The Countess who Brewed

Women Historically in Brewing

A Polish countess figures in our story, but first some background on women and brewing. According to a well-referenced essay:

From the beginning of industrialization to the 1960s and early 1970s, most women were moved out of the brewing industry, though throughout the world, they continued to homebrew following ancestral methods.”The main obstacles that women continue to face in [the] industry include perceptions of taste, media influence, and preconceived notions about their skill and ability”, according to journalist Krystal Baugher.

My own research suggests the period of exclusion started with the rise of male brewing guilds in Europe, and intensified with industrialization.

With the growth of craft brewing over the last 40 years, and evolving cultural attitudes, women have entered – or rather re-entered – professional brewing. Women have also been active in beer education, both consumer and academic, and form an important part of the consumer base, but I focus here on pre- craft commercial brewing by women.

A Canadian example is the Victorian-era Susannah Oland, a founder of Canada’s still-independent Moosehead Brewery. The brewery inaugurated with her October brown ale, a product she was known for as a household brewer before going commercial.*

Oland is pictured below in regal mode, a role she fully earned in Canada’s brewing heritage (image via Wikipedia and originally Moosehead website).



In another part of the former Empire, there is the inspiring, late-Victorian Mary Jane Innes in New Zealand, the main driver of Waikato Brewing. A 2013 story at Stuff imparts good background.

Representing pre-Great War Hapsburg Europe, sweetly-named Amalia Goldberg, an intriguing case, brewed in Tarnopol, Galicia.

An example of female excellence in brewing ca. 1940 was in Leeds, UK, Charlotte Castleow, of the Corporation Tavern. The brewery earlier was known as the Palace Hotel and associated with Charles Castleow, perhaps her father, or another relation.

An April 22, 1940 a report in the Evening Star of Washington, D.C. stated that Charlotte brewed over 300 gal. of beer per week – with a male assistant.

The very fact that her story was publicized overseas is testament to how it was viewed at the time. Many readers had to be non-plussed.

Charlotte had worked in the brewery since childhood, so it is not a case of a woman substituting for a male worker due to wartime constraints. A shortage of manpower may have brought some women into brewhouses during the world wars, although I am not aware of a specific case.

Another female brewer is the famous “Madame Rose” of Liefmans in Belgium. Now there is another brown ale brewer of renown. She started as a secretary at the brewery in the 1940s and worked her way into senior ranks.

Despite her long years of service she has retained connections to the brewery.

For excellent background on Liefmans and the distinguished Rosa Merckx, see this webpage of UK-based Beertourism, whence this image was sourced:


A Countess Brewer**

Now consider a blue-blood brewer, my central subject, the “Countess Brewer” of Kiev, which today is in Ukraine and formerly, Russia. In 1896 dozens of American newspapers printed an item about the Countess that originated in the Philadelphia Record.

It described a Russian countess who owned and managed a brewery on her estate. The Naples Record printed the story in February 1896, here (via Fulton Newspapers).



The Countess had paid a visit to a Berlin brewery to learn details of pneumatic malting. She grew her own barley on “large acreage” but could not get sufficient labour to operate a traditional floor maltings. Pneumatic malting seemed the solution.

She sent samples of her beer to the German brewer, who pronounced them equal to the best German and Bohemian beer. The report added she was believed to be “the only woman brewer in Europe”.

Countess Branicka

The grandee brewer was not named in news accounts, so who was she? I believe Rosa Maria Branicka, a member of a noble Polish family. She often went by her married name, Rosa Maria Tarnowska (or Tarnowski).

Her husband was Count Stanislaw Tarnowski, a well-known Polish historian and literary figure.

A Countess Branicka is mentioned by author Galina Ulianova in her 2009 book Female Entrepreneurs in Nineteenth-Century Russia, pp. 170-171:

The big landowner Countess Maria Branicka owned eleven enterprises in Kiev Province: four mills (all leased out), two distilleries, one brewery and four sugar beet plants.

Ulianova wrote that in 1897 these businesses employed a total of 2,010 workers and realized 2.2 million roubles – not a small enterprise – more a mini-empire!

The determined-looking woman shown in this Geni page, Roza Maria Augusta Tarnowska (1854-1942), was likely the Countess brewer. An ancestry website for the Branicka family describes Roza Branicka as a countess, moreover.

Her grandfather was Count Władysław Grzegorz Branicki, of Polish nobility and a general officer in the Russian army. He owned estates outside Kiev and was a descendant of Catherine the Great.

It appears Countess Branicka inherited lands through her father Konstanty, which provided the basis for her entrepreneurship.


I have named just some women who engaged in commercial brewing at a time women “did not work in brewing”. Susannah Oland. Mary Jane Innes. Amalia Goldberg. Charlotte Castlelow. Madame Rose. And Countess Branicka.

They were ahead of their time. Together they show the past is never quite straightforward. Some women wanted to assume important roles in commercial brewing, and did, regardless of public perceptions, or obstacles in their way.

*Note added August 12, 2021. Margaret Simpson brewed commercially at her taverns in pioneer Canada, hence even earlier than Oland. For further details see this post.

**Note added November 11, 2021. An expanded version of this post, relating only to the Countess Brewer, was published yesterday in the blog of the Rural Women’s Studies Association. See here.









2 thoughts on “The Countess who Brewed”

  1. Hi Gary
    Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer features Sister Doris of the Mallersdorf Klosterbrauerei, who passed her brewmaster’s exam in 1975.
    Interestingly, there are is only one female brewer mentioned in Merk and Sauer’s 1987 book about 53 regional Bavarian brewers (Isolde Sedlmayer at the Maisacher brewery). Although qualified as a brewer, she did not brew at the time.

    • Hi Michael:

      Thanks for this, how could I forget the Sister and her picture in Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer!? Good point. The other point is interesting too.

      I’ll have another post soon on female brewery ownership from the past.



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