What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when someone asks you about Jane Austen? Perhaps it’s a high school memory of being forced to read “Pride and Prejudice” aloud while the rest of the class carved obscenities into their desks. Maybe you were an English major and Austen’s name brings to mind riveting conversations about “Persuasion” over pizza and beer. Or maybe you’re a movie buff and can’t stop thinking about how perfect a casting call Keira Knightley was for Elizabeth Bennet.
It’s time to forget all of those associations. From now on, when you hear “Jane Austen,” think “beer brewer.”
“It is you, however, in this instance, that have the little children, and I that have the great cask, for we are brewing spruce beer again…” Austen wrote in a letter to her sister Cassandra, which can be found on the dedicated Jane Austen fan page.
There you have it: Austen the brew master. Her beer of choice, spruce beer, is brewed with the buds of a spruce tree, which give off citrus and pine flavors — we’d like to think she’d be an IPA fan today. Spruce was an important source of vitamin C in the 1800s and was useful during long winters without fresh fruit. Beer was simply the spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down.
The fact that Austen brewed beer wasn’t all that uncommon in her era (born in 1775, died in 1817). Beer was safer than water and was considered a daily necessity just like food. And, just like food, it was the woman’s role to provide the beer. Beer has been brewed in Austen’s home country for some 4,000 years and was primarily made by women (or “brewsters”) for the much of that time, the BBC reports.
When beer became something churned out in factories, it became associated with male brewers and male drinkers. But now, women are starting to reclaim the brewery at places like Renegade, New Belgium and Lost Abbey. Of course, we still have so called “chick drinks,” as well as bar stereotypes galore, but we’re getting better; the present is a much more inclusive time than the 18th and 19th centuries.
So the next time you think of Jane Austen, don’t think of tedium or English class. Think of beer, and raise a glass to the female brewers who make the brew world go round.