The History Of Britain And Beer

Beer in Britain as a long history and you know us Brits are serious about it when our most famous beer it quite literally called Real Ale! But how did Britain’s love affair with beer begin? Well let’s take a look through the history books and find out, shall we? 

Like most things in history the exact origins of beer in Britain are a little fuzzy however what we do know is that Roman soldiers in Britain did drink Celtic ale around 100AD. And a list of accounts from the time mentions a brewer by the name of Atrectus, who is the first known brewer to be documented in Britain. 

Despite only officially be known about after the Roman invasion historians do believe that the Celts had a strong tradition of brewing beer although instead of using hops they used other flavourings like honey. So, while the early days are a little bit of a mystery we do know beer has been around in some form for quite a while. 

The Middle Ages 

Beer was the drink of choice during the Middle Ages especially in Northern England when the other most popular alcoholic beverage at the time wine was difficult to produce due to problems with grape cultivation. Some historians believe that beer was so popular during the Middle Ages that it was actually drunk with every meal. 

It was also during this period of time that brewing guilds where set-up to help ensure high-quality beers. So, many pubs and taverns would not produce ale themselves anymore they would get it from professional breweries instead. Despite beer being one of the most popular beverages at the time it was still rarely made with hops.  

In the years that followed hopped beer would become more and more popular and in the 15th century two different types of beer were defined. Beer would be made with hops while ale would follow the same basic process but would be made without hops. 

The 18th Century 

The 18th Century held many landmark occasions for beer in Britain for one thing the first mass-produced beer was devised. It was known as London Porter and was a darker beer that led to the success of many brewers some of which are still in operation today like Whitbread to give just one example. 

It was also during this period that beer was defined due to its strength with three classes being defined namely table, small and strong. The famous beer pump you see behind bars today was also devised during the 18th century as well by the inventor Joseph Bramah. And the Beerhouse Act of 1830 was also set up which allowed anyone to sell beer in a pub or their own home for the small cost of a licence fee. 

War Time and Beyond 

Both the first and second world wars had a dramatic effect on the beer industry which was confounded by the temperance movement which took place during the early 1900’s. Beer was taxed at a higher rate and pubs where given restricted opening hours as well. 

Due to cuts in ingredients beers were also significantly weaker that they once were and many people believe this was the main reason for the fall in popularity of London Porter. Which was eventually discontinued in the early 1950’s, however many of the harsher restriction were lifted after the war. 

The 1960’s brought along more big changes for beer in Britain for one thing home brewing was legalised, which led to beer brewing to become a popular hobby for many people in the UK. Canned beers were also introduced during this period as well and quickly rivalled bottled beer. 

During the 1970’s Britain’s beer market began to see more international names rise in popularity like Heineken and Beck’s. Imported beers were so popular in certain places that new establishments focusing on them were also set-up. 

The Millennium and Today  

So, what did the millennium bring about for beer in Britain? Well, for one thing, beer duty was reduced to help smaller breweries and foster a more fair and competitive industry. Imported beers also continued to rise in popularity as well and the Licensing Act 2003 was also introduced in 2005. 

The act allowed pubs (and other premises) to expand their opening hours to 24 hours with the support of their local authority. In 2010 craft beers began to grow in popularity as well, in the UK craft beers are classed as more unusual tasting beers with unique flavours they are most commonly made by smaller breweries. 

While there is a lot of choice when it comes to beers in the UK today, pubs have been struggling outside of certain big chains like Wetherspoons which as booked the trend and actually expanded. Non-alcoholic beers have also risen in popularity as well, in 2017 18.2 million litres of non-alcoholic beer was drunk in the UK, which was a new record. 

So, that’s a look at beer’s rich history in Britain as you can see it’s certainly changed over the years, hasn’t it? But despite how things have changed beer is still one of the most popular beverages in the UK and likely always will be in one form or another. 

Back to blog