“Perhaps the reason there aren’t that many female brewers” jokes Vanesa de Blas Montoya “is because most of the time you’re lifting heavy things or doing lots and lots of cleaning”. You can see why it might not be the most attractive career choice. The irony though, is that throughout much of human history, brewing beer was an important household activity for women, along with making bread. Low strength beer was actually safer to drink than the water in most settlements. Indeed, so important was this task that in the Middle Ages female brewers were known as ‘brewsters’.
Today, London’s ‘brewsters’ are a small but dedicated bunch. So as well as Vanesa, there’s Michaela White at Upstairs Brewing, and Jenn Merrick, the head brewer at Beavertown. And with the likes of beer writer Melissa Cole determined to take ’the beard out of craft beer’, things are looking up. Vanesa, who comes from the Rioja region in Spain, makes her beer in The Temple Brew house, which must be London’s most central micro-brewery.
It’s a stone’s throw from the banks of the Thames, and the ideal venue to launch the first part of series four of Vikings. The site of the brewery, between what is now Aldwych and Westminster, is where the Anglo-Saxon town of Lundenwic was established, to the west of the old Roman city of Londinium. According the to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Vikings attacked the city in 839, killing or enslaving many of its inhabitants, returning again in 851 and 867.
In her enthusiastic Spanish accent, Vanesa talks us through the process of brewing a beer similar to something the vikings might have drunk – so in go flavourings like juniper and elderflower, along with the malt and water. The mash is left to ferment and in two to three weeks, the beer will be ready. So what makes a woman from Rioja abandon wine for beer? “In Spain we don’t really have a long culture of beer making like northern European countries” she says. The Vikings would have approved of that.
Vikings: Season 4 – Part One is out now on Blu-ray™ and DVD, from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.