The Countess who Brewed

Women Historically in Brewing

A Polish countess figures in our story (see below) but first some general background on women and brewing.

A detailed Wikipedia essay on women in brewing states:

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.

The essay details the long history of women in brewing. In world-historical terms, the period of exclusion is relatively narrow. It intensified with industrialization, but my reading suggests it started earlier, with the rise of brewing guilds in Europe.

With the growth of modern craft brewing women have entered – re-entered – professional brewing. Lingering attitudes that may inhibit opportunities is one of the cultural issues discussed in social media and academic writing currently.

Women in Pre-craft Breweries

What of the industrial period though, when women “didn’t” brew? Of course, some did. There is probably a large group, especially connected to smaller breweries, who worked closely with their husbands even though not possessing a formal role. This area needs further study and probably will be quite revealing.

Other cases, where women assumed formal roles as brewery owners, managers, or brewers, are not common but documented. There is the case of Susannah Oland in Canada. Another was a brewer in Leeds, U.K. ca. 1940 with the Corporation Tavern, Miss Charlotte Castleow.

Earlier known as the Palace Hotel, it was associated with Charles Castleow, presumably her late father or another relation. According to an April 22, 1940 report in the Evening Star of Washington, D.C., she brewed over 300 gal. of beer per week in the family brewery with a male assistant.

Another female brewer is the famous “Madame Rose”, of Liefman’s, in Belgium, now retired. No doubt there were more. War conditions may have brought some into North American and European brewhouses in the two World Wars, although I am not aware of a specific case (Charlotte Castleow had worked in the brewery since childhood).

A Countess Brewer

Another case, previously unstudied to my knowledge, is the “Countess Brewer” of Kiev, Russia, now in Ukraine. In 1896 dozens of American newspapers printed an item that originated in the Philadelphia Record.

It stated a “Russian” countess owned and managed a brewery on her estate. The Naples Record printed it on February 5, 1896, see here (via Fulton Newspapers).



She was visiting a brewery in Berlin to learn details of pneumatic malting, as she wanted to install this in her brewery. She grew her own barley on a “large acreage” and could not get sufficient labour to operate a traditional floor maltings (is the implication).*

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

Countess Branicka

The countess brewer is not named in the account. Who was she? I believe she was Rosa Maria Branicka, a member of a noble Polish family. She was often described by her married name, Rosa Maria Tarnowska (or Tarnowski).

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

A Countess Branicka is mentioned by Galina Ulianova in her (2009) 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 goes on to state that in 1897 these businesses employed a total of 2,010 workers and realized M 2.2 roubles – not a small enterprise.

I believe the determined-looking woman pictured in the Geni site, described as Roza Maria Augusta Tarnowska (1854-1942), was the countess brewer of the American accounts and Ulianova’s book. An ancestry website of the Branicka family describes her as a countess.

It appears her grandfather was Count Władysław Grzegorz Branicki, described as a Polish nobleman and general officer in the Russian army who owned estates, and a descendant of Catherine the Great.

These estates were, based on further inquiry, about 50 miles from Kiev. I believe Countess Branicka inherited some of the lands through her father, Konstanty.

I’ve approached this history with extra deliberation, as I do not read Polish, but believe the above accurate. Comments are (always) welcomed.


*This 1910 paper given in England by C.S. Meacham neatly explained the advantages of pneumatic malting over the older floor process.








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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