The second serving of our blog on the history of beer looks at the spread of beer across the world from Northern Europe, and how it has changed from the early primitive brews of ancient Egypt.
The Growth of Beer
Beer became such an integral part of normal life in Britain that British soldiers had daily rations allocated to them. And when the British Empire grew to occupying half of the globe their beer followed where the soldiers went. An important part of the Royal Navy’s duties during this period was to deliver beer to the British troops all over the globe. In fact a favorite beer all over the world today is IPA (Indian Pale Ale) which was designed and made so the brew could be transported long distances and not go bitter or sour. The English brewers discovered that if they made beer with a higher alcohol content and extra hops this method acted as a natural way of preserving the beer, so the British Navy could take it to Burma and India, and that is why traditional IPA is a relatively strong beer.
The New World
Beer also followed the European settlers to the New World, there is a story that the first colonists stopped at Plymouth Rock as they ran out of beer and needed to brew some more. Whether this is fable or not, there is evidence to suggest the first building the pilgrims built was in fact a brewery. America has been brewing beer ever since and early centers for beer production were Philadelphia and New York. In fact, by 1810, New York City had almost fifty breweries all producing new types of beer but based on English-style ales. Another fifty years went by and more immigrants started coming from Northern Europe that brought with them new styles of beers which were the popular German and Czech Pilsner-style lagers. These beers were paler than the English ales and more hoppy.
By the time the 1900’s came around in America there was an increased immigrant population that demanded more beer, and brewing was at an all-time high in North America. But then from 1920 to 1933 Prohibition came about and legal production was halted. Many breweries went out of business some turned to producing malt extracts, ice cream and sodas. The Depression years followed prohibition and it was a lean time for the beer industry of America, people could only afford to drink cheap beer and the breweries that survived turned to mass production and brands like Schlitz and Budweiser were the only ones that flourished.
After that big breweries took over around the world following the American template, and dominated the brewing industry right up to the late 1970’s. Today times have changed, and the emergence of real ales and craft beers has changed the industry forever. Consumers have voted with their drinking habits, preferring to pay a little extra to have quality beer rather than to swill mass produced cheap beer. By the way the monks in Belgium during all this mass production mania continued to make excellent quality beer and still do today.