During the opening weekend of Brighton Fringe the Marlborough Pub and Theatre will be hosting Fem.Ale, a three-day long street party and celebration of women who brew beer. Started in Norfolk in 2013, Fem.Ale is the brainchild of beer enthusiast Erica Horton. She felt the scene had an assumed image of being something predominantly enjoyed and brewed by “middle-class white dudes with moustaches.” So she set up an event for female brewers at her local pub in Norfolk, The Plasterers, and it grew from there. Her aim has always been “to create a physical space for people of all genders to enjoy craft beers free from old institutional ideas and assumptions.”
The Marlborough is situated perfectly for street parties. “Last year’s event was a huge hit we were totally thrilled with the turn out,” she says. It’ll be hard to top, but Erica and the good folk at the Marlborough plan to have an even wider range of beers available this year, plus performances from an enticingly vast range of musicians, comedians, and dancers. Expect some unusual brews including Unite Local Ale, which was brewed on Weds 8 March as part of the International Women’s Day celebrations, and the renowned Grrrl Grey – an Earl Grey-infused brew made at Norfolk’s Woodfordes Brewery.
As well as all-day music on the outside stage there’ll be some special evening performances in the Marlborough’s fantastic upstairs theatre. Edinburgh Fringe prodigy Lucy McCormick will be performing Triple Threat, her acclaimed and unique cabaret enactment of the New Testament told through dance, power ballads and avant-garde art. Australian comedian Nicole Henriksen will be performing her ‘high-energy, pro-femme show’ Techno Glitter Penguins, and the mysterious Carol Cates will be bringing us her distinctive solo cabaret and ukulele extravaganza.
Friday will see the event open with beer tasting, a funky soundtrack from local DJs and a talk from Brighton’s own beer historian – Jane Peyton. Saturday will be the biggest day with the entire street outside the pub shut off for all-day boozy revelry comprising of live music, stalls selling a range of handmade goodies, fantastic food and obviously – beers galore. While the Sunday will be “a pretty chilled affair with the last of the beers and a well-needed coffee,” you’ll still be able to get yourself one of the Marly’s famous vegan roasts made by renowned in-house chef and ‘Vegan Food Pimp’, Lynn.
For those who, like myself, are not big beer fans, Erica has some words of advice: “I think the key to finding what you like is the same with beer as it is with anything else. Experiment!” Her top tips are to first ask your bartender for advice and tasters. Second, venture to beer tasting events locally. Thirdly, work out what you like and try other beers in the same vein. “I know of at least a few nano breweries in Brighton pubs, so go and explore!”
Beer is one of the oldest and most widely consumed beverages in history and women have actually been brewing it for hundreds of years. According to Erica “women brewers or so called ‘ale wives’ were always at the heart of the rural, pre-industrial community, making beer as part of their domestic and culinary duties as women.” And now women continue to make beer more than ever – Fem.Ale simply aims to give them a platform and the opportunity for people to come together in appreciation and celebration of the beverage.
As much as the festival is about beer, having fun and meeting like-minded folk, Erica notes that given the current political climate it is more important than ever to “fight for safe spaces and speak up when we see that safety being infringed upon.” She continues, “I’m so glad we get to call the Marlborough Pub and Theatre our festival HQ in beautiful Brighton, for it creates a safe, creative and vital space all year round.” This is a day to be enjoyed by everyone, “to bring together a whole festival of beer brewed by incredible craftspeople and celebrate their skill and passion in a space that welcomes everyone.”
Fri 5 – Sun 7 May
The Marlborough Pub and Theatre
The Marlborough Theatre is at 4 Princes Street, Brighton, BN2 1RD