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.
Brewing In Europe
Once the Egyptian empire had fallen (giving way to teetotalism in the cradle of civilisation), seeds of brewing knowledge were flung across the world.
Phoenician traders were selling cultivated grains around the globe and persecuted Israelites had fled to Northern Europe, bringing with them the skills for the production of ale.
For most of its history the lands of Britain have been densely forested, lending themselves to farmhouses and cottage industry. It is believed, that for this reason the fermenting of soft skin hedgerow fruits, apples (for cider) and honey (for mead) would have pre-empted the production of beer – beer requiring the germination of grains so that yeasts may access their fermentable sugars.
By the time that the Romans conquered Britain brewing knowledge was common place in local populations. At this time brewing would have been a domestic affair, undertaken by house-wives (or ale-wives) as part of general housekeeping. This ale would have been brewed using forageables such as herbs, spices and fruits (as apposed to hops) in order to balance the sweet flavour of the malty beverage.
Although the Greeks and Romans are seen as wine lovers, the Greeks learnt of brewing from the Egyptians, and passed this on to the Romans. It is believed that the Greeks and Romans shared knowledge of the hops plant, although hopped ale (or beer as it became defined) would not become widespread in Britain for some time after Roman invasions.
The lands of the Greeks and Romans enjoyed Mediterranean climates and were therefore more suited to the growing of grapes and the production of wine.
Both the Greek and Roman societies were proud of their rich culture, grounded in arts and humanities they looked down on British life (ale drinking included) as barbaric and primitive.
Although the Romans held distain for British imbibing they regularly drank ale alongside the locals, to foster synergy (and therefore obedience) within conquered populations.
Tablets taken from Hadrian’s Wall note orders of beer, to be delivered to (and consumed by) the Roman soldiers that were stationed there. The fulfiller of this order may be one of the earliest examples of commercial British brewing.
After the Romans departed, Britain settled back in to domestic brewing. As the dust settled across the land, beer became the drink of the people; a source of calorific sustenance, refreshment and communal imbibing (the latter to gain prominence within emerging ale-houses, building on the success of licensed premises in ancient Egypt). Although it became a key source of sustenance at this time in Britain (even prescribed for medical ailments), ale would never again reach the heights of spiritual celebration it enjoyed in ancient society.
TIME FOR A BREAK
Buxton Brewery – The Living End
For my third post I have chosen a bourbon barrel-aged stout. This beer was purchased in 2018 from the back of the fridge in a beer bar in Nottingham. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it, I had been hunting down The Living End since it was released three years prior in 2015, all hope up until then was already lost.
This beer was packaged on October 30th, 2015 – when I open it today it would have spent over three years ageing in the bottle.
The beer is a hefty 11% imperial stout, having ‘spent months in wood’ to pick up ‘vanilla and oak’ flavours from the bourbon barrel.
The bottle cracks open with a quiet hiss and immediately boozy bouquet.
As the beer pours it forms a rising oily mass in the glass, jet-black in colour with a thin burnt-caramel lacing.
The boozy aroma is of brandy and stewed fruits. The stewed fruits aroma has appeared in every single aged beer I have tried, so probable a sign of oxidisation, in many cases however not a negative trait.
The first sip is a throwback to big, bold export stouts – bracing bitterness and notes of dark chocolate with amazing depth and complexity. The bitterness builds on the palate with nutty, herbal flavours intermingled – this seems a distinctly British stout.
Although the beer was in bourbon barrels for some time there is almost no vanilla notes or hints of oak.
The boozy aroma carries stewed fruits through on the palate, combining with nutty flavours and dark chocolate bitterness. This beer is a sophisticated chocolate bar in a glass.
I don’t know how this beer tasted fresh but three years on it tastes perfect. Any effects of ageing seem to have complimented what was already an amazingly robust, old-school imperial stout.
Again I am happy with the ageing on this bottle and look forward to the next already!
Back to the story…
As the Roman empire fell the Catholic church took its place and monasteries were established across Europe.
The consumption of alcohol has always been acknowledged and allowed by the church, the bible itself is peppered with references to wine – commonly enjoyed as part of religious ceremony. With domestic brewing now widespread in Northern Europe, Monks began to produce ale within the confines of monasteries, imbibing in God’s house, away from the temptations of the outside world.
The brewing of beer was a form of Monastic self-sufficiency and many Monks were believed to have survived Lenten fasting on diets of ale alone. Records dating back to 1004 show the daily allowance of 1 gallon of each of Strong Ale and Weak Ale for Monks in Burton.
The flow of thirsty pilgrims soon became key to monastic finances. A life of self-sufficiency was secured for the monks as they expanded their brewhouses to satisfy the growing demand for ale.
It can be argued that monasteries were the first commercial brewhouses in Britain, and the monks of Burton-upon-Trent were forebears of today’s British brewing industry – more on that next time..
Next time: Vikings, Hops and Medieval Commercial Brewing
Paired with: Siren Craft Brew/Evil Twin – ‘Even More Jesus VIII’ (cellared early 2016)
Disclaimer: The facts and proximation detailed in this piece were collated from many sources, to be referenced and cross-checked as soon as possible.