Earlier this week, feminist icon Gloria Steinem posted an uncharacteristic photo to her 400,000-plus Instagram followers: A bottle of ale labeled Libeeration. Though Steinem doesn’t actually drink beer, she wrote, if she did, ”this one designed to help menopause symptoms is the first I’d grab and serve at parties.”
Dec. 1 marked the second limited release of Libeeration, a gruit-style ale created at Portsmouth Brewery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and a fizzy new benchmark for so-called functional drinks: Beer laced with herbs such as lemon balm, chamomile, stinging nettle, mugwort and damiana that are intended to ease hot flashes, sleeplessness, mood swings and other menopausal symptoms.
“It’s taken years to bring this idea to market,” said Portsmouth co-owner and creative director Joanne Francis when the ale was first released a few weeks ago. When she initially proposed a beer for women going through menopause, about six years ago, the reception among her colleagues “was nothing short of disgust and horror.”
Undaunted, Francis spent years meeting with herbalists and women’s health practitioners, honing her idea for a beer aimed at older women, not exactly the demographic most brewers shoot for in a category dominated by younger male drinkers.
The gruit style dates back to medieval times, and precedes hop-flavored beers, using herbs in their stead. However, Portsmouth head brewer Matt Gallagher adds some Saphir hops during Libeeration’s secondary fermentation, enhancing the ale’s sleep-inducing cred (hops are sometimes used in herbal formulas to combat insomnia, one of the hallmarks of menopause). “I’ve always been intrigued with the concept of this beer, but it was only after having a daughter and beginning to view the world differently that I felt the importance of putting this ale on the front burner,” said Gallagher.
Unfortunately, Libeeration is only available in cans and on draft at the downtown Portsmouth brewery for now, but as demand has been so strong, “there are some plans for a larger-scale distribution in the works,” said Chelsey Puffer, a brewery spokeswoman.