A Brief History of Your Favourite Beers
The long, fascinating history of beer dates back to Mesopotamia – the Sumerians detailed their recipes on 4000-year-old beer clay tablets; the Babylonians are believed to have developed up to 20 styles of beer. While it took thousands of years before beer became part of the fabric of the European civilisation, it’s this point in history that many of today’s favourites began. Here is a rundown of nine most common beer styles and their brief history.
One of the oldest styles, bock is a dark and malty beer originated in the German city of Einbeck in the 14th century. Bock was unique to the city, which was the centre of hop growing at the time, until 1612 when an Einbeck brewer was invited by Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria to share his craft with brewers in Munich. His brew was imitated throughout the area and became the bock we know today.
The first wheat beer brewery was established in Schwarzach, Austria in 1480 but the Degenberger family. The beer is brewed with a large proportion of wheat compared to malted barley and can be grouped into two main varieties: weissbier and witbier (both literally mean “white beer” in German and Dutch, respectively). The former follows the German tradition of preparing with at least 50% wheat in relation to barley while the latter, also called bier blanche, follows the Belgian tradition of using raw unmalted wheat and flavourings like orange peels and coriander.
A golden specialty of Cologne (or Köln), Kölsch was first introduced by historic brewery Sünner Brauerei and has been around since 1906, but it never quite took off initially, simply because the people’s taste was dominated by bottom-fermented beers like bock and pilsner at the time. Kölsch’s popularly gradually rose in the 1960’s and peaked in 1980 with the production of 370 million litres of the ale.
The British dark beer dates back to 1722 when London brewer Ralph Harwood, seeing how pub tender had grown tired of blending different kinds of beer to please different individual palates, invented a single brew that has the qualities of a beer, a highly hopped ale, and a strong beer in one. This was called “Mr Harwood’s entire butt” or more simply “entire” before becoming “porter”, a titular homage to the porters who delivered goods in the local markets and were the frequent customers of this drink.
The history of stout began not so long after that of porter’s. Seeing the popularity of porters, many brewers, including world-renowned Dublin brewery Guinness, began concocting a “stouter kind of porter” for to compete with porter in the market, with “stouter” coming in many options of strength. Initially “stout” or “stout porter” referred to stronger beers, not necessarily the dark beer we associate them with today.
Indian Pale Ale
Before there there is the famous IPA, there was pale ale that would spoil before it arrived on the coast of India. So in 1792, George Hodgson, a brewer at Bow Brewery in East London, came up with a pale ale that would survive its journey across the ocean by adding hops and sugar and increasing alcohol levels, which are ways to preserve the brew. With his connections to the East India Company, Hodgson’s IPA would go on to dominate the market for the next 30 years until, in the 1820’s, Allsopp Brewery started exporting their IPA. Locals were introduced to the drink when a ship loaded with both Hodgson and Allsopp’s ales wrecked in the Irish Sea and its contents were auctioned off.
It is believed that in 1842 a Bavarian monk smuggled a pot of bottom-fermenting yeast to a Bohemian, today Czechian, city of Plzeň (Pilsen in German). That same year the Pilsner Urquell Brewery used this yeast and went on to introduce the first blond “pilsner bier” to the world. They have been fermenting their light golden brew in open barrels in the cellars until the introduction of large cylindrical tanks in 1993.
The North American market had been dominated by ale until 1842 when German brewer John Wagner brought lager yeast to Philadelphia and brewed the New World’s first batch of lager. While the European lager is firmly hopped, Wagner and other German immigrant brewers’ lager was developed as modestly hopped and prepared with corn and rice as adjuncts instead of barley as they were more easily obtained, especially during World War II. The process has not been changed since.
An early form of dry beer is diat pils, a small pilsner for drinking German diabetics. But it was in 1987 that the world first got its official dry beer: Japanese brewing behemoth Asahi introduced “Super Dry”, a barley beer with crisp aftertaste said to be more attenuated than the diat pils. Its popularity spread across Asia and America where imitations and even drier versions were created.