A Black Sheep in More Ways Than One

Home-ground malt, bittering hops, hops with a citrus-fruity aroma – when you listen to Sarah Fent talk, you quickly realize that brewing beer is a whole branch of science in its own right. What began as a hobby during the pandemic is now a start-up business, and the Mannheim student majoring in German Studies has become one of Germany’s few independent female brewers.

Mußbach is an idyllic town set in the midst of south Germany’s picturesque, sun-drenched wine country. It is home to 17 vineyards and just under 4,000 people. One of them is Sarah Fent. To get to her house, you have to travel up Mußbach’s winding main road. Ropes covered in vine leaves are strung over the road and gold-embellished signs on the sides of buildings advertise the local wineries. “That’s why my beer is called ‘Miss Blacksheep’! Because I’m the proverbial black sheep on two different fronts. Firstly as a woman in the industry and secondly as a beer brewer in a wine region,” says the 23-year-old student as she begins to tell her story, beaming confidently. During lockdown, when in-person teaching at the university was suspended, Fent suddenly had two extra hours of time on her hands each day. “So I didn’t go stir-crazy, I tried out new things. I made my own vinegar, I baked, I cooked. I even started crocheting. It was all just to keep myself occupied. Beer hadn’t even crossed my mind at that point.” Two lockdowns and a vacation to Scotland later, however, that would suddenly change. Rustic pubs with six or seven beers on tap, including local brews, the variety of different flavors on the palate, and the mysteries of the brewer’s art hinted at in the brewery tours all conspired to fill her with a new passion. “While I was still in Scotland, I began googling how to make beer. And then I ordered everything I’d need for brewing and had it delivered back home from the UK.” She then got to work in her cellar in Mußbach. Using an old cooking pot of her uncle’s, her dad’s grill thermometer, and a gas burner, she made her first beer.  

She still likes to experiment with new beers in her home cellar but now has her own brewing machine. And that is not the only thing that has changed in her life as a result of her passion for brewing. “I owe the transition from hobby to start-up to a course at the university,” laughs Fent. For the seminar Social Media Management on a Limited Budget, she experimented with a brand for her beer and began marketing on Instagram. And it worked. The craft beer from a town known for its wine was a hit. Her followers loved the fruity, citrusy taste of her Pfälzer Lusthopfen, a pale ale inspired by British beer, and so the company Miss Blacksheep Bier was launched. In order to comply with the German Beer Purity Law, and because her 30-liter brewing machine can no longer keep up with demand, Fent now makes her beer at a rented brewery in Heidelberg. She is the first and so far only woman to brew her own 700 liter batches there in the gigantic brew kettles. Even though she encounters a lot of hostility online, she is not giving up: “I think it’s important to show that beer is a drink for everyone. There’s such a variety of styles, with something to suit every taste. A hazelnut and coconut stout tastes sweet and very different from a citrusy pale ale, which in turn is very different from a bitter Kellerpils. So why do some people think beer is just something for men who like soccer?” A hashtag appears under many of her Instagram posts: #BierKenntKeinGeschlecht. Beer knows no gender. Resistance just spurs Fent on and, by her own admission, always has. “I like being the black sheep and showing what’s possible if you trust yourself and don’t hide what you can do,” she grins. Her long-term dream? She wants her own little brewpub in Neustadt – right in the heart of Germany’s wine country! 

Text: Jule Leger / October 2022