Beer History

The origin of beer

Beer was brewed by the ancient Egyptians and had almost certainly arrived in Britain by the Neolithic period. The builders of Stonehenge would undoubtedly have enjoyed a pint or two after a hard day’s work.

Beer was brewed in the home, on farms, in wayside taverns and later in the great monasteries. The brewing process and breweries in general were very different to what we know today. In fact, until refrigeration was introduced in the 1880s, beer was only brewed in the colder months from September to April/May.

As brewing became more organised, it naturally attracted the attention of the tax collectors. We’ve been taxed nationally on our enjoyment of ale and beer since 1188, when Henry II introduced the so-called ‘Saladin Tithe’ to pay for the Crusades.

For centuries, ale was brewed without hops. Beer however, which came from the Low Countries and was first imported into England in the 15th century, used hops as a flavouring and a preservative.

It took almost 150 years, but eventually hops came to be accepted as a vital part of the taste of ale. Prior to the 1400s, ale had been flavoured with herbs such as rosemary and thyme, but the hop helped preserve ale from spoiling due to its mildly antiseptic quality.

Beer and ale became synonymous – as did the beerhouse and alehouse – until new beer styles were developed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Further Reading