Beer is one of the world’s oldest prepared drinks and the third most popular drink in the world, after water and tea – certainly the most consumed alcoholic drink.
Beer dates back to at least 5th millennium BC, in Iran. Cereal was first farmed around 10,000 BC, so it’s possible beer was brewed then, as it’s brewed from cereal grains.
There was even a hymn to the Mesopotamian goddess of beer, which served as a prayer and also as a method of remembering the recipe for beer, at a time when few people could read.
Around 3000 BC, beer was spread through Europe by German and Celtic tribes, although that beer was very different to the beer we know today. It sometimes contained honey, fruit, spices and narcotic herbs, but no hops.
Hops were introduced to England from Flanders in the 15th C, after which beer without hops was named ale.
Any beer drinker will tell you that ales and lagers are quite different. Brewers around Bavaria used to store beer in cool cellars and caves, and noticed that it continued to ferment and also became clear of sediment. This beer became known as lager, from German lagern for ‘to store’.
Ale comes from the Old English ealu while beer probably comes from Latin bibere ‘to drink’.
There has been a campaign to bring back real ale, which is beer brewed from traditional ingredients and by the original method. Pale ale is brewed with a different yeast and paler malt.
Craft beer is becoming very popular, usually made in small breweries, and gluten-free beer is now available.
Beer drinkers all have their favourite styles and furious arguments sometimes ensue over best methods of brewing. There are many cultural swipes by discerning beer drinkers from Australia and New Zealand about the warm beer of the British Isles, and by the British Islanders about the icy coldness of the Antipodean beer.