History of Beer in Britain C 4000 BC: The Gods started it all.Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer, illustrated the brewing process on clay ‘tablets’: But they must have been beta-blockers, as it took her 2000 years to send all her brewing recipes to Britain. 

C 4000 BC: Spiced and honey beers were everywhere.Fragments of pottery found on Orkney show a beer-like drink including meadowsweet,  hemlock, deadly nightshade and wheat – a pretty potent ‘beer’. And honey beers were being brewed as well, often mixed with wheat or barley or herbs. 

55 BC: Caesar arrived.Julius Caesar of Rome arrived in Britain in an early attempt to create a European Union. His legionnaires drank wine on arrival but were soon converted to British beer. Later, they left. 

C 1500: Hops arrived andstarted to be planted in Britain, imported by Flemish weavers who settled in Kent. Hops were originally viewed with great suspicion, not only for their membership of the cannabis plant family. They also avoided the taxes on spices levied by religious orders. 



C 1600: Old Ale was the fashion at dinner parties. These wonderful strong beers were normally brewed from October to March, as the heat of summertime would turn beers sour. They were preserved from bacteria by their 7-12% abv alcohol levels, by hops and cold temperatures. Matured in large casks in deep, dark stone cellars, they were often kept for several years and given to friends instead of Champagne (which hadn’t been invented). 

C 1720: Porter Ales made the accountants and porters happy. This dark beer, the weaker forerunner to stout, was the first beer in Britain to be brewed on an industrial scale. It was  the chosen drink of all the porters who unloaded ships, carried goods and did what DHL and the internet do today. It was originally a blend of three different beers and often aged for over a year in vast barrels, the size of a house. 

C 1820. India Pale Ale, the Chardonnay of its time.The wood and straw used to roast barley made all beers dark. Lager, which we now think of as pale, was all black and dark brown till 1842 but as the beer was drunk from pewter or earthenware, nobody saw its colour. The arrival of commercial clear glassware meant you could see your drink. So they invented India Pale Ale,  high in alcohol, pale in colour and with massive quantities of hops to help it withstand the 3-6 months at sea on its way to India. It went beautifully with curry too. 



C 1840. Mild ales are popular with industrial workersLow alcohol beers at 4-6% with low bitterness and reassuring sweet malty quality were a hit with the sweating workers. Those in the mines, foundries and other manual industries needed refreshment and re-hydration at the end of a hard, hot day. 

C 1880’s. England, Wales and Scotland brew their first pale lagers.Forty years after the first pale lager was brewed in Pilsen in the Czech republic, the lager beer style was brewed in Britain.                                                                                                   

C 1900. Bitter Ales really get going. Bitter was developed in the 1840’s, taking off in a bigger way in 1900, a lower-hopped, lower-alcohol cousin to India Pale Ale, created in a wide variety of styles.

C 1910 Bottled brown ales and milk stouts. These bottled beers became big business, often blended with cask ales to form a beer cocktail or drunk by women after childbirth for health reasons. Their biggest growth was after the 1939-45 war.

C 1960. The rise of  Draught kegged "Bitters".These draught beers, which had been pasteurised, were easier to keep than cask beers and were dispensed using carbon dioxide. By 1970, 90% of British pubs were serving only keg beers.

1971. Campaign for Real Ale is formed. Camra was formed to champion good pubs, ‘real ales’ - which are un-pasteurised beers in the cask; and their bottled equivalent. Camra now has over 170,000 members.

1980s.  Lager sales start to fizz. Britain’s taste for mainstream and premium lagers gets a second wind. Sales of UK-brewed and imported lagers surge.



1990 – End of the tied-house system.The Monopolies and Mergers Commission Report broke the ‘tie’, which had previously excluded brewers from selling into other brewers’ tied pubs. This also led to a big increase in the number of micro-breweries in Britain.

1990’s. Big increase in the range of seasonal beers styles. Seasonality, so popular with brewers in the Middle Ages, bursts onto the scene with lighter coloured ‘summer ales’, heather beers, fruit beers, and winter beers often spiced like a Christmas pudding. And pubs and supermarkets add encouragement.

2002. Progressive Beer Duty was introduced, giving smaller brewers of under 30,000 hectolitres (increased to 60,000 hl in 2004) a rebate on their excise duty, so as to help small craft brewers to compete in the market.

2003. The Beer Academy (www.beeracademy.org) Fifty breweries, beer retailers and beer-related organisations set up the world’s first generic beer school to help educate the trade and consumers about ‘beer’. And Beer Sommeliers are now accredited too.

2004. Beer & Food. Pairing beers with foods became the buzz, first instigated by England’s hop growers.

2014. Beer Styles. The number of beer styles booms; and interest in hops and barley malts too.

2015. Brewery Numbers. Breweries rose from 300 in 2005 to 1400+ in 2015. A plethora of choice, and a greater range of styles and vibrancy of flavours in lagers and ales than ever before