Brewing Beer at Home: An Introduction
The most spectacular increase in any hobby of recent years has been in brewing beer at home. The reasons are almost as numerous as the different beers that you can brew. The general economic situation has had a major effect, so, too, has the high tax and therefore the high cost of a pint. More leisure, sometimes enforced by unemployment or early retirement, has also contributed to the popularity of home brewing. On the positive side, the high quality of the beer that can be brewed for a few pence is a great attraction; so, too, is the simplicity of brewing and the great satisfaction felt from brewing a line beer in the tradition of one’s forebears.
Beer was being brewed in Britain before the Romans came, but it was the Romans who introduced the hop (lower for flavouring. The native Angles preferred to drink their beer made from cither barley or wheat without additional flavouring or else flavoured with wild herbs such as nettle, yarrow or burdock. The beer was mostly brewed by the womenfolk, who started fermentation by adding a piece of rising dough to the wort. A woman who sold her beer for profit was known as an ‘ale-wife’.
There were many ale houses and drunkenness was so rife that between A.D. 960 and 975 a large number were closed by royal decree. Each village was permitted only one. The ale was sold in a large jug, from which the customer poured it into his own horn or stoup when required. The jugs were of varying sizes and efforts were made to standardize them. Henry II inflicted the first national tax in 1188 and succeeding kings and governments were quick to see the advantages and beer tax has frequently formed the major part of the country’s income.
Brewing skills were increasing and beer was used by the brewer to pay rent for land or cottage as well as the main drink for the family. A thin or small beer was served with bread at the break of day and a better beer was brewed for the evening meal. Beer was given to babies and children as well as to older folk, being safer than water which was often impure, especially in the developing towns.
Gradually, local breweries took over from the housewives and eventually the hop was adopted for its preservative as well as for its flavouring qualities which were by then discovered. The importance of the style of the water used was also realized and appreciated. The hard spring water found at Burton-on-Trent became the centre for fine bitter beers whilst London’s softer water, bubbling up through the day, was found to be more suitable for brown ales and stouts.
The Industrial Revolution saw the decline in home brewing and became the foundation of those breweries whose names are so well known today. The final blow to home brewing came in 1880 when an Act of Parliament prohibited the brewing of beer at home except under licence and the payment of duty on every gallon brewed. The licence was granted only to householders and the amount was determined by the rateable value of the house. Little, if any, beer was brewed at home for the next seventy years.
In 1945, the making of wine al home began again and this interest later awakened a desire to brew beer as well. Applications were made for licences but Excise officers were loath to grant them, for a lot of work would be involved for little financial return. The law was eventually repealed in 1963 and it is at present perfectly legal to brew as much beer at home as you. Your family and your friends can drink. It still remains illegal, however, to sell or oiler your beer for sale in any way.
Home brew kits appeared a few years later and have been constantly improving. Two kinds are available. The ‘dry’, consisting of hops, grains. Malt Hour and yeast and the ‘wet’, consisting of a container of hop-flavoured malt extract and a sachet of yeast. A wide choice of different styles can be brewed in from as few as 3.5 litres/6 pints to as many as 22.5 litres/40 pints at a time. All that is needed is a brewing bin or bucket, suitable beer bottles, stoppers or crown caps, some water and some sugar. It is possible to be sampling your first brew within a fortnight.