Beer has been around humanity for centuries. Although made popular by the European cultures, recipes have been discovered in Middle Eastern, Asian, South American, and African cultures. I chose to focus on the early history of beer as it affect European cultures. I find it fascinating how much the history of beer was intertwined with various faiths. Recipes were often used as part of prayers, beer was sacrificed to the gods and left in the tombs of kings, and beer was produced often produced by monks in European and Asian countries. This article could go on much longer, looking at the different cultures, beer’s religious effects on religion, and its importance to local economies. I encourage you to research the history of beer from other cultures.
Beer was a common beverage during the Middle Ages and was consumed daily by all social classes in the northern and eastern parts of Europe. Though wine of varying qualities was the most common drink in the south, beer was still popular among the lower classes. Since the purity of water could seldom be guaranteed, alcoholic drinks were a popular choice, having been boiled as part of the brewing process. Beer also provided a considerable amount of the daily calories in the northern regions.
Flavoring beer with hops was known at least since the 9th century, but was only gradually adopted because of difficulties in establishing the right proportions of ingredients. Before that, gruit, a mix of various herbs, had been used, but did not have the same conserving properties as hops. Beer that was flavored without it often spoiled soon after preparation and could not be exported. The only other alternative was to increase the alcohol content, which was rather expensive.
English ale and beer brewing were carried out by separately, no brewer being allowed to produce both. The Brewers Company of London stated “no hops, herbs, or other like thing be put into any ale or liquore wherof ale shall be made — but only liquor (water), malt, and yeast.” Ale is made of malte and water; and they the which do put any other thynge to ale than is rehersed, except yest, barme, or goddesgood [three words for yeast], doth sophysticat there ale. Ale for an Englysshe man is a naturall drinke. Ale muste haue these properties, it muste be fresshe and cleare, it muste not be ropy, nor smoky, nor it must haue no wefte nor tayle. Ale shulde not be dronke vnder .v. dayes olde …. Barly malte maketh better ale than Oten malte or any other corne doth … Beere is made of malte, of hoppes, and water; it is a naturall drynke for a doche [Dutch] man, and nowe of late dayes it is moche vsed in Englande to the detryment of many Englysshe men … for the drynke is a colde drynke. Yet it doth make a man fatte, and doth inflate the bely, as it doth appere by the doche mennes faces and belyes.” (Wikipedia)
Hopped beer was perfected in the towns of Germany in the 13th century, and the longer lasting beer, combined with standardized barrel sizes, allowed for large-scale export. Previously beer had been brewed at home, but the production was now successfully replaced by medium-sized operations of about eight to ten people. In Europe, the oldest still operating commercial brewery (in Germany), obtained the brewing rights from the nearby town. By the 14th and 15th centuries, beermaking was gradually changing from a family-oriented activity to an artisan one, with pubs and monasteries brewing their own beer for mass consumption.