Benevolent Brewing by Sally MacKenzie

I’m the first to admit I’m not a historian. I set my books in Regency England (and a narrow slice of that—1816 to around 1820) because I read and loved Georgette Heyer when I was growing up. I’m more of an historical magpie, collecting details that catch my eye and weaving them together to form my story’s background. For my Widow’s Brew series, I mixed philanthropy with brewing.

A variety of charitable organizations of the 18th and 19th centuries aimed to help women and children. Two of them likely were part of my inspiration in naming my Benevolent Home for the Maintenance and Support of Spinsters, Widows, and Abandoned Women and their Unfortunate Children: the Foundling Hospital “for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children” and the Magdalen Hospital for the Reception of Penitent Prostitutes. Both were founded in the mid-1700s—and not by women. However, women—Hannah More, Catherine Cappe, Elizabeth Fry, etc.—were active in philanthropy at the time in areas such as female education, relief for the poor, and prison reform.

So, did women run British breweries, too? Er, no—or at least, not that I know of. There were indeed successful Regency businesswomen—Eleanor Coade, who developed, manufactured, and sold her eponymous Coade stone, an extremely durable material popular in outdoor sculptures and monuments, is a prime example. (Eleanor Coade was also a philanthropist—and specified in her will that some of her bequests were off limits to her beneficiaries’ husbands!) But by the Regency, women had left—or been pushed out of—for-profit brewing, thanks to the Industrial Revolution that turned brewing into a large commercial enterprise.

In pre-industrial times, women brewed ale for their families in their kitchens over an open fire. Before hops became part of the recipe, ale spoiled quickly, so a thrifty alewife would try to sell her surplus before it went bad. She’d advertise she had ale to sell by putting an alestake—something that looked like a broomstick—over her door. If she went into the village to hawk her wares, she’d don a tall, pointed hat to be clearly visible in a crowd.

Does a boiling cauldron, broomstick, pointy hat, and perhaps a cat around to keep the mice away ring a bell? Yes, our popular image of witches derives from this time—and alewives were sometimes accused of witchcraft, especially as men moved into brewing. One popular poem, The Tunning of Elynour Rummyng, written by John Skelton around 1517, paints a very unflattering portrait of an alewife. (You can find a discussion of the poem here.)

There are no witches, ugly or otherwise, in my Widow’s Brew books. My heroines inhabit a brewing middle ground: the private country house, where the brewhouse might be small enough that a few women could manage it—at least in my fictional world.  My heroines sell their ale to help support the Home and lessen their dependence on their ducal benefactor—who’s slated to become the hero of book three!


“A pure delight. Sharp dialogue, a creative premise, and plenty of tugs on the heartstrings.” —New York Times bestselling author Betina Krahn

Scandal does not define the “fallen” ladies of Puddledon Manor’s Benevolent Home. Instead, it’s a recipe for an intoxicating new future as the women combine their talents—to operate their own brewery and alehouse . . .

When Penelope Barnes arrived at the Home with her young daughter, she discovered a knack for horticulture—and for cultivating the hops needed to produce a superlative pint. She put her scandalous affair with Harry Graham firmly in the past, along with the wrenching pain she felt when he went off to war. After all, she’d always known a farmer’s daughter had no future with an earl’s son. Now she has the pleasant memory of their passion, and she has little Harriet, for whom she would do anything—even marry a boring country vicar . . .

Harry went off to fight for the Crown unaware that his delightful interlude with his childhood friend had permanent consequences. Now he’s back in England, catapulted into the title by his brother’s untimely death. He sorely misses his former life of unfettered adventure, so when he has reason to explore Little Puddledon, he jumps at the chance. But what he finds there is something—and someone—he never knew he’d lost, and a once forbidden love whose time has come, if only he can persuade Pen he’s home to stay . . .

Sally MacKenzie’s novels are . . .

“Always a delight.” –Booklist, Starred Review

“Perfect.” —RT Book Reviews

“Naked, noble, and irresistible!” —Eloisa James

“Great fun.” —Publishers Weekly