Riya Sachdeva tells an untold tale of women in spirits

29 November,2022 03:46 PM IST |  Mumbai  |  BrandMedia

It may seem unusual to think of the bearded and moustachioed world of craft alcohol as inherently feminine.

This is because general Western knowledge of beer, wine, and spirits dates back only 100 years, with the formation of the major commercial labels we drink today. However, before the Industrial Revolution, women dominated the brewing and distilling of crafts worldwide. Riya Sachdeva, the Marketing head of Lakeforest Wines, traces the untold history of women in wine, beer and spirits.

Cleopatra the Alchemist, one of the third century*s leading female scientists, is widely credited with inventing the alembic still. Not surprising given that women in Greco-Roman Egypt were respected chemists who dominated fragrance and cosmetics experimentation. In 4,000 B.C., Sumerian women are credited with inventing beer. Because the first step in making whiskey is essentially the same as making beer, it*s not a stretch to say that women have made significant contributions to spirits for thousands of years.

"Historically, distilling was difficult and dangerous work that, like many *dirty* jobs, was reserved for men. However, as these jobs became safer as a result of workplace and technological changes, and as more women entered the workforce, it was unavoidable that there would be more women," says Riya Sachdeva. The fundamentals of brewing evolved from gathering foraging and baking practices. Women processed plants, ground grains, and cooked up nutrient-rich brews, which inevitably fermented, while men hunted and farmed. Women created the clay fermentation and serving vessels that held the bubbling alcoholic beverages for ritual and social consumption.

Women who were forward-thinking boiled their brews, collecting the vapour to create essential oils, medicinal tinctures, and perfumes. The long rote hours of tending a still drew a direct parallel to caring for the family hearth. Even though these roles evolved naturally, the relationship between women and the production of craft alcohol was so profound that it was regarded as a divine appointment.

An etiological examination of beer origins around the world reveals a striking similarity. "Beer was a gift to women from a goddess, never a male god, in all ancient societies, religious mythologies of all ancient cultures, and women remained bonded in complex religious relationships with feminine deities who blessed the brew vessels," informs Riya Sachdeva, the Marketing head of Lakeforest Wines.

It is believed that the first brewsters (female brewers) prepared their beverages for ritual and personal consumption. Alcoholic drinks were inextricably linked to the sacred and ceremonial, elevating the status of those women endowed with an arcane knowledge of the craft. Only women were permitted to brew the ale that gave them courage and ferocity in battle. To this day, the Tohono O*odham tribe in Arizona*s Sonoran Desert relies on a respected matriarch to oversee the ceremonial brewing of tiswin, a saguaro cactus fruit wine that summons much-needed monsoonal rains to the sun-parched land.

Riya Sachdeva, who handles marketing for Lakeforest Wines explains, "Women have long been thought to produce their brews at quaint levels, performing ritual needs and rendering only surplus fruits or grain from their homesteads into the occasional tipple for their husbands, fathers, and sons."

An Egyptian alchemist named Maria Hebrea (Maria the Jewess) is credited with inventing several chemical instruments in the third century AD, including a system for alcohol distillation that is still widely used today. Maria*s alembic still converted low-alcohol beers and wines into apparent, high-proof ethanol, also known as life water. Women began to open apothecaries, selling medicinal spirits for a variety of ailments.

This natural talent has propelled a growing number of young women to prominent positions as head brewers and distillers, master blenders, renowned nosers, cicerone, sommeliers, and educators. Women are encouraged today by the success of other pioneering women, parallel to the changes in other predominately male fields such as science, business, and mathematics.

According to current thinking, women*s increased sensitivity evolved from a primal need to detect low levels of contamination in food before feeding it to more vulnerable offspring or to recognise the scents of kin in a social group. Could it be a touch of the divine gift to women bestowed by the forgotten goddesses of our ancient heritage and craft?

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