“Beer: An alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt flavoured with hops” (Oxford English Dictionary)
Beer is as old as civilisation itself. Beer residues have been found in vessels from the earliest settlements dating back 8 to 10 thousand years ago, when humans discovered a new way of farming that allowed them to become non-nomadic and settle in villages and towns: systematic husbandry of animals and, crucially, plants. I like to think that beer was the essential lubricant that allowed people to settle down with each other, it is after all the third most consumed drink in the world, after water and tea!
Once alcohol was on the scene, it seems to have quickly replaced most other drugs in settled societies. As we didn’t have a clue about yeasts and how alcohol was created, the state of inebriation was regarded a divine experience. This spiritual dimension meant that in many societies the use of alcohol was tightly controlled. The Romans are famous for their enjoyment of wine, but it only flowed freely for those in power.
When the Romans reached Britain they found brewing as established here as on the rest of the continent. The difference being that we favoured mead and cider rather than beer. It wasn’t until the Germanic Angles and Saxons began to colonize Britain that we learnt what proper brewing is all about.
The Romans brought with them drinking establishments, the ‘tabernas’, but where does our most famous institution the pub come from?
Up until a thousand years or so ago farmhouses would allow travellers to rest for the night and the farmers wife would have provided some food and drink (for it was the farmers wife who brewed with any leftover harvest, whether it be barley or wheat for example). At some point someone realised that they could charge for this service and hence the ‘ale house’ was born. It wasn’t until around the 17th century that the Church and its male rulers took over brewing in order to control the process and distribution to the public!
Eventually, it was decreed that a sheaf of the main crop used to brew was placed above the door to help travellers find an ale house. These were the signs that eventually became the standard-sized pub signs we know today.
So, the Farmer’s Wife, I raise a pint to you for having created one of my favourite places in the world, The Pub.