Welcome to my blog on the history of brewing, and thanks for reading!
This blog will be spread across a series of short posts telling the story of beer – thirsty work which I have paired with beers I have been ageing at home, centring around the theme of time.
Introduction: Modern Beer and The First Brew
As of today beer is the world’s third most popular beverage, pipped to the post by tea (2nd) and water (1st) – following in tow are coffee and cola. The British beer industry is believed to employ around 900,000 workers with £10B in salaries paid. An estimated £13B in tax revenue is generated through the industry per year, putting us at the lower end of the top ten brewing nations in the world, with China holding top spot. Although China brews the most beer, it is the Czechs that drink the most per person, despite the UK’s 90,000 pubs offering ample choice for British punters. The Red Lion and The Crown are your most likely watering holes (by count of name) and your most likely brew may well be a golden ale. You spent 12 pence on a pint of ale in 1971, a beautiful thought compared to today’s average of around £3.70. The first ever Campaign For Real Ale ‘Good Beer Guide’ recorded 141 brewers in the UK, 50 of these classified as national/international. Each job in a brewery equates to one further job in supply chain, one further job in retail and roughly twenty further jobs in pubs. In 2019 the UK market can now enjoy over 2,000 breweries; so how did we get here?
The artisanal process of brewing is steeped in history, mythology and religion. Did you know that brewing has its very own Patron Saint – St.Arnold of Flanders? Did you know that Britain started Europe’s most successful consumer campaign, in order to save the nation’s brewing heritage? Maybe not, so let’s start at the the very beginning, before civilisation itself..
The word ‘Bibere’ in Latin means ‘to drink’ and this may be a derivative of the word BEER that we use today. For centuries beer has been seen as ‘the drink of the people’ with restorative qualities (post-boil, the sanitised liquid could be drank in weak and small doses by small children, men and women, instead of unsafe drinking water) and sustenance from naturally occurring ingredients (monks often referred to beer as liquid bread, in its most basic form being made from water, yeast and malt). The drink of the people has always held a close connection to within environments it was brewed in.
For fermentation to occur grain must first germinate through soaking in warm water to release its fermentable sugars. After these sugars are available, yeast may be pitched into the solution which will convert the sugars into alcohol and produce CO2. With this science lesson in mind it is is easy to see how the first brew(s) were likely a happy accident, through the germination of grains collected by hunter-gatherers, compounded with the wild yeast strains, occurring naturally in the outside world.
TIME FOR A BREAK
Brouwerij De Molen – Hemel & Aarde
For this post, my first, I have chosen to open my cellar (a wardrobe with a few cases of beer stashed inside) and crack open the first ever beer that I started ageing, which has sat for three years now. At the time I bought it, it was a pretty intimidating beer, which is why I sat on it for a while, and when I came to decide that I wanted to start a cellar, it was the first beer to go in – it already had some of the ageing legwork done for it.
Three years on and I have over 100 beers in the cellar and have tried quite a few aged beers in different scenarios, some gaining in complexity at a graceful rate, and some that should have never had been aged in the first place. Some of these bad example had made me cynical of my cellaring project altogether, but the only way to find out if a beer tastes better with a bit of life behind it, is to put all your blind faith in the hands of time and resist the temptation to crack it open for a a little while.
Well, this bottled is amazing – I’m overjoyed with the efforts that have gone into storing the beer, a 10% smoked stout. The smoke has rounded out beautifully, and what used to be a spiky, boozy beer has now melded into one homogeneous, viscous peat bomb . I am very happy with the way this beer has evolved over the three years or so I have had it, and cannot wait for my next cellar beer already.
back to the story..
Clay pots excavated in China show a residual substance likely to be beer, dating back roughly 9,000 years. This discovery means that beer may well be older than this, as containers crafted from animal-skins were used prior, unfortunately these have been lost in time due to their perishable nature. With little understanding of the world around them, except the realisation of their own morality, many early nomads saw the transformative effects of alcohol as a gateway to a transcendent plain, a gift from the gods themselves to enlighten mankind.
It is most likely that the gruel-like substance that fermented into beer would have occurred before tribes possessed the knowledge to make bread. In fear of losing this mystical substance man would have tried to domesticate the barley crop; to ensure future stocks of ale (and not because of their love of baking loaves). Through these first farms began the primitive settlements, and so civilisation was formed; to brew beer (probably).
Next time: The First Civilisations, Their Beery Ceremonies and The First Ever Breweries
Paired with: To Øl/Buxton Brewery – Viscously Viscous (cellared late 2015)
Disclaimer: The facts and proximation detailed in this piece were collated from many sources, to be referenced and cross-checked as soon as possible.