the evil breweries

Beer* has played a long and important part in our history. Until safe, clean water became available to all it was drunk both day and night, it was an essential commodity, not at all the luxury it has become.

The ability to brew beer was a requirement of survival, every medieval household would brew for their own consumption and sell any surplus directly from the house.

Today beers are brewed for efficiency and to maximise profits, but your medieval brewer had other reasons for brewing. Beer provided valuable starch, as potatoes were not yet part of our diet. Beer was drunk hot or cold, in soups and in gruel. With only seasonal foods available spiced beers added flavour and intoxication to an otherwise plain diet. Hops were unknown to medieval brewers here so beers were spiced with herbs and, in all probability, many a brew had narcotic qualities.

Brewing is a complex process, "proper chemistry" as my chemistry teacher used to call it. Our ancestors had little understanding of chemistry but they certainly had experience to fall back on and many brewing techniques are undoubtedly lost to us.

Beer was important, your life depended on it, every castle, manorial house and abbey had a brew house and it is well documented that monks were master brewers.The commercial brewers did not have much of an advantage over the home brewer, in fact the home brewer knew exactly what went into his own beer!

Pressure was being placed on the home brewer by the commercial brewers by evermore dubious laws designed to favour the commercial breweries. This took place from medieval time through to modern times. In 1834 William Cobbet requested the repeal of the Malt Tax which, at the time, was taking £9M from home brewers. £4M of this revenue went to the maltsters! His ambition for repeal was to release the working man "from the temptations of the ale house".

The reduction in home brewing due to such pressures resulted in the steady introduction of hops to our ale in replacement of herbs. Hops act as a preservative, IPA (Indian Pale Ale) was heavily hopped, strong beer to survive its journey to India for the troops.

Whilst the consumption of beer has never been in doubt, home brewing was often hit by prohibition and taxation. One of the last attempts was the Inland Revenue Act of 1880 that required a licence fee of five shillings to brew at home. Reggie Mauldling knocked that one on the head in 1963 bless him but by then it was all too late, the breweries had won. It is now quite ironic that the breweries are complaining about the level of tax on beer - don't forget breweries, you started it!

 


* I am of course referring to ales, bitters and stouts and not that sample coloured eurofizz** rubbish so beloved of today's yoof!

** Not to be confused with quality continental lagers