Inspired by the story behind my name, the Stroschein Brewing brand merges my interests in design and history. Developing the identity was a fun challenge of mixing modern and medieval aesthetics.
The Stroschein name contains the story behind the visual language of brewing. In the Middle Ages, brewers needed a visual symbol in order to advertise to a largely illiterate population—they displayed their ‘license’ in the form of straw (STRO). The straw was shiny, glowing, visible proof (SCHEIN) that a client had found a brewer. The German nickname for brewers became Stroschein.
The straw was typically attached to a pole, known as an alestake. The alestake did more than advertise—it was used for sweeping the floor, collecting wild yeasts in the process. While the exact science behind yeast wasn’t yet understood, brewers’ traditions were intuitive—they used the alestake to inoculate their brews.
Image credits: Schlenkerla / Nelson Associates / Bruno Kelzer via Unsplash / Rebecca Davis via The Met / Two Squares by Almir Mavignier / Schlenkerla
Until around 1500 CE, brewers were primarily women. The reasons for the shift away from women brewers in Europe (known as brewsters or alewives) are complex, involving economics, politics, and religious fundamentalism. In short, brewing was becoming more profitable and industrialized, the use of hops as a preservative grew mainstream, and the Reformation was sweeping Europe.
During this period many alewives lost not only their businesses, but their lives. An estimated 200,000 women were prosecuted as witches, and there was significant overlap between women who were alewives and those accused of witchcraft. Germany, ground zero of the Reformation, was responsible for nearly 40% of all witchcraft prosecutions in Europe.
As the witch trials continued, depictions of women in art, literature, and pop culture grew negative. Historians have noted similarities between tools of the alewives’ trade and the illustrations created for anti-witch propaganda—images of bubbling cauldrons (brewing beer), broomsticks (alestakes), cats ( to protect grain from mice), and pointed hats (worn to stand out in the marketplace) are iconic, however there are alternative explanations for these images.
Image credits: Bodleian Library / Wikimedia / Wikimedia
The Design Brief
After exploring the symbols mentioned above, I opted to focus the design brief on glowing straw, with a nod to women’s crafts—the visual identity is feminine (for a beer brand) and the brewery’s menu is inspired by the alewives’ recipes.
In honor of the alewives, and all the women who experienced this period in history, this project is dedicated to six women on my Stroschein side who moved from Germany to the US and passed on their creative crafts to future generations.
The wheat-forward beer menu reflects the glowing straw brand story. In addition to wheat beers, the menu features ancient herbal recipes that were popular before the mainstream use of hops, as well as modern brews and a zero-alcohol hop water.