Pueblo Trading Post looking at the replica buildings and imagining I was in the courtyard trading goods. I took another sip of beer then looked around for my friends.
At the El Pueblo History Museum’s annual brewfest the courtyard is packed with local craft breweries and cideries. In Colorado we have the most craft beer makers in the country. We are serious about our beer here.
It is harvest time. There is evidence of beer being made going back six thousand years. It is the second oldest beverage to be made, second only to mead. This is the time of year that all of the cultures in the northern hemisphere would be celebrating the harvest. In the agricultural calendar of the Celts we are nearing Mabon, the equinox. It is the second of the three harvest festivals. Beer was a central part of the people’s diet in the old and new worlds because it was a nutritious beverage filled with fermented grains and herbs, and often vegetables and fruits, that helped round out the diet of dried meats and limited vegetables in the winter. I never thought about beer being nutritious, but it does indeed have cancer fighting compounds and as a fermented beverage, is good for digestion.
It did not surprise me that women were the primary beer makers because the homemakers were in charge of all preserving. The rest of their story did surprise me though!
The Alewives would put a stick with several sticks attached at the end (that doubled as a broom) over the door to denote that they had beer in stock. They always kept cats to keep the rodents out of the grains. The woman would wear pointy hats at the trading posts and markets to stand out. They brewed the beer in large cast iron cauldrons.
Enter the men in the late 1500’s who decided they wanted to make businesses that sell beer. They figured (correctly) that there was a lot of money to be made in the field. Simultaneously, the Christian church was creating images and tales of witches working with the devil (midwives, herbalists, alewives, healers) and it turned out to be an easy way to get rid of the alewives. The last alewife was burned at the stake in 1591.
A sad tale for sure, so the next time you have a beer, raise your pint to the witchy women of old that created delicious beers, better known as witch’s brew.