The Devil's in the Draught LinesChristina Wade’s book is subtitled “1,000 years of women in Britain’s beer history” and is the Campaign for Real Ale’s contribution to restoring women to their place in the history of beer, with an emphasis on the UK. There’s no better person to tell it than its author, an outspoken historian, beer campaigner and feminist, whose blog Braciatrix has been essential reading on beer history for almost seven years now.

However, this is no dry and academic recounting of all the brewing done by women over the centuries. Instead, as the title implies, Wade is looking at the details: the original source material in historical documents, and interviews with prominent women on the present-day British beer scene. This provides maximum illustration of the patterns at work through history, with minimal narrative getting in the way. The chapters are arranged thematically rather than purely chronologically, showing how the issues faced by the brewing women of the past are too often still at issue today.

The basics, which you would expect, are touched upon of course. Brewing and malting, as part of household work, was historically the job of women. However, it’s nothing so simplistic as saying men took over when beer became an industrial product made in factories. In between, we have centuries of “alewives” brewing beer for sale at home. This book shows how, from the get-go, men were causing trouble: imposing licensing strictures, taxes and all-male guilds to make things more difficult for these female-led businesses. In parallel, the alewife become a misogynistic trope, associated with dissolute lifestyles (even Satanism!), low quality product and dishonest measures. Wade does take care to remind us that not all such accusations were false.

While written from a feminist perspective, this is not simply a manifesto nor polemic. It holds its ground as a work of thorough beer history, showing the drink’s place in society between the medieval period and the modern day, and how this changed, both by gradual degrees and through major events like the Black Death and the First World War. The works of other beer historians are cited for further reading and there’s a very extensive bibliography at the back.

Although there’s a serious and meticulously researched historical framework underlying Wade’s words, she writes in an accessible and chatty style, with wit, energy and boundless enthusiasm for the topic. The switches in tone, from informative to solemn to funny, help keep the book readable and entertaining. It’s not a long work, the main body a little over 170 pages, but it packs in a lot of information. There are also a few recipes appended to the end, including one for a spiced cock ale with sherry.

In short, this is an excellent piece of beer history, uncovering areas which haven’t been sufficiently discussed before. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the blogs of Martyn Cornell, Ron Pattinson, or indeed Wade herself. I can see it being a useful source of reference in years to come, aided by the lengthy index.

The Devil’s in the Draught Lines is available from CAMRA Books, priced £15.99.

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