A Skelding Summary
Like the best things in life, beer, its consumption and its glorious effects has a very bad press and an even longer history. Some 6000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ the and Babylonians were making beer from barley. Illustrations in Egyptian tombs show the brewing process involved and the drinking of the stuff which inevitably had to follow.
Brewing came to Europe from the Middle East and prior to the birth of Christ, Roman historians such as Tacitus had noted that that the Celts & Saxons, amongst other North-European Tribes, were fond of the odd shandy. This perhaps explains their lack of military success against the Roman Army in that hangovers did have a tendency to impede one's performance on the battlefield - and anywhere else for that matter.
In the Middle Ages - brewing tended to be the preserve of monks in Europe - and tended very much to be a Winter occupation. The word lager comes from the German words `to gather' - and refers to the harvesting of hops in the Autumn. The monks then would get to work - no doubt imbibe a few drinks and then have a few visions afterwards. Ice was kept in cold storage (usually cold basements) in order to keep the beer cold during the Spring and Summer months. Hops were in use in Germany by the11th century and were introduced to Kent via Holland by the 1400s.
This began Britons' long and tempestuous love affair with alcoholic drink be it strong spirits or the warm beer beloved of many a Prime Minister and King. In the eighteenth century London was blighted with the availability of cheap, often adulterated and poisonous ales and spirits which in some areas of the capital city reduced life expectancy to 25 years of age. In 1874, the Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone attributed his Party's defeat in the election that year, to the evils of drink. He and his Party, he swore, had been brought down in a "torrent of gin and beer". This evil was if anything exacerbated by the mechanisation of the brewing and storage process that accompanied the Industrial Revolution.
Refrigeration allowed the brewing of lagers during the summer months - and the work of Louis Pasteur in the 1860s not only freed milk from potentially deadly germs and microbes - but beer also. The Dane Emile Hannsen developed safer kinds of yeast to help the brewing industry and increase consumer satisfaction - though the British still preferred their pints dodgy, well into the twentieth century.
Types of beer and ale vary according to the length of the brewing process, the type and quantity of the key ingredients used and the properties of the water used in the brewing. Early British beers were made from brown malt - the best quality beer known as "Strong Beer", the worst "Small Beer". To this day if something is described as small beer it means that it is not of any merit whatsoever. It may also mean that the person uttering these words might have an upset stomach and make a mess on your loveseat or carpet.
In the 1700s a strong dark ale was brewed and was called Porter. This indeed was the forerunner of Stout - which made a certain fellow called Arthur Guinness his name and gives 1758 an immortal place in the drink lovers calendar. In Nottinghamshire, hard water was used to create a lighter drink which soon became known as "bitter" and were known as Burton Ales. Not to be outdone, John Smith and Joshua Tetley (two names as revered to Yorkshiremen as Freddie Trueman and Geoffrey Boycott) followed suit.
Mild ales or bitters get their name in that they were conventional bitters with fewer hops, adding sugar & caramel during brewing.
Like it or loathe it, beer has a central place in British culture -
The current licensing
laws in England date from the
'Great War' when munitions workers had a tragic habit of going down to
the pub - having just the one too many - and returning to work in a
drunken stupor to drop live ammunition on the floor.
Finally every Government likes to slap duties on it. So next time you're down the local - just have a pint and start dreaming about those tax cuts just around the corner.
This FAQ (frequently asked questions) is also a running Q&A (questions & Answers) so you can ask and we will answer or find out for you.
Histories of Things