A history of beer: 5 steps of brewing evolution

We love a beer. Actually that’s not true, we love several beers (while still being drinkaware of course). As today is International Beer Day we thought we’d take a look at what we like to think of as the 5 ages of beer.

In the beginning….

So far as we can tell brewing originated back in Lower Mesopotamia in the 5th millenia BCE. The soil here was great for wild grains which the settlers gathered for food, and then beer.

The beer element seems to have came along by accident, as the grains were malted to make bread. The bread was soaked and the reaction between the malt, yeast in the bread, and water created beer.

The Sumarians were then conquered by the Babylonians who nurtured their beer making practices and set up the first beer based legislation. Brewing then made it’s way to Egypt where it was also immensely popular and by 3100–2686 BCE, it was an important part of Egyptian culture.

Beer soon became the staple drink for the Egyptians due to it being sterile, and healthier than water.

The second age

Jumping forward to the 11th century CE now and we find ourselves in Central Europe. St Hildegard, founder of the Benedictine nuns, wrote about the preservative properties of hops.

This transformed the brewing practices in Europe and by 1158 beer purity laws were being put in place. Just over 450 years later Germany’s famous Reinheitsgebot was born.

As much as people tried to cling on to unhopped beer (previously it had been flavoured by gruit) by the late 15th century most beers were hopped.


The aftermath of the London Beer Flood where a Porter vat ruptured and flooded a street

A hop, skip and a jump takes us forward to the 17th century and the industrial revolution. London is fueled by dark porters at this stage, with enough hops preserving it to be stored and sent to the thousands of pubs around London.

Massive vats were created throughout the city to allow proper blending, giving consistency for the first time. Then, in 1784, Samuel Whitbread and Henry Goodwin installed a coal-fired steam engine in their London brewery.

Within 20 years they had a regular supply of pale malts and the first IPA was born. As the secret of pale malting spread, brewing became the industrial process recognisable today until disaster hit one of the biggest producers, the United States began prohibition.

Out of the darkness…

In 1933 prohibition ended and the beer industry had changed entirely. From a household process to supply individuals for a day or so, brewing was now for the masses.

The fourth age of brewing saw beer hit the supermarket shelves alongside regular household items. It was accessible to everyone for a relatively low price.

There was choice, there was supply, things were looking up!

…And into the light of the craft beer explosion

We are currently living in the 5th age of brewing. In the 1970s American and British micro-brewing came to the fore. The heart of beer production took a step back to a smaller process.

Variety increased yet again with so many different recipes and ideas on what beer can and should be. The rise of real ale and craft beer had begun and today we are reaping the benefits of decades of experimentation.

7000 years after the first beer was created we’ve gone from a sweet, light beer created by accident in a field, to the rampant flavour packed DIPAs and TIPAs of the modern day. The time from production to consumption has expanded from a couple of days up to a couple of years.

As for the sixth age? Who knows? Answers on a postcard please, or in the comments. Y’know, whichever’s easier.

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